HomeBad Ass AsiansH.P. Mendoza Hopes to Inspire Change with Bitter Melon

H.P. Mendoza Hopes to Inspire Change with Bitter Melon

By Mandy Day, AsAmNews Staff Writer

 

Discussing domestic violence is often seen as taboo in the Asian American community but one film, Bitter Melon seeks to encourage conversation. Written and directed by H.P. Mendoza, the independent film opens in limited release today. AsAmNews was able to sit down with Mendoza and one of the film’s stars, Patrick Epino, last month at the San Diego Asian Film Festival where the film won Best Narrative Feature.

Bitter Melon follows the story of a family gathering in San Francisco for Christmas. Mendoza wrote the script in 1997 and was inspired to by his own experience as a child. “Most of the women in my family, I have a really big family because Filipino, and not all, but a lot of the women in my family went through the exact same thing,” Mendoza told AsAmNews.

“They lived under the abusive rule of one man who was doing what he knew how to do and that was beat his wife into submission. It was such a cultural norm that people would joke about it, and as a child I thought, that’s just how things are. And as I grew up, realized a lot of these women in my family were joking as a way to deal with it.”

 The film’s plot largely focuses on Troy (Epino), a quick-witted, verbally abusive, and volatile man and his relationship with his family. Troy is often jovial, yet with a cruel sense of humor, leaving his family on edge as they wait for his mood to turn.  His unpredictability turns a happy family reunion into a gathering rife with tension leading to members of the family seeking escape.  Troy’s siblings try to be supportive of Troy’s wife and child by offering them emotional support and opportunities to leave, but he soon discovers what they have been doing behind his back and flies into a rage. The youngest son, Declan (Jon Norman Schneider), incapacitates Troy and the family hatches a plan to kill Troy and finally free the family from his verbal and physical abuse.

Bitter Melon2

As Troy is held captive in his mother’s basement, family secrets are spilled and Troy’s demeanor changes as he confronts his mother on the abuse the family endured from his now absent father. Mendoza portrayed a family grappling with multi-generational abuse, hoping to spark discussion on an uncomfortable topic. He told AsAmNews, “I think there are a lot of people who have abusive fathers or absently abusive fathers, and over time reveal themselves to be sad men.”

Mendoza talked at length about his experiences and his desire to make a film that broke away from cliché dramatic films about domestic abusers. He spoke about viewers being unhappy with how he chose to progress the plot and some included details taken from his own life like foregoing speech in Tagalog for his family’s much less common dialect. 

Bitter Melon is a dark comedy and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I think I like that I made a Filipino film that’s not everyone’s cup of tea because when you’re doing marginalized cinema, you feel the need to make a film for everybody.”

Epino credited Mendoza and his fellow cast mates for his success in portraying a character with such dark secrets haunting him. “On the set, when it’s safe enough, you’re given permission to push boundaries and to go to certain places and do certain things”, he said when asked about his portrayal of Troy who often concealed his trauma with humor.

The film is unique and like many independent films, a passion project for the writer. Mendoza adds plot twists that are quite jarring to the viewer, but make the film an enjoyable experience without losing the important message it wishes to convey. Bitter Melon opens in theaters in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City this weekend.

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