Those Fabulous Filipino Brothers – the Bascos

“Stories about us, that are written and directed by us, are, of course, going to hold a deeper meaning. And by us, I mean ethnic filmmakers,” said Dionysio Basco about The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, a film which he and his siblings – Dante, Derek, and Darion – and their parents, grandparents, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins made and acted in.

Regarded as the first Filipino entertainment family of Hollywood, the Bascos, led by Dante (who was cast by Steven Spielberg as Rufio in Hook when he was only 15), came up with a broad comedy-romance romp.

Variety’s Joe Leydon, in his review of the film, wrote, “Director-star Dante Basco’s family affair is an engagingly freeform portmanteau that runs the gamut from joltingly dark to sweetly romantic … there’s a lot to be said for any movie that reminds us, in a heartfelt but unassuming way, that we are many, but we are one.”

From left to right: Duke (Dante Basco), Danny Boy (Darion Basco), Dayo (Derek Basco), David (Dionysio Basco), Emily (Cheryl Tsai) in a scene from  the film "The Fabulous Filipino Brothers" - a film by Dante Basco

From left to right: Duke (Dante Basco), Danny Boy (Darion Basco), Dayo (Derek Basco), David (Dionysio Basco), Emily (Cheryl Tsai) in a scene from the film The Fabulous Filipino Brothers – a film by Dante Basco.

Courtesy – 1091 Media

“We wanted to tell this tale of a Filipino-American (Fil-Am) family from our point of view,” added Dionysio about The Fabulous Filipino Brothers. “It would be vastly different if a Caucasian man told our story. Not saying it will be wrong, but the story will be told through his eyes. Also, in this film, you get to see four distinctly different Fil-Am leading men. We are not the token ‘Asian Guy.’ We get to play characters that are fully developed.”

In other words, in The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, the four siblings who have been actors for over two decades finally get to play plum parts that Hollywood has denied them.

From left to right: Damaso (Darius Basco), Dolores (Aida Basco), Duke (Dante Basco), David (Dionysio Basco), Emily (Cheryl Tsai), Dayo (Derek Basco), Lola Abasta (Iluminada Monroy) in a scene from the film "The Fabulous Filipino Brothers" - a film by Dante Basco

From left to right: Damaso (Darius Basco), Dolores (Aida Basco), Duke (Dante Basco), David (Dionysio Basco), Emily (Cheryl Tsai), Dayo (Derek Basco), Lola Abasta (Iluminada Monroy) in a scene from the film The Fabulous Filipino Brothers – a film by Dante Basco.

Courtesy – 1091 Media

In his feature directing debut, Dante, who wrote the screenplay with Darion, taps the ultimate Filipino family event – a wedding – as a springboard for the four vignettes in which each brother figures. The ensuing shenanigans, set in Pittsburg, California, where the Bascos lived until they moved to Southern California, enable the family to celebrate Filipino traditions: culture, food, and language.

Still, even in its Northern California Fil-Am milieu, the film tackles universal themes – love, family, and relationships.

It has been more than 20 years since the Basco brothers starred in Gene Cajayon’s The Debut, the first Fil-Am movie to be released theatrically nationwide in the US and one of the first films to be set in the Fil-Am community.

“I didn’t set out to make the quintessential Filipino film,” said Dante in our interview. “I really just wanted to tell a story about my family and create roles that my brothers would shine in, roles where they can do what they can actually do! It’s so rare actors get to do that in their careers. But in doing that, I really got to examine us as Fil-Ams and where we are. Being Filipino is really important to me. I didn’t know how much it shaped me until I was older and got to look back at all the things I took for granted.”

Dante, who is also a spoken word artist, exclaimed, “Now more than ever, authenticity matters! Yes, it is on us to write and tell our stories as producers and directors.

“It’s wonderful to be a part of other people’s stories. I had a chance to play many great characters over the course of my career and I look forward to doing more. But our stories matter. We, too, are a part of the fabric that makes up America and Hollywood!”

In the film, Dante plays Duke Abasta, the successful brother whose business trip to Manila stirs an old romance with an ex-girlfriend (Solenn Heussaff). Dante appreciated the Philippines this time as a first-time director.

Anna (Solenn Heussaff) and Duke (Dante Basco) in the church in a scene from the film "The Fabulous Filipino Brothers" - a film by Dante Basco

Anna (Solenn Heussaff) and Duke (Dante Basco) are in the church in a scene from the film The Fabulous Filipino Brothers – a film by Dante Basco.

