What happens when a mother and daughter sell their life's story to a pair of filmmakers? As Tuhog (Larger Than Life) shows, the result is a film about being screwed over. Noel Vera reviews.
THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW


Jeffrey Jeturian and Armando Lao’s Tuhog (Larger Than Life, 2000) is, simply put, a film about screwing - about a mother being screwed, about her daughter being screwed, about the story of their life together being screwed over by an unscrupulous pair of soft-core porn filmmakers.


The two women in Tuhog, mother (Irma Adlawan) and daughter (Ina Raymundo), sell their next-best commodity - their life’s story - to a director and his writer. Months later, the two women and their friends go on a day-long trip to the nearest Metro Manila mall cineplex to watch the results, and realize just what it is that they have done: sold their life’s story, the story of who they are, what they are, how they came to be, to a group of strangers who proceeded to put that story - exaggerated, caricatured, distorted out of all recognition - on the big screen. They realize that everything has been reduced to the ridiculous, and that they have been shamed and humiliated, and in a far worse way than ever before.

Irma Adlawan is possibly one of the best (and ironically, least seen) in recent Filipino cinema (she played a crucial role in what I believe is Tikoy Aguiluz’s best work, The Last Wish, a docudrama about Flor Contemplacion, the domestic helper executed for murder in Singapore). Here she gives a wonderful performance as the mother - vital, effortless, heartbreaking. Hers is a supporting role, but it’s her story that gives the film its bite, its moral edge.

 

She is hurt the most, not because she has been lampooned but because her character has been oh-so-subtly subverted - as played by the more obviously sensual Jaclyn Jose, she wasn’t exactly forced to have sex; she asked for it. Adlawan can only watch helplessly as this monstrous lie is played out on the big screen, and the worse thing about it - the crowning irony - is that the change was probably made simply to give Jose more sex scenes in the film. Gratuitous? You’re goddamned right it is.

Ina Raymundo is very good as the daughter, which is surprising (no - astonishing), having seen her give one wooden performance after another in just the kind of cheap sex flicks - Sobra-Sobra, Labis-Labis (Too Much Is Just Enough), Burlesk Queen Ngayon (Burlesque Queen Today) - that Tuhog makes fun of. Here she has the fragile, innocent quality of a newly-hatched chick, something I’ve never seen in her before; when her breast is finally bared, late in the film, it comes across as an acute shock, like a child stripped naked.

Armando Lao’s ingenious script has almost everything you can ask for - intelligence, wit, care for characterization and the telling detail - that it seems almost churlish to complain about flaws. The cheap sex flick being made, titled Hayok sa Laman (Greedy For Flesh), features clichés from almost every bad Filipino film in recent memory - sex flick or melodrama; comedy, intentional or otherwise - and there are plenty of them, no mean feat to collect and condense into one hideous parody.

 

The parody at times reflects and reinforces the feelings of the people watching it, at times cruelly ridicules them; it’s a delicate balancing act that Jeturian and Lao somehow manage to maintain for about three-fourths of the picture, until mother and daughter walk out. Once they do, balance goes right out the window and their friends (who stay behind) are treated to the travesty that’s the rest of the "film" - an unholy mix of - gothic melodrama and slasher movies, as if Douglas Sirk had directed an installment of Friday the 13th, a chop-suey of the worst excesses of some of our most pretentious Filipino filmmakers.

While it’s fun to see Lao and Jeturian rip open a new orifice in the decaying carcass that is contemporary Filipino cinema, they do so at the expense of characters they had so carefully prepared - characters we have come to care for, and resent being shunted aside.

This isn’t Jeturian and Lao’s best work to date, I think; that would be their previous film, Pila Balde (Fetch A Pail Of Water), a lighthearted yet precisely observed drama about life among slums and housing projects. Still, Tuhog is one of the best, most daring, most imaginative Filipino films to come out last year.

Note: First published in Cinemaya Magazine, Issue # 54-55, Winter-Spring 2002. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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