By Kai Curry
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Fight me instead” was the challenge issued on March 31 by Manny Pacquiao to the perpetrators of racist hate crimes against women and the elderly. It is this same challenge that Chris Soriano, Filipino American filmmaker, brings to the screen in his movie, “Zeus,” scheduled to be available via streaming on Aug. 20, the day before Pacquiao’s next fight.
“With all these hate crimes that I started seeing…because they were attacking and still are attacking the elderly, I said, ‘What if they beat up a Navy Seal?’ Then I said, ‘What if they fought a boxer?’ Maybe I could do some justice by…making a movie—even if it doesn’t get anywhere, at least to the people that feel like there’s no hope, I can create a unifying message…with all races,” Soriano told the Weekly.
Soriano wrote, starred in, and directed “Zeus” himself, in 90 days, during the pandemic. With no film experience, except one incomplete film called “Dynasty Boys”—after which he named his film company—and a background as the owner of a nonprofit that presented talks for the military, he took it upon himself to simply reach out to people who might help.
“They’re all ordinary people that, at the end of the day, if they believe in your mission, will help you.”
Pacquiao was happy to come on board as executive producer, and Soriano also successfully recruited two more executive producers, JP Zarate and Stephanie Zarate, after he saw their involvement in Seattle’s own locally- and Asian American-made film, “Paper Tigers.”
“I admired what they were creating…and they also did it by themselves, independent filmmakers…They were very loving and sweet, and they were Filipino, too. I said, ‘Hey, it’s a Filipino party here!’” Soriano appreciated the Zarates’ passion for Asian and Asian American representation, and when they told him, “That’s great what you’re doing, but we believe in you.”
Stephanie and JP are both from Seattle and felt that getting behind Zeus was a great opportunity.
“We were seeing media reports of…violence against the elderly, against Asian women, and that really affected us,” Stephanie explained. “We wanted…to assert ourselves in this activism…In May, we were presented with the movie ‘Zeus’ and the message behind it, and…we jumped on it right away…Then there was the Manny aspect. We’re big Manny fans…so that was an easy in.”
“It’s our part to get Filipinos and Asians in the forefront, in leading roles,” JP added. “We have two daughters. Film and movies are such an influential thing in our society…It’s different when our kids can say, ‘Hey, that person in this movie looks like me and acts like me. They eat the same foods that I do at home.’ Those are things that we would like to contribute.”
Soriano promises lots of Filipino culture in the movie, both positive and negative.
“A typical thing is that, if you’re not being practical with your dreams, it’s like a blasphemous attack on the family,” Soriano shared from his own experience as the child of a Navy dad and a nurse mom who wished he would also become a nurse. “If it’s not stable and secure—because a lot of the Filipino immigrants that came here came from poverty—why do you even exist? It’s the DNA of why you exist in America—because they brought you here.” In the movie, Soriano shows his character, Zeus, going against that.
“How do they react when you actually become successful?”
Soriano remembers that, growing up, there were few Filipino or Asian role models. Now, he has a chance to include them in his own film. Along with Pacquiao, another person Soriano looked up to was Cambodian bodybuilder, Randall Pich, who stars in the film as a muay thai fighter.
“Sometimes you ask somebody, do you know what a Filipino is? Or where they’re from? They’ll be like, ‘Nah, they’re in Asia or someplace.’ …I didn’t see color growing up. I was like, ‘We’re all one.’ I’d even think I was a ‘cowboy’ and then I was like, ‘Wait, there are no Asian cowboys here!’” …I pray that, through the films I make, I can showcase that ‘American’ could be being born here, pursuing what you want, creating what you want, and not including skin color.”
Zeus goes by “Gorilla from Manila,” as a tribute to “Thrilla from Manila” and as a description of his fighting style, but his family tells him he’s just an “amboy.” Soriano believes the audience will relate not only to Zeus’s story, but to his own, as a Filipino American boy who tried to follow his parents’ dream—he was briefly a certified nursing assistant—but finally had to follow his own path. Bullied himself growing up on the streets of San Diego, Soriano has made it his mission to help others and to promote the unity of all people. He believes that, with the sport of boxing, participants can fight “the right way” and resolve their conflicts in a healthier manner.
“The climate right now, with the elderly Asian people being attacked, promotes fear, and in a fearful community, there’s less interaction, perhaps less empathy, or less love going around. I thought of having a film to showcase the intensity of these attacks but also—and this is all a case by case basis, each attack, they’re not one specific race—I wanted to showcase how people can still come together.”
Soriano was not a trained boxer and learned firsthand the courage it takes to become one by training at a gym in California. His life, including the making of “Zeus,” has been an inspiring pattern of “going for it,” and doing what has to be done to be successful.
“It takes a lot to even get in the ring…You have to have the guts to say, I’m gonna do this.”
For more information, visit zeusthemovie.com.
Kai can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.