Short film Ban­garang fo­cuses on Ru­fio’s ori­gin

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - ADA TSENG

His red triple-mo­hawk. His dark eye­liner. His show­ing midriff. His shiny black fringed leather jacket, neck­laces made of bones and skulls, one long dan­gling ear­ring and ho­ley black jeans with red tights un­der­neath.

“They re­ally got me good,” re­calls Dante Basco, laugh­ing.

Now, Basco’s char­ac­ter in the 1991 movie “Hook” has be­come iconic for kids of the 1980s and ‘90s who re­mem­ber the Lost Boys crow­ing “Ruffi-ooooo!” for their fear­less leader. Skrillex’s Grammy-award win­ning 2012 dance sin­gle “Ban­garang” was a shout-out to Ru­fio’s bat­tle cry. A pop-punk band in the early 2000s named it­self Ru­fio. Basco has even seen tat­toos of his teenage face on other peo­ple’s bod­ies.

“Now it’s cool,” he says of the cos­tume. “But when you’re 15, you’re like, ‘Dude, what are we do­ing? I have my belly but­ton out? Re­ally?’”

Basco, 41, is now older than Robin Wil­liams was when he played the 40-year-old Peter Ban­ning in a story that imag­ines what would hap­pen if Peter Pan grew up and had to re­turn to Nev­er­land to save his chil­dren from Hook. But he’s still try­ing to keep the char­ac­ter’s le­gacy alive — and take ad­van­tage of its strange cult fan­dom — by help­ing to pro­duce a new, Kick­starter-funded short film about Ru­fio’s ori­gin story, called “Ban­garang,” which pre­mièred on­line on Mon­day.

Basco has a cameo in the film, but is too old to play the young Ru­fio. A new gen­er­a­tion of kids now knows him bet­ter for his voice-over work as Prince Zuko in the Nick­elodeon car­toon “Avatar: The Last Air­ben­der.” But he still gets rec­og­nized by “Hook” fans ev­ery sin­gle day.

“I’ve been Ru­fio longer than I’ve not been Ru­fio, for sure,” he says. “To this day, it’s a bless­ing and a curse. Some peo­ple have such strong mem­o­ries of me as a young ac­tor, that it’s hard to see me as any­thing else. But every­one comes to Hol­ly­wood hop­ing to get a role peo­ple are go­ing to re­mem­ber them for, and I get girls say­ing I was their first crush, or Asian guys say­ing Ru­fio was the first time they saw an Asian kid on­screen that wasn’t nerdy or stereo­typ­i­cal, so I was lucky the char­ac­ter that res­onated was cool.”

When “Hook” pre­mièred in 1991, it was panned (pun in­tended) by crit­ics and un­der­per­formed ex­pec­ta­tions at the box of­fice. Even Spiel­berg fa­mously dis­likes the movie, of­ten bash­ing it in in­ter­views.

Still, dur­ing a press jun­ket for his film “The BFG,” he said, “I don’t love ‘Hook,’ but my kids do, and there’s a whole gen­er­a­tion of young peo­ple who re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate the movie on a level far be­yond what I put into it.”

One fan is “Ban­garang” di­rec­tor Jonah Fein­gold, who con­sid­ers “Hook” his favourite film.

“‘Hook’ is the rea­son I make movies,” he says. “I saw it when I was 2 years old with my dad and told him I wanted to be a di­rec­tor.”

“As a kid, you’re watch­ing it from the per­spec­tive of the Lost Boys,” says Fein­gold, “so when I first saw Ru­fio, I just felt very safe.”

He met Basco serendip­i­tously at a West Hol­ly­wood bar early this year. Fein­gold is de­vel­op­ing a ro­man­tic com­edy about a mod­ern­day Wendy and her life af­ter Peter Pan (with Brit­tany Snow at­tached to star), and asked Basco if he’d con­sider a cameo role. Af­ter Basco read the script, he agreed, and soon af­ter, Fein­gold sug­gested that it’d be fun to pro­duce a film about Ru­fio to­gether.

In Fe­bru­ary, just three weeks af­ter they met, Basco and Fein­gold launched the film’s Kick­starter cam­paign. They raised their goal of $30,000 in less than three days, be­fore even­tu­ally earn­ing $68,790.

“I’ve made a lot of things with not a lot of money and typ­i­cally not a lot of per­mis­sion,” says Fein­gold, who got his start mak­ing videos at Buz­zFeed. “So that’s al­ways been my men­tal­ity: We’re go­ing to go out there and make it, whether the film­mak­ing pow­ers that be come with us or not.”

J.V. Hart, one of the writers on “Hook,” and his son Jake, be­came part of the pro­duc­ing team. Jake Hart, now a film­maker him­self, was the one who came up with the idea for “Hook” when he was 10 years old — and he also played a Lost Boy in the movie.

The orig­i­nal script de­scribed Ru­fio as hav­ing “wild dark braids” and “flash­ing dark eyes.” Basco re­mem­bers think­ing the char­ac­ter was Ja­maican. Spiel­berg added “ban­garang,” the Ja­maican word for “chaos” that be­comes the Lost Boys’ ral­ly­ing cry. But Spiel­berg cast Basco, who’s Filipino — be­cause, as the di­rec­tor told him, he was the only kid they au­di­tioned who scared him.

“I wanted the (new) leader to break the tra­di­tional Lost Boy mould,” says Hart. “Ru­fio is more street punk, ‘Lord of the Flies,’ a gang leader.”

For “Ban­garang,” Fein­gold and his co-screen­writer Jeremy Dy­lan re­verse-en­gi­neered the story from “Hook,” start­ing with the line Ru­fio says as he lies dy­ing in Peter’s arms: “I wish I had a dad like you.” In their story, a Filipino-Amer­i­can 13year-old named Roo­fus (played by Sheadon Gabriel) is fight­ing with the school bully while his mother, an un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grant, is be­ing de­ported to the Philip­pines. The film is lit­tered with “Hook” ref­er­ences, in­clud­ing a din­ner scene where the kids say grace by shout­ing “Grace!”

“Child pro­tec­tive ser­vices, be­ing taken from your mother to be put in a fos­ter home — these are pow­er­ful forces in a young per­son’s life, (yet) the young Ru­fio re­fuses to de­feat his imag­i­na­tion and his be­lief that there is a bet­ter place for him, which is Nev­er­land,” says Hart.

Now Basco and his team are hop­ing to ex­pand the story into a ful­l­length fea­ture.

“The most fas­ci­nat­ing thing for me is that Peter Pan is a fairy tale, but now, this Filipino kid is a part of the folk­lore,” says Basco. Even the Peter Pan seg­ment on the ABC drama “Once Upon a Time” had a ref­er­ence to Hook killing Ru­fio. “Can you imag­ine telling the story of Sleep­ing Beauty or Cin­derella, and all of a sud­den there’s a Filipino kid in there af­ter all these years?”

“So the self­ish part of me wants to bring this Asian-Amer­i­can hero to the next gen­er­a­tion,” he adds.

SONY PIC­TURES/IMDB

Dante Basco and Robin Wil­liams in the 1991 movie “Hook.”

BEN MULLEN

Dante Basco, now 41, in a scene from the short film “Ban­garang.”

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