CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Sunday, 1 September 2019

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Transforming a week of prose into epic magic

HONG KONG (SE): In welcoming guests to the first of five independent movies screened in Spotlight: Philippine Cinema 2017 on February 8, Alice Mong, the director of the Asia Society in Hong Kong, said that it is not sufficient to build bridges between Asia and the west, as we also need to concentrate on creating better understanding among Asian countries.

She praised Sunday Beauty Queen as a bridge-builder between The Philippines and Hong Kong for portraying the destiny of five domestic workers as they juggle their lives between the kitchen, their families at home and the stage of the beauty queen.

Sponsored by the Film Development Council Philippines and the Consulate General to Hong Kong, the opening night featured Sunday Beauty Queen, which made history when it became the first independent movie to take out first prize in the prestigious Metro Manila Film Festival in the first year that low budget independent productions have been accepted for consideration.

Speaking to some 300 people gathered for the screening at the Asia Society’s headquarters in Admiralty, Philippine vice consul, Robert Quintin, acclaimed the movie as a venture into topics and approaches that traditional movies do not dare to touch.

“In my opinion this is more honest,” Quintin said. “After the glitter, these Filipino women are mothers, sisters and daughters providing a livelihood for their families at home.”

He told the gathering that how we in Hong Kong deal with this is a question that should always be asked, saying that their presence challenges all of us to explain why this is happening and why society is not well informed.

Lisa Diño, the chairperson of the Film Development Council of The Philippines, described Sunday Beauty Queen as an opportunity to express the collective consciousness of the people, as it portrays many aspects of the lives of migrant workers otherwise hidden to families and people back home.

“It shows the battle of the domestic workers to turn their lives into a positive and see hope in every challenge,” Diño said, adding that it is an invitation to celebrate the Filipino community in Hong Kong, but marred her endorsement by quoting the patronising words of former president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, when she called them Our Heroes!

While the movie shows snippets of the varied relationships between worker and employer, ranging from the warm and respectful to deeply affectionate and caring, it also portrays the insensitivity of some bosses and the injustice that the workers are often subjected to.

But their lives are not all work and no play, as the precious weekly holiday provides an opportunity to escape the daily grind into the world of relaxation, study, hobbies and, in the case of the Sunday Beauty Queens, the stage that transforms a week of prose into epic magic.

Although we see glimpses of the extraordinary talent and exquisite costuming that the beauty queens put on show, the audience is left to guess what motivates them.

However, we do see glimpses of the difficulties created by the cultural gap between The Philippines and Hong Kong, as well as legislation that can magnify the problem of dealing with emergencies, like being fired on the spot or abused in the home, but overall the story line lacks coherence.

As a drama-documentary it barely makes it on either level, as it is difficult to develop an affection for any of the characters presented on the screen, which belies their truly delightful and attractive characters.

As the movie does tell us, you don’t need to be pretty or sexy to be a beauty queen, but you do need to have a beautiful soul.

As a documentary it gives a lot of information, but with a tendency to lecture, it occasionally descends into the realm of a bad homily.

The Philippine government and the consulate in Hong Kong came in for a good round of criticism for their lack of support for the country’s exported labour, especially in times of crisis, although the main thread of the film, Leo Solomenio, admitted that the consulate staff today is more approachable than in bygone ages.

But the real life beauty queens have a lot about them to love and, as one of the five presented in the movie, Rudelie Acosta, told the Sunday Examiner there is great satisfaction in entertaining fellow migrant workers and having the opportunity of using the profits to support those in need.

The making of Sunday Beauty Queen was a work of love for producer, Baby Ruth Villarama, as she sought to come to an understanding of the life of her migrant worker mother whom she never knew.

Sunday Beauty Queen has already given a powerful shakeup to the complacency of audiences in The Philippines, whose generally romanticised image of migrant worker life bears little resemblance to its reality.

If it can contribute to empowering the migrant community to tell their real life stories to their families and friends back home, it will have done a lot for their relationship with what is, by and large, a little understood and abused, but numerous group in Philippine society.

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