Meet the First Filipino Actress Who Won at the Hong Kong Film Awards
Local film festival Cinemalaya has always been a venue for Filipino films and independent filmmakers to shine, but it has also been a platform for creatives—directors, scriptwriters, actors, and producers alike—to shed light on issues worth greater discourse. This is exactly why Filipino actress Crisel Consunji is happy her film, Still Human, a movie that tackles the life of an Overseas Filipino Worker in Hong Kong, is on the roster of films for the festival.
While the world has its eyes turned to Hong Kong and its protesters making noise in public spaces, the Asian country has long been home to other voices who are misrepresented in the media. Still Human, starring Consunji, is set to be shown at this year’s Cinemalaya on Friday, August 9, at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino at CCP.
Directed and written by Oliver Siu Kuen Chan, Still Human revolves around two key characters: Leung, a middle-aged pensioner who is confined to a wheelchair after an accident, and his new caregiver Evelyn, who had just moved to Hong Kong in search for a higher-paying salary. In the aftermath of its 2018 premiere, the film enjoyed global attention, even recently showing at the New York Asian Film Festival and bagging multiple nominations and accolades at the Hong Kong Film Awards. At the latter awards ceremony, Chan was awarded the title of Best New Director, while veteran actor Anthony Wong, who plays Leung, took home the award for Best Actor. Consunji, who plays Evelyn, was distinguished as Best New Performer. This is a big feat for Consunji, who is the first-ever Filipino to be given the award.
The win is a big feat for Consunji, who is the first-ever Filipino to be given the award. While this is her first role in a feature-length film, Consunji’s acting career has spanned from training at Repertory Philippines to performing at Hong Kong Disneyland, and eventually to founding Baumhaus, a performing arts school for children.
Consunji, a Filipino national now based in Hong Kong, says the movie called to her because of its underlying theme. Below, T&C talks to the rising star:
This is your debut role in a movie. What moved you to audition for it?
[It’s] really because of the story. When I found out that someone was going to make a feature film and one of the lead characters was a Filipina working as a foreign domestic helper – it made me want to be part of that because it’s a move to reclaim our narrative. This is the story of a lot of our fellow countrywomen and I’ve had considerable experience of doing community work and have gotten to know them and have become my friends. And I feel like it’s about time that their stories are told because it’s pretty much impossible to imagine a functioning Hong Kong without the Filipina domestic workers. Yet, you often don’t see them in mainstream media, except in stories that don’t necessarily represent these women.
You mentioned you also did some work with domestic foreign workers.
Back in Manila, my Bachelor’s and Master’s [programs] were in Political Science, in spite of the fact that I grew up in the theater. I felt I wanted to be in development work. And while I was studying, I was always touched by the stories of the people who would leave the country and I could see the statistics of what it was bringing to the country and what we were losing. When I got to Hong Kong, I thought this was a great opportunity to learn from them and to hear their stories. When I got there, I got it all wrong. A lot of these women don’t need help, they are strong. They are empowered. They just need the right channels to be able to help them make something of their lives.
This movie was also a big win for Oliver Chan, who is also debuting as a director. How did you navigate through these new experiences together?
She was a joy to work with because she was very clear of her vision and she’s very uncompromising in terms of quality. At the same time, she’s very empathetic, she listens to people and she works with people. She has a very good understanding of people and their personalities, and so I think that made it very easy to work with her.
There’s currently a surge of Asian movies being released for the mainstream market. How do you think global audiences are receiving these films and what would it mean for the next generation of Asian talents?
I think it’s great that the doors have been opened for a lot of Asian talents in general—in film, on stage. It’s also great that people are breaking through barriers and the first few generations have broken through and said, “Listen, let’s break the difference of stereotypes and let people see these talents for the message that they represent.” It’s a great chance for us to explore our unique stories in different contexts and have a cross-cultural sharing.
You serve as such a huge inspiration for Filipino performers who are trying to make their way around the world. Would you have any advice for them?
I think that when you get into something like this, it’s something that is a passion project. I don’t think you necessarily think of making it big. I think staying true to what you believe in and picking projects you love, while giving your heart and soul into it sends a very clear message. That integrity is what would actually get people to appreciate and admire the work you do. I think a lot of Filipinos have great work ethic. We have a very vibrant entertainment scene in the Philippines and I think it’s great that we have good training, and it’s just a matter of going out there, giving your best, and choosing things that matter.
Are we going to see you on the big screen again?
I am interested to see what more I can do on film because it’s an interesting medium. It’s a new challenge for me. I would love to explore different characters and get something that is creatively or artistically challenging, and at the same time hopefully socially relevant.
Still Human will be premiering at Cinemalaya on August 9, 2019, at the Tanghalang Aurelio Tolentino at CCP. For tickets and more information, visit culturalcenter.gov.ph.