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Where EAST meets the Northwest

THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. Richard Wongís directorial debut, Colma: The Musical, is the first Asian-American-made musical film. (Photo courtesy of GreenRockSolid, LLC)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #41 (October 9, 2007), page 13.

Reluctantly coming of age

Colma: The Musical

Directed by Richard Wong

Produced by Paul Kolsanoff, Richard Wong, and Angel Vasquez

Distributed by GreenRockSolid, LLC

By Josephine Bridges

"Colma stays, fast as a tortoise;

Colma stays, popular as rigor mortis;

Colma stays, but I have to go."

This opening number of Colma: The Musical, a film with at least as many sung as spoken lines, puts the viewer smack dab in the middle of the movie from the very beginning. A reluctantly-coming-of-age film set in a bedroom community that could be just about anywhere but happens to be in San Franciscoís shadow, Colma: The Musical is full of delicious contradictions. Silly and profound, innocent and profane, likeable and off-putting, it stays with you. Just like Colma.

Since the music is both the most unlikely and most impressive aspect of Colma: The Musical, itís no great surprise that this film began as a musical number. Songwriter H.P. Mendoza ó who also plays one of three friends who have just graduated high school and now have to figure out what to do with the rest of their lives ó sent director Richard Wong a song he wondered if he ought to post on his website. When the director suggested it would be great in a movie, the multi-talented Mendoza spent the next week writing the rough draft of the screenplay. "To call our shooting schedule Ďambitiousí would be a gross understatement," said Wong. "For eighteen days in August, we lived and breathed Colma."

It shows, and it works. The protagonistsí urgency is reflected in the production values of the film itself, which never lets up. Rodel, played by Mendoza, jumps up on Maribelís car, triggers her alarm, and sings "One Day" in astonishing harmony with one of the most annoying sounds known to modern civilization. "I donít want to be a grownup, I just want to look like one so I can buy alcohol," confides Maribel, played by L.A. Renigen. Billy, played by Jake Moreno, has to try to sell a shirt to an argyle sock hand puppet to get a job heís not sure he wants. And then thereís Rodel and Maribelís duet as they stroll through a cemetery, relentlessly reminding viewers that Colmaís dead outnumber the cityís living 1,500 to one.

"I donít really have good reasons for anything I do," Rodel admits to Billy as the two young men part company toward the end of the film. Thereís tension among the three friends as well as in their families, and itís to this filmís credit that it lets that tension remain unresolved.

Colma: The Musical is not only Richard Wongís directorial debut, itís the first Asian- American-made musical film. It received Special Jury Prizes at the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival, the VC Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival, and the San Diego Asian Film Festival as well as nominations for the Gotham Award ("Best Film Not in a Theater Near You") and the Independent Spirit Award ("Someone to Watch Award"). And like one of the musical numbers Billy sings in a play-within-a-movie, it doesnít mind poking fun at itself for being, "Quirky, quirky, quirky."

The only downside to this film is its language. It isnít gratuitous ó teenagers really do talk like this ó but there is something here to offend just about anyone, and it would be a shame if this prevented teenagers, Colma: The Musicalís natural audience, from seeing a movie they might well find reassuring, if not inspiring.

Colma: The Musical opens October 26 at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. in Portland. For information, including complete dates and show times, call (503) 281-4215, or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org> or <www.colmafilm.com>.