"Chasing Pacquiao," filmmaker Rod Pulido’s debut novel, has been a long time coming.
Pulido first rose to prominence in the 2000s when his movie, “The Flip Side,” became the first feature film by a Filipino filmmaker to be screened at the Sundance Film Festival. It should have been the start of a promising career, but Pulido’s undeniable talent was not enough to overcome the fact that Hollywood simply wasn’t interested in telling Filipino American stories. “I felt like a failure,” Pulido later wrote on his blog. “I felt like I’d let everyone down: my wife, my family, the cast of The Flip Side, the Fil-Am community. Loved ones would tell me that it wasn’t my fault, that Hollywood just wasn’t ready for Fil-Am stories. I’d nod, knowing in my heart that their words were true, but still wondering about what could have been.”
More than 20 years after “The Flip Side” was released, Pulido is back in the game with another Filipino American story. “Chasing Pacquiao” may be a novel rather than a film, but it is nevertheless another masterpiece from a master storyteller. It centers on Bobby Agbayani, a queer, Filipino American student at a rough Los Angeles high school. Bobby has a boyfriend and is out to his loved ones but keeps his sexuality hidden at school out of fear for his safety, only to be outed by bullies. After being beaten up and having his bike — which was given to him by his late father — stolen, Bobby decides to follow in the footsteps of his hero, boxer Manny Pacquiao, and learns to fight. As Bobby prepares to challenge his bully and win back his bike, Pacquiao makes headlines worldwide after delivering homophobic statements that leave the teen reeling.
While the criticism of Pacquiao may be a touchy subject for the Filipino community, which holds the boxer in high regard, “Chasing Pacquiao” forces us to confront the disillusionment of heroes letting us down. Pulido deftly explores other important topics too, like the socioeconomic differences between Bobby and his boyfriend which strain their relationship, as well as Bobby’s grief over losing his father.
Pulido proves how adept of a storyteller he is in “Chasing Pacquiao,” his talent for prose no less striking than his talent for screenwriting. The book deals with heavy material, but there are moments of love and levity, too; Bobby’s relationships with his boyfriend and his mother are especially heartwarming.
Pulido’s debut proves what Hollywood should have known all along — that the world deserves Filipino American stories. Growing up is challenging regardless of your ethnic background, and people from all walks of life will undoubtedly see a little bit of themselves in Bobby. Who hasn’t been let down by their heroes, or fallen in love, or dealt with people who want to see you fail? The themes in “Chasing Pacquiao” are universal and this powerful novel will resonate with people of all ages. Be prepared for Bobby to work his way into your heart and stay with you long after you’ve finished reading.