Asian actors

How the ‘friend card’ started ‘Asian Persuasion’ on path to awards

Jannelle So Productions

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How the ‘friend card’ started ‘Asian Persuasion’ on path to awards
Fifteen Asian countries are represented in the production of the film 'Asian Persuasion,' including Filipinos

This story is published in partnership with SoJannelleTV, a magazine show about Filipinos in North America

Before Asian Persuasion would become a hit on the film festival circuit, writer Mike Ang had some persuading of his own to do.

The Filipino-American entrepreneur had written a screenplay while he was at home during the height of the pandemic, but needed to get it into the hands of a professional who could bring his vision to light. That’s when he pulled the “friend card” with Jhett Tolentino, the film and theater producer who just happened to be in New York editing a documentary in March of 2021. With a full plate of projects lined up, Tolentino was surprised to get a pitch from his friend at lunch, but offered to hear him out.

Tolentino, who is the first Filipino citizen to win both a Tony Award and a Grammy Award, was blunt and honest with his initial impression.

“I said, ‘Mike, you know I’m busy, what is it about?’ He tells me the story and I said there’s a movie on Netflix, just watch it, it’s the same,” Tolentino told Filipino-American media pioneer Jannelle So-Perkins in an exclusive interview for So Jannelle TV, a Filipino-American lifestyle magazine show which airs US-wide on cable channels The Filipino Channel (TFC) and ANC; as well as on local Southern CA digital channel KNET 25.1; and is also available on social media platforms.

How the ‘friend card’ started ‘Asian Persuasion’ on path to awards

Ang initially felt crushed, but quickly rebounded. He had seen the other film on Netflix and was confident that his story was different. Ang didn’t ask his friend for a rubber stamp of approval, only to have his script read and given a fair opportunity.

“I never take no for an answer,” said Ang. “I sent him my script and I said whenever you have a chance, I don’t care when it is. I kind of used the friend card and I said we’re friends, I just need someone to give me an honest opinion. If it sucks, I’m OK, but I’m only OK after you read it and then you tell me it sucks.”

Tolentino agreed, and gave the script a read. Two weeks later, he replied to Ang and asked to set up a meeting. Tolentino said he would co-produce the film, as long as Ang accepted his script suggestions. They were in business.

The film, which stars Filipino-American actor Dante Basco plus Filipino film veterans KC Concepcion and Paolo Montolban, tells the story of a 40-something man going through a divorce. When he is ordered to pay an alimony rate that he can’t afford, he comes up with a scheme to make a dating profile for his ex-wife so she can find someone to remarry and avoid the payments. The plan goes well until he realizes that he wants a second chance with his ex.

How the ‘friend card’ started ‘Asian Persuasion’ on path to awards

“It’s a crazy madcap love story,” explained Ang. “At the crux of it is about second chances. It’s about finding love again. It’s about divorces but it’s also about the positive side which oftentimes we don’t cover that.”

Among the changes which Tolentino suggested were making the script, which was originally supposed to be about Filipino Americans, about people from various Asian backgrounds. 

“As a commercial producer, not that I’m putting down our capabilities or artists, but the way I’ve noticed in the industry is that we are not the preferred Asian content,” said Tolentino.

Tolentino also helped fill in plot holes, and suggested that there be Asian, women and LGBTQ+ representation in the cast and crew, and even vendors and caterers. There were 15 different Asian countries represented in the production of the film, with that number rising to 21 when vendors and caterers were included.

Ang may have played the friend card, but it was the strong potential of the script which mattered in the end.

“I used the friend card to get him to read it but I know with Jhett the friend card doesn’t get you beyond that unless he really believes in the project,” said Ang. 

“The fact that he believed in it so much to say not only co-produce it with me but to make my directorial debut together, I knew that we were on this journey together and we were gonna do it right all the way.”  – Jannelle So Productions | Rappler.com

Rappler is partnering with Jannelle So Productions Inc (JSP), founded by Filipino-American pioneer and Los Angeles-based journalist Jannelle So, to publish video and written stories from SoJannelleTV about the journeys, successes, and challenges of Filipinos living in America.

Check out So Jannelle TV daily for stories that make you pause, reflect, and appreciate who we are and what we are as a people. 

Sundays, 4:30pm PT / 7:30pm ET on The Filipino Channel (TFC)
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Replay on Saturdays, 7:30pm PT / 10:30pm ET on ANC North America
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