Courtesy – 1091 Media

“To go home and get involved with the film community back home was an incredible experience,” he said. “I worked with our Filipino producer, JoAnn Banaga. We’ve produced a few films there together. Just the experience of being a Fil-Am, going home and being welcomed by everyone, was very impactful. Growing up in Hollywood, we sometimes get stuck in the rat race here, thinking the world revolves around LA. But getting out to make movies in other countries and meeting all the great storytellers around the world help support the feeling that our stories matter. My story matters.”

Derek portrays Dayo, the eldest of the brothers (also in real life) who feels compelled to pay for the wedding to keep his pride and position in the family. Dayo goes back to his hustler ways.

The actor, who appears as detective Keno (“The Filipino Detective who speaks Spanish!”) in Jeremy Renner’s Mayor of Kingstown TV series, said that having all the family on and off the camera was a joy, instead of the clan members getting on each other’s nerves.

“Did I mention that it was a joy?” said Derek whose daughter, Ella Jay, starred as Cassandra Cain alongside Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn in Birds of Prey. “We got to play all day making art. And we got to act in substantial roles since we each had our own vignette. We had a lot of fun all day.”

But the most fun part of making the film seems to be this, in Derek’s words: “Then my Auntie Pinky would make a giant Filipino meal and we would eat, drink, sing and get tattoos! Even my mom, Aida Basco, got her first tattoo from our cousin Doug Gusimat.

“Then we would rehearse and go to bed with our bellies full and our souls fed. And then we got to wake up and do it all over again. Dante created a great environment for us to work in.”

In the movie itself, the most fun scene belongs to Dionysio, the youngest of the brothers, whose character is named David. He and a wedding guest (a wonderfully game Crystal Kwon) lock eyes across a table groaning with Filipino food. Then the duo engages in the most hilarious, lascivious scene ever in film involving lumpia, turon, longganisa, siopao, buko, gulaman, and lechon!

On shooting this scene, Dion answered, “Food is a big part of our culture. It brings family and friends together. And Filipino food is so delicious! I wanted to introduce the world to our fabulous cuisine. And it was a sexy way to do it.

“My vignette stars the talented and brave actress Crystal Kwon. We took a whole day to shoot this one. We shot everything that was written, then Dante started yelling out other food on the table. Then Crystal and I would go for it. There are many outtakes that didn’t make the cut, I can tell you that.”

For Dion, “The real eye-opening experience has been doing our screenings on tour. The response from audiences has been amazing. People laugh and cry during the film but the dialogue with them after the screening is truly humbling. They are filled with so much pride because they can finally see themselves up there on the big screen.”

He stressed, “Representation really matters. Working with family on this project has actually been a dream. We’ve all been in this industry for over 30 years, and we’ve been each other’s biggest supporters. Since we wrote the project together, each role is tailor-made for each brother. We play to our strengths. And we have the freedom to play around and really dig deep.”

Darion Basco is Danny Boy, who is in a deep funk because of his split from a girlfriend and their child. He spends his days staring at a screen and listening to EDM. Until David posts Danny Boy’s profile on a dating app – and a PM from a girl (Liza Lapira) shakes things up.

Arianna, the only girl among the Basco siblings, strings the story together with her voiceover and appears toward the end.

Even with his long list of credits on IMDb, now capped by this directing debut, Dante is still fondly remembered as the mohawked leader of the Lost Boys in Hook.

Dante takes it in stride. “It’s great to have a character on your résumé that stands the test of time and remains as an important figure in many people’s hearts and minds. For me personally, it shows me how the power of storytelling can impact the world.

“Steven Spielberg cast me to play the leader of the Lost Boys all those years ago and now and forevermore, there is a Filipino kid that is canon in the fairytale of Peter Pan! People send me pictures of their crews at Comic-Cons or Halloween dressed up as Peter Pan and Captain Hook, Tinker Bell, maybe even the crocodile. But now, there is someone in black and red leather next to all those iconic figures, with three Mohawks darting from their hair representing Rufio, a Filipino Lost Boy.”

Dante reflected on the possibility of a sequel to The Fabulous Filipino Brothers and directing again now that he has done it.

“I love this project and the characters we created,” said Dante who began being in the limelight with his brothers as martial arts and breakdancing kids. “I would love to see what happens to this family in the future. Directing has now come into my life and it felt great to helm a project.

“It’s probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done but I’m down to do it again. There are some projects on my desk at the moment with me as a director. We’ll see how things pan out. I may just be behind the camera again soon!”

The Fabulous Filipino Brothers, which premiered in the 2021 SXSW (South by Southwest) Film Festival, debuts on VOD on all digital platforms on February 8.