By Kate Tayamora
They are everywhere.
It doesn’t matter whether he lived there all his life, or that he looks very much like the rest of them. All it matters is that they still see him differently- still shorter, darker, less purer than the others.
In a society which does not do away with half-breeds, Min-Jae’s failing attempt to go with the flow gets washed away by the tide.
“Fish Out Of Water” revolves around the story of Min-Jae (Alec Kevin Rigonan), a Filipino-Korean teenager who suffers from discrimination because of his mixed heritage.
Living in Korea with his mother (Yayo Aguila), Min-Jae’s slow journey to acceptance in the homogeneous and hierarchical Korean society was halted when she decides to send him back to the Philippines to continue his studies.
Director Ramon Alberto Garilao begins the film with a visually captivating underwater shot of Min-Jae, submerged, possibly drowning. Through a series of voice overs, the film has successfully reached out to the audience into sympathizing with its protagonist, all the while revealing a deeper message than Garilao’s advocacy to stop the discrimination directed to all multicultural youths.
“Pinoys view Korea as the paradise. Filipinos eventually got fascinated with Koreans,” he said.
Garilao added, “But behind these fancy dramas and Korean pop music lies the untold stories of our countrymen abroad.”
First introduced to the issue during his yearlong exchange program in South Korea last November 2013, “Fish Out Of Water” is dedicated to the plight of the Kopinos- a term used to identify a child with Korean and Filipino descent.
This term, however, becomes problematic since it usually refers to a child born out of wedlock between a Korean father and a Filipina mother.
Not only does it force Kopinos to seek their legitimacy as Korean citizens, it also degrades the importance of the Filipino parent, as both are viewed as second class citizens.
“We must understand that Koreans have this mindset that their race is pure and they are very proud of it,” Garilao said, explaining further that this culture is embedded with the practice of Confucianism in the country.
This film presents the narrative of most, if not all, half-Filipinos living in our country.
Similar to the premise of Cinemalaya Feature film “I, America”, whose story centers on a half- Pinay, half Caucasian lady in search for her father, “Fish Out Of Water” also tackles the story of estrangement, and the identity struggles faced by the children who are left behind to cope.
Although it does not further expound on it, “Fish Out Of Water” touches upon the delicate issues of prostitution, child abandonment, and the consequences thereof to the family structure.
Many children nowadays are growing up fatherless and nationless due to the influx of the sex trade and mail-order bride system used in both countries.
At worst, their situations are celebrated, especially with Filipino-foreign descent translating to becoming a feat to laud- a colonial culture embedded in the FIlipino psyche- without taking into fact the ramifications it poses.
The mentality that supports the superiority of foreign races traces back to the era of Spanish colonization in the country. For a good 350 years, we lived under the authority of the West. Despite the legality of our claim to our country, our self-perception as a country has problems which are rooted in history .
Through the years, there has been an evident preference for foreign materials, largely owing to the fact that we have been bombarded over and over again with false concepts which adhere largely to people’s sensitivity to the capitalist structure of society.
With the implementation of the K to 12 program by the administration of former President Benigno Aquino III, a scheme which adds two additional years to the 10-year educational program, the government prioritizes producing cheap labor over improving the present state of the Philippines’ education system, which remains inaccessible for a majority of the population.
More than that, K to 12 sells the cheap labor they produce to the international market. Instead of striving for a nationalist, scientific and mass-oriented education, the government wishes to allot its skilled labor force to countries abroad.
Couple it with the rise of Filipinos leaving to work abroad, the economic conditions in the country have instilled in its people that their labor will be met with better rewards abroad, only to find themselves in situations worse than what they left.
The cases of Mary Jane Veloso and Flor Contemplacion, as primary examples, are those which would not have existed in the first place had the Philippines paid better attention to industrialization and eradication of the bad effects of Western colonialism in culture.
With the limited running time and budget of the production, however, “Fish Out Of Water” structurally layers these issues on top of one another, enveloping them in a coming of age drama film on a young man’s journey to acceptance.
Such a film so carefully woven is rare, and rarer is it that films like this go unawarded.
Bagging two of the most prestigious merits in the Cinemalaya Short Film Feature category, “Fish Out of Water” has been awarded the film festival’s Special Jury Prize. Garilao has also received the award for Best Direction for this movie.
More than that, “Fish Out of Water” has also been hailed by the University of the Philippines Film Institute as Batch 2016’s Best Thesis, remarkably setting high the standards of student filmmaking.
With passion and pride, Garilao’s dedication to his craft brought forth an outstanding piece of literature to the film community.
As the new wave of Philippine Cinema takes place, films such as “Fish Out Of Water” would definitely be one of the inspirations for the next generation of filmmakers in upholding the honor and excellence in the discipline.