We’ve all heard the old saying, “Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Malaysian-born Taiwan-based director Ho Wi Ding has crafted a touching movie that lets us vicariously walk several miles in two Filipinos’ shoes, except that they’re pounding the streets of Taipei.
They are migrant workers with boring jobs in a factory and staying in a dormitory with such strict curfew rules that if they book in late three times, their work pass is cancelled and they are deported.
Manuel (Jeffrey ‘Epy’ Quizon) thinks the dormitory needs a sofa so they can better unwind after work. By a stroke of luck, he and long-time friend Dado (Bayani Agbayani) happen upon one abandoned on a sidewalk one Sunday and decide to take it home.
That madcap Sunday is the centrepiece of the film, but the prior setting-up scenes, and many of their encounters while transporting the sofa, deftly sketch the men’s lives in a foreign country. There is loneliness and distance from loved ones. There is a sense of helplessness when Dado’s wife meets with an accident and there’s little he can do while stuck in a different place. There are language barriers, making them vulnerable; sometimes it’s only luck that gets them out of misunderstanding and trouble. The language barrier in turn creates a ghetto-like experience as they socialise entirely among fellow migrant workers. But even among their own people, there can be unkindness, as Manuel discovers when his love interest spurns him and her friends make fun of him.
At the factory where they work, there are strict rules. Show up for work one minute late and you are not allowed in, which means one day’s wages cut. But at least they get Sundays off. One of their friends, a domestic maid, has not had a day off in two months. The home she lives in is filled with tension, her employers quarrelling every night. Meanwhile her own husband in the Philippines has taken to drink and disappeared.
Despite ingredients that sound like a litany of woe, Ho has created a poignant comedy suffused with friendship, honesty and responsibility. And a bit of whimsical daydreaming. Overall, the human spirit shines through.
As Straits Times Life! film reviewer Boon Chan wrote on 15 June 2011, “The movie is an exercise in empathy, which director and co-scriptwriter Ho Wi Ding executes with humour and compassion.”
Ho was named Best New Director at the Golden Horse Awards last November for this film.
Over at A nutshell review:
This film wouldn’t have worked without both actors putting in fine performances as characters of opposites. One’s a committed family man yet found in a relationship with another domestic help (Meryll Soriano), while the other has the hots over a singer (Alessandra de Rossi) where the affections isn’t mutual, but don’t blame the guy for not wanting to try.
Plot narrative remains episodic, but this serves the film well as Ho Wi Ding crafts comedy by the truckloads, as well as poignant, reflective moments that allows one to take stock of the littlest things we take for granted in others.
This film is a gem that is probably going to be lost among the Hollywood blockbusters all over town, and may have a relatively short season as a result. But for pure satisfaction — not forgetting its relevance to us here with a million migrant workers in our own city — it’s in a class of its own. Pinoy Sunday, exclusively at Orchard Cineleisure, is a must see. Go this weekend. Walk a mile in their shoes.