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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Debut (2000)

"Everybody's working so hard for your sister's party, and you go gallivanting around. Are you even listening to me?"
- Roland Mercado (Tirso Cruz III)

Review By: Dan Heaton  
Published: September 14, 2003

Stars: Dante Basco, Tirso Cruz III, Eddie Garcia, Joy Bisco
Other Stars: Bernadette Balagtas, Darion Basco, Dion Basco, Derek Basco, Gina Alajar, Jayson Schaal
Director: Gene Cajayon

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:28m:011s
Release Date: September 09, 2003
UPC: 043396011359
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ A-B+B+ A-

DVD Review

When crafting a 90-minute film related to a specific culture, it can become incredibly easy to depend on stereotypes. Character development often takes a back seat to basic, straightforward plot elements that generate awful tedium. Luckily, all is not lost thanks to wonderful screen gems that focus on real people over dull shocks. The Debut stands proudly among the ranks of What's Cooking, Raising Victor Vargas, and other charming entries often produced on minimal budgets. The events feel believable and present genuine individuals that attract our heart's attention.

Ben Mercado (Dante Basco, Biker Boyz) is nearing the end of high school and spends any free time he has working at a local comic book store. His life resembles that of a typical young guy, except that his family hails from the Philippines. Ben aspires to attend art school and draws very effectively, but this goal does not match with his father Roland's (Tirso Cruz III) specific ideas. A vast rift grows between the stubborn teen and the family, which increases with each nasty argument. The events revolve around a gala "debut" for Ben's sister Rose (Bernadette Balagtas) that includes relatives from across the world. Occurring at the same time is a keg party held by the rich white kids in the area. Ben has reasons to attend both affairs, but the domestic troubles continue to drive him away from the Filipino culture.

This type of material could easily fall into boring generic territory, but first-time director and co-writer Gene Cajayon wades through this murky area with considerable aplomb. The writing does become a bit cheesy, but the tone is so sincere that it overwhelms any difficulties. Many of the fun scenes immediately drew a smile to my face while avoiding the stupid comedy of far too many "teen" movies. The dance battles are truly enjoyable while being simply filmed. Cajayon and writing pal John Manal Castro definitely inject their hearts into this picture. As the tale progresses, Ben develops a relationship with the stunning Annabelle (Joy Bisco, Port Charles) that works surprisingly well. A clash with her wannabe gangster ex-boyfriend may be a bit much, but it does create a necessary dramatic conflict to resolve.

Easily one of the story's most compelling individuals is the working-class father Roland, who appears initially to resemble the usual dads of boring cinema. As Ben learns more about his past, we also grow to appreciate Roland's sacrifices for his children. A poignant, tense moment with the grandfather also showcases the possible origins of the tough paternal demeanor. A worthwhile relationship also exists between the brother and sister, who enjoy a frenetic basketball game and appear to really care for each other. A few typical silly relatives do appear, but it's nothing on the crazy level of the massive hit My Big Fat Greek Wedding. This script takes a different path and actually moves beyond that picture on an emotional level. The budget is much lower and the scale is smaller, but the effect is very strong.

The Debut easily could be dismissed as just another little ethnic "coming of age" movie, but it deserves a closer examination. Another refreshing aspect is the depiction of Ben's white and Mexican-American friends, who do not abandon him when they witness his culture up close. The guys do act stupid, but it matches how kids generally behave. We do see the ugly, racist views of the white culture, but it does not reflect all of the people involved. A diverse collection of Filipino characters also appear, which helps to avoid pigeonholing either group. This realistic atmosphere carries throughout the story and makes it much more effective. The overall result is an engaging film that should charm many unsuspecting viewers if they give it a real chance.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Debut has a solid 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that should please its viewers. Few defects or grain exist on the screen, and this contributes to an excellent viewing experience. The film's low budget does not resonate with the colors, which appear bright and clear. This transfer fails to match the best DVD releases, but it still works nicely and is recommended.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: Energetic hip-hop and rock music plays through much of the story, and it emits clearly from the front speakers. This release features a 2.0-channel Dolby Surround track that presents the considerable dialogue in understandable fashion. The overall transfer is not extremely powerful and remains fairly centralized, but it still does an impressive job. Given the technological limitations, this transfer provides an effective audio presentation.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Tagalog, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Chinese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Hollywood Homicide, Can't Hardly Wait
3 TV Spots/Teasers
6 Deleted Scenes
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Gene Cajayon and Writer John Manal castro
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The Mercado Files
  2. Gag Reel
  3. Original "Debut" Short Film
  4. "Diary of a Gangsta Sucka" Short Film
Extras Review: This special edition of The Debut contains a surprising collection of worthwhile extra features that nicely complement the picture. Writer/director Gene Cajayon and co-writer John Manal Castro remain very down-to-earth in the feature-length commentary. Both speakers offer insights into the Filipino culture and describe the difficulties involved in shooting. The discussion covers some adverse reactions to the film, which are very interesting and rarely appear in commentaries. Also noteworthy are six deleted scenes, which include an alternate opening and some good personal moments. The video and sound quality are fairly muddled, and the total running time is only about eight minutes, but it is a nice inclusion.

Several fine documentaries enhance our understanding of this film, which stands as basically the first picture to deal with the Filipino-American experience. The Making of The Debut runs for 20 minutes and contains impressive conversations with co-writers Cajayon and Castro. The filmmakers ventured to Manila and cast some of the country's greatest actors. The piece basically talks to everyone and gives us the lengthy, difficult story of the project's creation. The Little Film That Could: Touring the Country showcases their nationwide journey to get the film viewed. This feature runs for eight minutes and presents the communal atmosphere of its release.

This disc also contains two short films that showcase the story origins and writers' early work. 1992's Debut provides the initial foundation that Cajayon used to sell the feature film. The image and sound quality is pretty poor, and the actors are mostly different, but it's still an insightful gem. Directed by Castro, Diary of a Gangsta Sucka is a black-and-white student film that depicts the family life and background of a wannabe Filipino gangster. It's an interesting picture that mocks the whole idea of the lifestyle and the so-called cultural experts.

"The Mercado Files" provides three more featurettes that each cover a specific aspect of the film. Art of the Debut speaks to the actual people who created Ben's artwork. The next segment interviews the music supervisors and discusses the movie's diverse songs. Several talented singers and DJs appeared in the film and briefly describe their background. The Basco Brothers visits the large Filipino family who dominate the major acting roles and seem to really have a great time. Each feature runs for a few minutes and is organized by the knockout Vicky Mercado.

The remaining supplements include advertisements, a gag reel, DVD-ROM features, and previews for two other filmsóCan't Hardly Wait and Hollywood Homicide. The "Ad Campaign" section includes the original theatrical trailer and three television spots. Each one utilizes an adequate 1.85:1 widescreen transfer and stereo sound. The gag reel runs for about three minutes and offers a nice selection of silly moments. The best laughs occur during the basketball scenes, where the actors miss shot after shot.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

I have become increasingly irritated by the MPAA's utter failure in rating smart pictures about young adults. The Debut received an R rating due to significant language, while crazy violent pictures with hundreds of deaths retain a PG-13 rating. There is nothing within this picture that could not be viewed by a modern teenager. Its positive message about respecting your culture while pursuing your dreams could be insightful for young viewers. Hopefully, this excellent DVD release will allow a much larger audience to appreciate this intriguing film.


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