Review: Seán Devlin’s “Asog” adds a dreamy spin to climate crisis coverage

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      Filipino-Chinese-Canadian director Seán Devlin’s second full-length feature is filled with noticeably unreal moments. A comically animated seagull steals a bag. A pratfall ends in conveniently strewn noodles. A glowing snail crawls along a rail. The docufiction format—of real people, reenacting scenes from their own lives, for camera—adds to the dreamy quality. The leads, Jaya and Arnel, are also the co-writers; they play themselves, telling their own stories, but in such a way it looks good on camera. 

      Set against the backdrop of the 2013 Super Typhoon Yolanda (also known as Typhoon Haiyan) that killed thousands of people and destroyed entire towns, Asog doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. There’s boundless beauty in the shots of lush rainforests, rippling ocean, and moody pink skies, but there is also devastation. Yolanda’s reverberations are still being felt—both by our leads and the people they meet along the way.

      Jaya, a comedian and teacher, lost their TV show when the studio was washed away in the typhoon. Arnel, their former student, lost his mother a year ago and his father has moved away. By chance, they end up heading to the same island—by foot, by truck, by ferry—where Jaya wants to perform in a local drag contest. Their odd-couple dynamic makes for a classic roadtrip vibe, Jaya’s dramatics tempered by Arlen’s shyness as they both come to appreciate the other in a queer familial bond. 

      Big political swings address climate change, colonialism, and land theft. Displaced residents play themselves; they tell real stories about how opportunistic corporations responded to the mass disaster of the typhoon. But, just as Jaya relies on humour to heal, so too does the film: small moments of irreverence punctuate it. Laughter brings grieving people together. Asog might not be a strict documentary, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.


      September 30, 9pm, SFU Woodwards

      October 1, 3pm, Rio Theatre