Dante Basco on Keeping it All in the Family for “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers”

You’ll want to stay for the end credits of “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers” where Dante Basco unearths footage of himself and his brothers Derek, Darion and Dionysio all performing in their hometown of Pittsburg, California in a breakdancing competition, a reminder that the family has devoted their entire lives to entertaining others. They may appear under different names in the crowdpleasing comedy, premiering this week at SXSW – anointed as the Abastas, a gregarious clan assembled for the occasion of a wedding, but the instinct to put on a show is entirely the Bascos, with Dante, the first to reach fame early in films such as “Hook” and “But I’m a Cheerleader,” generously creating a grand stage for them all to shine.

Returning to Pittsburg in the present day, “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers” unfolds in a series of vignettes where one can see a lot of love within the family (including sister Dores, played by real-life sister Arianna Basco), but romance proves more elusive as all have had their issues with affairs of the heart. Deo (Derek Basco), the oldest, is the most comfortably settled, but still, his wife is upset with the money going out to pay for the wedding, leading him to attempt to score some quick cash by placing bets at the local underground cockfighting ring. His brother Duke (Dante Basco) is also up to something he likely shouldn’t be while at a speaking engagement in Manila, seemingly happily married but recognizing an old high school flame (Solenn Heussaff) in the city and quickly making up for lost time. There also isn’t a wasted second for David (Dionysio Basco), who engages in the most outrageous culinary seduction this side of “Tom Jones” with a bridesmaid, but it takes far longer for Danny Boy (Darion Basco) to even fathom going back into the dating pool after heartbreak, finding an unexpected connection with Teresa (Liza Lapira), who may or not be at the right place in her life to start a relationship.

As “The Fabulous Filipino Brothers” becomes a celebration of all the ways its characters are shaped by love — from thinking they’ve lost it to insatiable lust to opening up to it again — it resonates most as an act of love when you can see the adoration that the family has for each other and what power it’s given them to get through anything together, including the daunting task of making a feature film. Naturally, they never let you see them sweat, welcoming audiences to have every bit a good time as you’d expect them to have at a weekend gathering and after the film’s premiere at SXSW last year, the Bascos are inviting all to the party with a tour across the US and making the film available on VOD. Recently, Dante was gracious enough to talk about getting his entire family onboard for the comedy, filming in the Philippines and what new experiences he had behind the camera as a director after a career where he’s done so much else behind the scenes.

I remember when “The Debut,” which both you and Derek starred in, came out in 2001, you turned it into an event by accompanying the film to everywhere it went in its general release, and this has a similar feel as far as giving it something special by involving your whole family. Was that in mind in putting this together?

It’s ironic that you mentioned “The Debut” because we’re premiering at South By 20 years to the day “The Debut” premiered at CAAM Fest in San Francisco. I’ve been producing Asian American cinema now for the last decade on top of all the stuff I’m doing in front of camera as an actor. I’ve been a writer of poetry and my memoirs “From Rufio to Zuko” were released right before COVID hit. I’ve also been writing some of the films I’ve been producing, and my producing partner, Ron Erickson the machine decided it was time for me to direct one of them and I wanted to [create] a platform for my family. I’m always keen on telling young writers to write, write what you know, and this is what I know, so all these stories were inspired from actual stories that happened in our family.

Hollywood’s been really kind to me over my career, but my brothers Derek, Darion, Dionysio are all amazing actors and have had great careers in their own right. and I’ve got to do a lot of things that they can do, but they just haven’t had the opportunity, so we wanted to write things for everybody that really put them in a spotlight, and I’m really excited to show my family with the world.

I don’t know how much I should read into the credits, but Darion and Dionysio are co-writers and Derek has one of the craziest sections with the cockfighting, so did you spring a surprise on him?

Derek’s a father has a lot of things going on in his life and [his daughter] Ella Jay Basco was shooting “Birds of Prey,” so he had his hands full on front. Darion and I wrote the original draft, and then we brought Dion in to do some rewrites and some punch ups and add a lot of the comedy and my sister Arianna came in and did some rewrites, especially with the female voices [in the film], so it was really a family affair from beginning to end and [Derek] came and did an amazing job with his character — that story with the rooster he knows where that comes from — cockfights are a fabric of Filipino [culture], so we’ve had members of our family and godparents and extended family that have been involved in that scene, and although we didn’t hurt any birds in the film and obviously we don’t condone cockfighting, we wanted to represent that kind of part of the community and have fun a little bit around that world, so to get him to tell that story was really hilarious.

