Peque Gallaga's Scorpio Nights was Philippines' answer to Nagisa Oshima's In the Realm of the Senses. Both films depict the relationship between sex and politics. Of course, in both cases, the politics is offscreen but the sex is there for all to see. Noel Vera stays glued to the screen.


In the early ’80s, Peque Gallaga made Scorpio Nights, possibly the greatest erotic film ever made in the Philippines.

The film begins with a brilliant theatrical conceit: a security guard (Orestes Ojeda) comes home late at night, eats the dinner his sleeping wife (Ana Marie Guttierez) has prepared for him, washes up the dishes, climbs into bed, pulls up the wife's nightgown, and makes love to her. Overhead, a young student (Daniel Fernando) watches the two through a peephole. One night, the student sneaks into the apartment, eats the dinner, washes the dishes, and climbs into bed with the wife. She offers no resistance whatsoever.

It’s an audacious premise, a coup de theatre that, if you can accept it, prepares you for more audacious stuff to follow. Almost the entire film was set in one room - two, if you count the student’s upstairs dorm - and somehow, in that cramped little space, Gallaga’s prodigious visual imagination exploded. He threw in every camera move and lighting trick he knew; he staged every sexual encounter like a stunt or an action sequence. Gallaga unleashed himself in Scorpio Nights as he does in all his films and, for once, it was exactly what was needed - no sex act was too perverse, no visual touch too baroque or excessive. He directs with an astonishing urgency, as if this might be the last film he would ever make (in many ways, he was right).

But it was more than the sex, it was the attitude - it was the very air that filmmaker, actors, and audience breathed. Aquino had just been assassinated, Marcos had lost his credibility, and the economy was in shambles; suddenly it looked like the Philippines didn’t have a future, or even the hope of one. Suddenly, there wasn’t anything to look forward to - anything at all worth doing - except sex and violence, perhaps both at the same time. It was a season of despair, and Scorpio Nights was the most extreme expression of that despair.

Gallaga is said to have been inspired by Nagisa Oshima’s In The Realm Of The Senses; I think that for once, Gallaga exceeded his model. Oshima’s sex scenes were creative and gave off heat, but the overall movement of his picture was languid, philosophical. Scorpio Nights is an altogether more intense film; it knows where it wants to go - nowhere - and goes there as fast as it can thrust, pump, or plunge. Oshima’s film comments on fascism, but it’s an arty, subtle comment; in Scorpio Nights the dangers of fascism are palpable, almost viscerally so.

The sex is plentiful, and athletically impressive - word has it that Gallaga had them shot and choreographed as if they were action stunts. Handsomely brown Daniel Fernando as the student is puppy-dog naïve, but hardly a passive wallflower (remember, he had the guts to sneak into the apartment, and into the housewife's bed). Ana Marie Guttierez as the housewife is both dreamy soft and hotly sensual, a heady mix of the carnal and the childlike, with a maddeningly downy upper lip.

You clutch your armrest while the lovers screw under the husband’s nose; you hold your breath while they teeter on the brink of dangerous discovery (in every sense of the word). Sex for the lovers takes on the air of thrilling defiance, of rebellion. They’re literally fucking in the face of death itself.

Note: Parts of the above are excerpted from Noel Vera's article that appeared in Businessworld, May 14, 1999. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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