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Chatting With the Amazing Team that Made the Transnational Cult Hit ‘Lumpia with a Vengeance’

"Lumpia With A Vengeance" Banner (Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)
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Joining the line of crowdfunded independent film hits like Jeremy Saulnier’s “Ruin” (2013), Spike Lee’s “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” (2014), “David Lynch: The Art Life” (2016) and “Zombie Hunter” (2013) starring Danny Trejo is “Lumpia with A Vengeance” (2020). 

A sequel to “Lumpia” (2003), “Lumpia with a Vengeance” is a Filipino-American indie comedy feature about a teenage hero that fights crime using Lumpia, a Filipino spring roll, to save her town from a crime syndicate.

As thrilling an experience to see the word “lumpia” in mainstream movie theatre signs, it was an even bigger honor to interview director Patricio Ginelsa and producer/editor AJ Calomay on the significance of the film, the journey of distributing it during a global pandemic and their transnational crew.

How does it feel when moviegoers tell you “It is such a treat to even see the word ‘lumpia’ as part of the movie marquees and hallway signs of mainstream theaters?”

Patricio Ginelsa: There’s a feeling of validation.  For all the years we’ve produced Filipino-American content, having one of our films play in a movie theater is the ultimate goal. If we only played in arthouse theaters, there’s a misconception that our movie (with the words LUMPIA on it) would be a foreign film. Having the film play in a mainstream theater chain defies expectations and proves we can play alongside Hollywood films.

AJ Calomay:  It shows that particular aspects of our culture are just as valid as others and that people can learn about our culture in movies like any other culture. When I see a movie title, I don’t have to know everything about that world. Why can’t we entice people to watch our movie in the same way? We don’t have to be worried that non-Filipinos will not know what lumpia is. Let’s just put it out there. We belong in these movie marquees and theaters just as much as any other movie.

Costancio (Dennis Custodio), Jart (Carlo Ricafort), Ibing (Philip Sison) and Mon Mon (Francis Custodio) in "Lumpia With A Vengeance"
(Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

There was a description about the national attire in the film about why the barong was made opaque. Can you tell us more about that? 

Ginelsa: In the film, there’s a reference to an unproven legend that Spaniards forced Filipinos to wear barongs so they couldn’t hide their weapons.  Much like the stories and myths we’ve heard growing up, I don’t think it’s true.  But in the context of a super hero who wears a barong and conceals lumpia as a weapon, it’s a perfect history lesson from a villain!

How would you describe the genre or genres “Lumpia” and “Lumpia with a Vengeance” belong to?

Ginelsa: At the time I conceived and shot the first “Lumpia” film back in 1996, the goal was to create a cool comic book movie that took place in my hometown of Daly City. We were inspired by Robert Rodriguez’s movie “El Mariachi” and wanted to do a FIlipino-American version with our resources.  What started out as a fun movie to collaborate with my childhood friends and neighbors became a fun platform to mix in tidbits about things I loved about my Filipino-American culture and just pop culture in general.

(Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)
(Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

Aside from the usual nods to popular nerd movies like “Star Wars” and comic books, we also wanted to pay homage to Filipino-American pop culture.  So an action scene to the tune of a freestyle song in “Lumpia with a Vengeance?” That’s a dream scene for me and a wink celebrating pioneering Filipino-American musicians like Jocelyn Enriquez and Buffy.  You also get references to mobile DJ’s, pagers, import cars and of course to the ultimate hero Santo Niño!  

We don’t have to be worried that non-Filipinos will not know what lumpia is. Let’s just put it out there. We belong in these movie marquees and theaters just as much as any other movie.

The “Lumpia” films and companion comic books have created a new connected universe (which our fans have dubbed the DFU – Deep Fried Universe) where we can celebrate and educate Filipino-American history in a fun and wacky way.

Calomay:  We have such a rich and unique history to share. We have so much to contribute to the tapestry of American culture shown and shared in cinema, why not show what’s special and beloved to us?

'Lumpia With a Vengeance' (Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)
‘Lumpia With a Vengeance’ (Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

We’re happy to give shine to artists using our platform, our movie. And if it shows others that it’s possible, for example to put a freestyle song from a Fil-Am artist in an action scene, and make it look badass … then great! We need more storytellers sharing their perspective of our Filipino-American culture and history.

The Lumpia films and companion comic books have created a new connected universe (which our fans have dubbed the DFU – Deep Fried Universe) where we can celebrate and educate Filipino American history in a fun and wacky way.

What is one thing you’ll always remember about the journey of creating “Lumpia with a Vengeance” (2020) as a sequel to “Lumpia” (2003)?

Ginelsa:  Our journey creating “Lumpia with a Vengeance” (2020) was only made possible by our supporters. Our backers willed this movie into existence back in 2013 when we launched our Kickstarter campaign. It took us almost a decade to finally get it done but only because we wanted to make sure we came out with a final product that was worthy of their support. It’s easy to throw the word “community” around as a buzz word but this movie was truly funded, produced and distributed by the community.

We have such a rich and unique history to share. We have so much to contribute to the tapestry of American culture shown and shared in cinema, why not show what’s special and beloved to us?

AJ Calomay

Calomay: I’m proud of our crew’s commitment to getting the project done and following through on what we promised. We did the Kickstarter for what was then known just as “Lumpia 2” in 2013 to celebrate the 10-year anniversary for “Lumpia,” not fully understanding the long road that was ahead. The all-or-nothing Kickstarter a success (crossed the goal with 22 mins left!) and knowing that 712 people backed our project was enough fuel for us to push onward throughout all the challenges, get the job done right and produce a film that we were all proud of.

