Cast: H.P. Mendoza, Jake Moreno, L.A. Renigen
CRASH! So came Richard Wong and H.P. Mendoza through the windows of Asian American cinema, like cyclones of can-do guerrilla filmmaking out to have more fun, sing more loudly, and break more furniture than anyone else. Former film school classmates, the two drummed up the resources and gumption to turn Mendoza’s concept album about the sleepy cemetery town of Colma into a bona-fide musical. Little did they know they would soon have on their hands a cult classic and one of the most beloved Bay Area films ever.
Embracing all the grey, foggy anti-glamour of the suburbs, COLMA: THE MUSICAL springs life out of ordinary track homes and the ennui of recent high school grads. Billy’s an aspiring theater actor who knows he has no future in Colma. Maribel is eager to leave her teenage years behind. Rodel (played by Mendoza) is an occasional poet who struggles to come out to his dad. In meticulously staged musical numbers, the three dance through sidewalks, college parties, and graveyards and sing to enchanting pop beats that sound more 8-bit video game than Broadway spectacle, but are all the more charming and authentic for it.
Few Asian American films inspire cinephilia the way COLMA does, as when you’re immediately friends with somebody because they too know the words to “Colma Stays” or “Crash the Party.” For others, the film is a loving ode to seizing chances, when lack of experience or funding can’t stop the conviction to write poetry, star in plays, or make a musical. So while Wong has gone on to direct three more features, including this year’s Come As You Are; and while Mendoza has made another musical Fruit Fly, and the seminal I Am a Ghost and Bitter Melon; COLMA stays the sentimental favorite.