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The Tale-Teller’s Return

Director Jun Robles Lana, whose Bwakaw was a critical and audience favorite and won Best Actor at last year’s Asian Film Awards, returns with another redemptive drama in the form of Barber’s Tales, a Best Actress winner at the Tokyo Film Festival back in October. He returns to HKIFF once again and sat down with us to give us an idea about his latest work.

Barber’s Tales is an empowering ode to women and their ability to change their community and society. What was it that made you decide on this as the film’s main message?
I was raised by my mom – a single parent. So I wanted to make a film that could honor her. That was my objective from the beginning – she was my inspiration for this film.

Also, ever since I started out in this industry writing scripts for many directors, I’ve been working on the Barber’s Tales script because I wanted to write about the martial law period in the Philippines. But I wanted to look at it from the point of view of a female character, and how she is able to change the society around her. I wanted to capture the experience within a remote small town.

When this film was first presented as a project at HAF (and won the main prize) last year, the Marcos-era period was more a backdrop. But in the final film it is given more prominence. What was the impetus behind this new political focus?
Maybe that was my fault . From the beginning, the milieu was very important – it was important in telling the story. For example, the character of the mayor in the film – he represents the government, he represents Marcos. He plays a big role. And when the character of Marilou, played by Eugene Domingo, clashes with him, this becomes a very important moment within the story. So it has a political subtext. It was always quite clear to me that it was going to be political.

How did you come up with the barbershop as the setting for the film?
I’ve been playing with the idea of role-reversals for a long time. My first script In the Navel of the Sea was about the first male mid-wife in a small town. Barber’s Tales was supposed to be the second film after that, but it took me ten years to actually polish the concept. And then I came up with the idea of, “Oh, the first female barber in a small town, that would work!”

How did you decide to cast Eugene Domingo in the main role?
Eugene Domingo was my first and only choice, actually. But she’s so busy! I waited two years for her. In the meantime, when she said no to the project, I decided to audition others but couldn’t the right actress to play the part. So I just decided to wait for her.