Rachel (April Absynth) goes undercover in 'Lumpia With A Vengeance'
(Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

Part of the film post-production involves talent based in Philippines. How can being transnational as part of the overall process of filmmaking benefit a film project?

Calomay: “Lumpia with a Vengeance” had 668 visual effects shots. Everything from placing monitors on TV screens, to making lumpia fly to computer-generated liquid effects. We had about 26 visual effects artists contribute to the film. My friend, filmmaker Marie Jamora, referred me to one of the artists who we got on board — an award winning VFX artist from the Philippines, Jauhn Dablo. He created visual effects for one scene only, but there were about 75 shots in that scene. 

'Lumpia With A Vengeance' (Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)
‘Lumpia With A Vengeance’ (Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

It’s a big moment in the film so I can’t give away too much, but the artistry of his work was amazing. He captured the tone perfectly.  

Being transnational is absolutely important in the overall process of filmmaking, especially independent filmmaking, because we need to look beyond our immediate network, beyond the usual “Hollywood” system. If we’re not getting the support we want for our feature film here in the U.S., why not look overseas and especially our motherland, to support and contribute to a film telling stories about one aspect of the Filipino diaspora. 

And now with technology, the process is much easier. Through email, Viber texts, file servers and After Effects project files and plugins, we made this all happen digitally and seamlessly.

Can you tell us how it was to start film distribution around the onset of a global pandemic, with movie theaters closing, some later filing for bankruptcy? 

Ginelsa: Self-distribution theatrically was not the initial goal.  It felt like our only option.  Even after winning the Audience Award for Best Narrative at the Hawai’i International Film Festival and selling out our film festival screenings nationwide, we had difficulty getting any serious offers for distribution. When we had to turn away hundreds of fans at our San Diego Comic Con SE premiere, we saw with our own eyes that a mainstream audience could eat up our film and really enjoy it!  

Being transnational is absolutely important in the overall process of filmmaking, especially independent filmmaking, because we need to look beyond our immediate network, beyond the usual ‘Hollywood’ system.

So when Regal and Cinemark offered us an opportunity to play in theaters nationwide, we jumped at it with an extra boost of confidence that we had the support that could fill up those seats. I believe the timing worked in our favor as folks were slowly returning from the pandemic to theaters again.  We timed it so it came out during Filipino-American History Month.  Also, there wasn’t much Hollywood content coming in the fall so there was room for us.

Rachel (April Absynth) joins Team Lumpia in 'Lumpia With A Vengeance'
(Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

Calomay: With all the obstacles this film has been through, of course our festival and theatrical tour had to be at the start of a global pandemic! Yet another, and unprecedented challenge for us (for all the world). But we were up for it. Virtual screenings and drive-ins were good options that enabled us to get started with the initial festivals. Once theaters started loosening up restrictions a bit, it motivated us to keep the festival run going so we could finally experience the film with a large audience in a theater. And yes, we were grateful that there was room for us in big theater chains like Regal and Cinemark. The timing worked out.

'Lumpia With A Vengeance' (Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)
‘Lumpia With A Vengeance’ (Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

But to rewind a bit, I can also say that for my post-production team, the move to have everyone work from home worked out for our movie. Since a lot of my post-production crew was on the film on a part-time basis, having everyone at home to multitask and work on this “side project” did help accelerate our completion of the film.

Making and distributing “Lumpia with a Vengeance” requires commitment, a strong focus and vision. What has propelled you?

Ginelsa:  If our backers and supporters propelled the making of the film, it was my prior experience that propelled the distribution and marketing.  20 years ago, I was part of the team that self-distributed another Filipino-American film, “The Debut,” in theaters nationwide.  As the associate producer, I drove cross-country with the movie for two years, reaching out to different Filipino-American communities all over the country to support the movie.  That two-year journey building the audience ourselves rewarded “The Debut” with a home video deal with Sony Pictures.  So we had the network and strategy but would we be able to spread the word and do what we did for “The Debut” in two years in just a three-week span for “Lumpia with a Vengeance?”

Calomay: I want my daughter, who was born about two weeks after we premiered in November 2020, to see characters on the big screen who look like her. So she can grow up knowing that she’s represented in the powerful medium of cinema. But we’ll see when she’s older if she really appreciated what we did 🙂 It might just be something like, “that was cool, Dad,” hah. Well, if she’s proud of them I’m OK with that.

Lumpia With A Vengeance
(Photo courtesy of Kid Heroes Productions/Xylophone Films)

“Lumpia with a Vengeance” won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature in the 2020 Hawaii International Film Festival. Filmed primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area, “Lumpia with a Vengeance” stars former UFC champion Mark Muñoz, April Absynth (STARZ “Blindspotting”), Katrina Dimaranan (Miss Philippines Universe Tourism 2021), Earl Baylon (Netflix “Tomb Raider”), Danny Trejo (“Machete”) and a talented ensemble. The film also features an amazing soundtrack with new songs from Apl.de.Ap of the Black Eyed Peas and Ruby Ibarra.

The main theatrical run for “Lumpia with a Vengeance” has ended, but there are limited theatrical screenings (ie. Portland’s premiere on Jan. 29, 2022) still happening as the crew prepares for the 20th anniversary of “Lumpia” in 2023.  You can follow the Lumpia crew at @lumpiamovie on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. You can access the original Lumpia film, watch the trailer for “Lumpia with a Vengeance” and find out about screenings at http://lumpiamovie.com/screenings.  

Check out the trailer below.

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