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From Homemade Beginnings to a Vengeful Return: 15 Years of LUMPIA

Originally published on May 21, 2018

The Roxie Theater in San Francisco was sold out Saturday night with an anniversary screening/reunion of the quirky, Daly City-shot film, LUMPIA. With the casts of both the original film and its upcoming sequel, LUMPIA WITH A VENGEANCE, in attendance, this special presentation for CAAMFest 36 made for a kind of moment that director Patricio Ginelsa Jr. geeks out over, as expressed in an interview held several hours prior.

“I’m a fan and a nerd first, so it’s almost like when I see these kinds of moments when people come from my different worlds, I live for those moments,” he said.

LUMPIA is an action-comedy about a superhero that weaponizes lumpia, in an effort to stop the fights between a Filipino American crew and a group of Filipino immigrants.

“I think, for me, the story of the internal prejudice that comes with the community kind of latched on, and then that kind of wrapped around this weird story of how this hero would literally… What would be his reason to try and stop the internal bashing between these high school students who are all Filipino?” Ginelsa contemplated.

While he admitted to the premise sounding weird, the EL MARIACHI-inspired flick hones a quality that many superheroes have.

“One of the most popular superheroes is Batman; a guy dressed up as a bat,” he pointed out. “It sounds kind of weird and out there, but almost every superhero has a weird M-O.”

Despite its 2003 release, most of the film was actually shot back in 1996; a time where sharing VHS tapes of home movies Ginelsa made over summer vacations was equivalent to a video going viral on YouTube. After starting film school at the University of Southern California, the project was shelved.

In 1999, he befriended A.J. Calomay; a student from UCLA. Ginelsa showed him the footage he shot three years prior, only to later find it edited together by Calomay into an epic trailer.

“It forced me to look at my movie differently, but it also motivated me to say, ‘Hey! Let’s finish this!’ because it seemed like a lot of people were getting hyped over this little trailer that he shot,” Ginelsa stated.

He became even more motivated to finish what he started when he witnessed the response to Gene Cajayon’s THE DEBUT; a film that Ginelsa served as the associate producer for, post-college.

“I started seeing a lot of Filipino audiences outside of California on tour and seeing this appetite for it,” he explained. “So it was almost like, ‘Oh my God! We’ve got to take advantage of this. Everyone is waiting for it.’”

It was not easy, with availability issues and aging of the original cast contributing to its quirky, homemade aesthetic. Had it not been for assistance from the community – particularly in an era before crowdfunding platforms existed – LUMPIA wouldn’t have been completed. That’s why when the initial campaign for its sequel was launched and succeeded, that’s how Ginelsa knew the audience from the original was still there.

“You go with the community,” he said. “You seek out the community, you figure out who your core audiences are. If you know your audience really well, then I feel that you can be successful.”

Looking back on the 15 years since LUMPIA was screened at the Hawaii International Film Festival, Ginelsa feels overwhelmed, a little ashamed by its homemade nature, but overall proud.

“I have a crew member who actually ended up working on the sequel,” he mentioned. “He wrote me a whole, long letter, saying how that movie – LUMPIA – inspired him to become a filmmaker.

“It’s weird when you see through the lens of someone who grew up seeing LUMPIA that I feel it’s worth it.”

Looking ahead at LUMPIA WITH A VENGEANCE, Ginelsa sees it as both a way of showing what the first film meant to him, while also demonstrating what he can do now as a director.

“If you’re thinking one thing on what the movie is about, then I surprise you with another,” he stated.

With a primarily new cast that features Danny Trejo, Darion Basco, and April Labson, Ginelsa explained how guilty he felt when he told the lead actor of the original LUMPIA, Carlos Baon, that former UFC fighter Mark Muñoz would be taking over his role as the Silent Avenger. Fortunately, Baon was very understanding, and will still be appearing in the sequel.

As of this morning, the official trailer for LUMPIA WITH A VENGEANCE is out, along with one last crowdfunding campaign to finish it off.

Ginelsa is hoping to complete the film by the end of the year.

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