Is that your actual family there at the wedding?

Yeah, everybody came in. My parents play my parents in the film, and all of my uncles and aunts are in the film. The four brothers in the film are named after my dad and his brothers Deo, Danny Boy, Duke and David, and [there are nods to] my mom’s side of the family in the film and shout outs to all the people that were able to support me and my brothers and our careers in the last 30 years indirectly from our hometown of Pittsburg, California. To bring it home and shoot in our hometown and really celebrate the Fil-Am community up there is special to me.

From what I understand, it was pretty special shooting at the Fil-American Association Hall.

Yeah, that’s the place where we started doing me and my brothers break-dancing, doing magic shows and kung fu exhibitions with our kung fu troop, so that was pretty much the birthplace where we all did stuff and the Fil-Am in Pittsburg is one of the oldest in the country, I believe, and my grandfather was the president of the association, and at one time, my dad was the vice president. My uncles were presidents and ran it and are still pretty involved. So having all the families come back during the shooting to celebrate that time in our lives and really try and get the next generation of Filipinos in the neighborhood involved in what we were involved in when we were younger, showcasing your talents, because the Bascos did well and I think there’s there more of us in the next generation.

Was it important as well to actually shoot in Manila? That chapter is wonderful.

Yeah, I wanted to infuse my falling in love with Manila and the Philippines into that vignette and really the magic of going home and finding out where you’re from and reconnecting with things that you’re unaware of that’s always been a part of your life. Part of me doing Asian American filmmaking is connecting with the Asian part of who we are. We’re a nation of immigrants and it’s beautiful to be American, but also there comes a time in your adult life where I wanted to go back to where my family’s from and reconnect with that. Part of my career now as a filmmaker is about building bridges and bringing notable Asian American talent into Asia and then also bring their talent in front of and behind the camera into America and, and giving them a platform — not only in the Philippines, but we’re talking about doing stuff in Vietnam, in Jakarta and Singapore possibly. This is the third film that I’ve actually done out of the Philippines, and [it was] produced by Cignal Entertainment, so working with the great actors and filmmakers in front of and behind the camera in Asia is really been one of the things that have been inspiring to me. Working with Tirso Cruz III again, who was also in “The Debut,” and with Solenn Heussaff, one of the biggest stars in the Philippines, was really a big deal.

You have plenty of behind-the-scenes experience, but since this is your solo directing debut, was this actually any different overseeing everything?

It’s worlds of difference. It was pretty much two years of my life put into this film and you’re very involved as an actor, especially during shooting cracking stories, and I love being there as a producer to support my directors — I produced “Empty by Design,” and Andrea Walter, a wonderful Filipina-American-British filmmaker who directed that actually came on to DP this film for me. But when you’re directing, everyone’s there to support you in your vision, including my family, my brothers who co-wrote and co-produced with me, and biggest thing I learned is the amount of work it takes to get it going. At the end of the day, it’s all choices and when you’re the director, the buck stops here and you’ve got to make the final decisions, but it’s hard because you’re dealing not only with your own art or your own story, but with your family and their expectations and your hometown community, wanting everyone to win and look great. So there’ was a lot at stake for me personally because I just want to do right by everybody.

You did them proud. I don’t expect you were able to have a proper screening of the film just yet, but has your family had a chance to see the film yet?

We did have one little backyard screen during COVID just with my mom and dad and my brothers and sisters to look at cuts of the film, and it was really magical for them to see it — not under the best circumstances, but it was very enjoyable. It’s probably unrealistic to get the whole cast and crew together to watch the film, but everyone is excited that we got into South by Southwest and having some acknowledgement after a few years of grinding this out. I’m nervous about how people are going to take it. I didn’t set out to make the definitive Filipino American film, although it’s heavily part of the project. It’s not “Crazy Rich Asians,” but “Crazy Blue Collar Asians,” specifically stories of my family who just happened to be Filipino, and I hope Filipinos appreciate it and feel represented by it.

“The Fabulous Filipino Brothers” is now available on VOD and touring theatrically through the spring with stops in Philadelphia on February 15th, New York on February 17th, Washington DC on February 18th, Virginia Beach on February 19th and Hawaii on February 26th.

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