Jhett Tolentino debuts as feature film director in ‘Asian Persuasion’

Tolentino: ‘A fight for representation.’ Instagram photo

By Cristina DC Pastor

“Asian Persuasion” is the complicated story of Mickey and Avery, a newly-divorced couple.

It is also the story of a creative collaboration between a theater impresario and a liquor entrepreneur on a comedic crime story that involves a nutty plot, a romance gone wrong, and catfishing. Theater producer Jhett Tolentino has likened the fiction of Tanduay Rhum representative Mike Ang to the “lovechild of ‘Bridesmaid’ and ‘Hangover.’”

The plot unravels this way: Mickey De Los Santos (played by Dante Basco), who owns a run-down coffee shop in Queens, comes up with an outlandish scheme to end his alimony payments to his ex-wife, the beautiful and stylish Asian-American Avery Chua (Toni Gonzaga), by coaching a potential suitor on how to make her fall for him and remarry her. Everything goes smoothly until Mickey’s plot backfires. He rushes to clean up his act to win her back. He might be too late.

“Mike Ang’s script is delicate even though it can simply be the lovechild of ‘Bridesmaid’ and ‘Hangover,’” shared Tolentino with The FilAm. “It needs a distinct filmmaker to balance and understand Mike’s intention which can easily be misconstrued as misogynistic from a man’s perspective and a sell-out from a woman’s POV. His goal is neither.”

Tolentino ventured into the role of film director after almost a decade in theater, winning Tonys for “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” (Best Play), “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” (Best Musical), and “A Raisin in the Sun” (Best Play Revival). “The Color Purple,” where he is a co-producer, grabbed a Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album.

It is time, he said. “The racial reckoning has empowered me to have my artistic voice and vision unravel. I also want to contribute to our fight for representation.”

“After having done 19 theatrical productions, I realized films have longer shelf life and expansive market reach, which is global. That means the revenue stream is limitless,” he said. On top of the theatrical release, he added, films are available for streaming as Subscription-based Video on Demand or SVOD; Transactional Video on Demand or TVOD, also known as Pay-per-View; or Advertising-based Video on Demand or AVOD for additional returns.

“In the theater, once we close, that’s it,” he continued. “Licensing is there, but it is never the same as the original production. Films are also done in just a specific period of time while the theater is live, between 5-8 performances a week for months, if not years.”

Cast almost complete

“Asian Persuasion” has announced its cast led by Dante Basco and Toni Gonzaga as the couple squaring off over alimony. “I love the title,” he said. “It is the final title.” Also cast are Paolo Montalban, Celia Au, Kevin Kreider, and Jax Bacani.

It’s been four months since the project was announced. Production is still in the development stage but has been moving at “a high-speed rate,” said Tolentino. “We are aiming to announce the rest of the cast (and creatives) within the next few weeks. Production is set for Summer next year and we strategize to premiere in the U.S. early to mid-2023 and the theatrical release after.”

Film is not exactly new territory for Tolentino. He wrote, produced and directed the autobiographical short documentary “Life Is What You Make It”which was released in 2017. It was screened in 43 international film festivals in 29 countries and won in 11 countries.  It will be available for streaming on August 20th at TBA Play Global.  He also served as a producer on Isabel Sandoval’s critically-acclaimed “Lingua Franca” which premiered at the 76th Venice Film Festival and was nominated for the Independent Film John Cassavetes Award.

As a filmmaker of color and a proud LGBTQ member, I am in a quintessential position to take the helm,” he said. “It is always every filmmaker’s dream to be well-received after his/her directorial debut. Whatever the outcome, I want them to know that we have given it my best.”

(C) The FilAm 2021


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