Reel Asian 2021: Our Review of ‘Islands’ (2021)

Posted in Festival Coverage, Movies, Reel Asian 2021 by - November 09, 2021
Reel Asian 2021: Our Review of ‘Islands’ (2021)

All Filipinos are alike, every unhappy Filipino is, well, I’m getting the quote wrong. In Islands, Martin Edralin’s protagonist Joshua (Rogelio Balagtas) fits a certain archetype. That archetype is  the unmarried brother who has to care for their aging parents. Well, one parent since his mother dies before the first act is over. His mother’s death hits his father hard, making him unable to care for himself. All of this takes place in Scarborough, but the film avoids Scarborough iconography. Most of the film takes place indoors. The film shows bad he is at cooking and other tasks involving caring for his father. Showing how bad he is at those tasks at least subverts stereotypes about fortysomething single Asian men. And there’s another plot point that subverts that stereotype. The subversion comes in the form of Joshua’s cousin is Marisol (Sheila Lotuaco).

Family can be tough. The film gives some variety by showing Joshua’s brother Paolo, who has a white wife and biracial children. But most of the focus is on him, which is fine except for the way it writes Joshua and Marisol. There’s a scene in the second act where Marisol talks about her physically and implicitly sexually abusive boss. The conversation then segues naturally to Joshua offering to pay her for helping him and his father. It’s an offer she turns down. Sure, viewers can chalk that baffling decision to a fact about people. Fictional or otherwise, they choose who they take BS from. I’ve seen that kind of selectiveness personally as someone with an unconventional career. Nonetheless this doesn’t just perpetuate stereotypes of docile Asians in general. But also of docile Asian women who let people take advantage of them. And the dynamic between them gets really weird.

Islands is Reel Asian’s opening night film. Buy your tickets here.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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