In this new remake, Emmanuel "Maning" Borlaza's Jezebel has too much to live up to. It can only dream of being as good as the masterwork by Gerry deLeon. Most of the time, this mermaid film struggles to stay afloat. Noel Vera tries to breathe under water.


THE ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW

Dyesebel, like Darna, has a long history as a character in Filipino cinema. Both originated from the comic (or komiks) page, drawn by the larger-than-life pen of Mars Ravelo; both proved so popular they were turned into big-budgeted extravaganzas starring what were considered, at the time, to be the most beautiful women in the country.

Once upon a time, Dyesebel (unlike Darna), was incarnated in the big screen by the great Gerry De Leon, who transmuted what was basically a pulp creation into a delicate and moving fairy tale, one of the Master's finest works - or so we are told; De Leon's Dyesebel has long since been lost. Every film version since has tried to capture that precise alchemical mix of fantasy and realism. We can't judge that first film; all we can do is listen to the people who have actually seen it. And we can watch this version which, as far as alchemy goes, shows every sign of remaining a lump of lead.

This latest fish story stars Charlene Gonzalez, who smiles as sweetly and innocently as a Barbie doll, and is as expressive. She cries a lot, in scenes designed to show off what passes for dramatic acting nowadays, and smiles a lot, fetchingly posed in a series of carefully lit calendar shots; this gloom and bloom dichotomy suggests not so much a mind innocent of malice than a mind innocent of intelligence. Males in the audience will probably recognize her, not as The Dream Lover from Heaven, but The Clinging Girlfriend from Hell.

Even the most mediocre film can boast of one or two villains that save you from total boredom; otherwise, the picture is in real trouble. You smell trouble when you watch Betty (Kristine Garcia) fight Gonzalez for the attentions of Fredo (Matt Mendoza). It doesn't help that Garcia addresses Mendoza with lines like "There are a lot of fishes in the ocean. I didn't know you'd get the ultimate." Huh? Garcia flares her nostrils in feeble desperation and throws Mendoza a really old one, "You can both go jump in the lake!" Take your own advice, won't you please?

Mendoza as Fredo, the bone the two women fight over, is a hunk of meat; if only that meat could act. Maritoni Fernandez tries manfully, but overdoes her role as Dyangga, the bitchy sister mermaid; on the other hand, Gloria Diaz underplays her role as Dyesebel's mother, and sinks without leaving a trace. I believe Gary Estrada to be an excellent actor; but his attempt to give Juno, Dyesebel's loving merman, some dignity is defeated by a hilarious finned helmet and a pair of blue-green diapers. The happiest performance in the film is that of the Queen Mermaid: squeaking in a silly falsetto, she is an exact replica of Johnny Depp's rubber octopus in Tim Burton's Ed Wood.

Albert Martinez plays Dyesebel's lover, a badly underwritten role, with grace and bad-boy élan; emotionally, it's miles distant from his sensitive performance as Nora Aunor's younger boyfriend in Muling Umawit Ang Puso (When The Heart Sings Again). Jaclyn Jose plays Dyesebel's adopted mother: she's far too beautiful and far too young to sport grey hair but, with Julio Diaz in a small role as the husband, they achieve that crucial mix of gravity and conviction needed to sustain belief in the fairy tale. Incidentally Jose would have made a lovely, sensual siren, a devastating Dyesebel.

Director Emmanuel "Maning" Borlaza, who also helped write the script, seems to come from the Jean-Luc Godard School of Jump-Cut Storytelling. Scenes come one after another, but not necessarily in logical order and not with any intention of telling a clear, believable story. Dyesebel and Fredo meet, and by the next scene they're steady dates, and before you know it he's carrying her to bed. Betty takes one look at Dyesebel's fins and faster than you can shout "Exploit me!" has her in a water park, being whipped. And after Betty's crimes, Fredo still hasn't caught on that she's Not To Be Trusted, entrusting Betty with the task of throwing Dyesebel a bridal shower. Two-thirds into the film, Fernandez, the bitchy stepsister, does an unmotivated 180-degree turn and decides to help Dyesebel, in an ending that leaves most of the characters happier than the audience. As a fantasy, the film does work, but in an unintentional way. I salivated over Dyesebel; I lusted, not for her tepid smiles and meager charms (hidden by clumsily glued hair extensions), but for the massive fish tail growing from her waist. There's a bowl of Kikkoman and plenty of wasabi in my fantasy, and I'm having the meal of my life.

Dyesebel, like Darna, has a long history as a character in Filipino cinema. Both originated from the comic (or komiks) page, drawn by the larger-than-life pen of Mars Ravelo; both proved so popular they were turned into big-budgeted extravaganzas starring what were considered, at the time, to be the most beautiful women in the country.

Once upon a time, Dyesebel (unlike Darna), was incarnated in the big screen by the great Gerry De Leon, who transmuted what was basically a pulp creation into a delicate and moving fairy tale, one of the Master's finest works - or so we are told; De Leon's Dyesebel has long since been lost. Every film version since has tried to capture that precise alchemical mix of fantasy and realism. We can't judge that first film; all we can do is listen to the people who have actually seen it. And we can watch this version which, as far as alchemy goes, shows every sign of remaining a lump of lead.

This latest fish story stars Charlene Gonzalez, who smiles as sweetly and innocently as a Barbie doll, and is as expressive. She cries a lot, in scenes designed to show off what passes for dramatic acting nowadays, and smiles a lot, fetchingly posed in a series of carefully lit calendar shots; this gloom and bloom dichotomy suggests not so much a mind innocent of malice than a mind innocent of intelligence. Males in the audience will probably recognize her, not as The Dream Lover from Heaven, but The Clinging Girlfriend from Hell.

Even the most mediocre film can boast of one or two villains that save you from total boredom; otherwise, the picture is in real trouble. You smell trouble when you watch Betty (Kristine Garcia) fight Gonzalez for the attentions of Fredo (Matt Mendoza). It doesn't help that Garcia addresses Mendoza with lines like "There are a lot of fishes in the ocean. I didn't know you'd get the ultimate." Huh? Garcia flares her nostrils in feeble desperation and throws Mendoza a really old one, "You can both go jump in the lake!" Take your own advice, won't you please?

Mendoza as Fredo, the bone the two women fight over, is a hunk of meat; if only that meat could act. Maritoni Fernandez tries manfully, but overdoes her role as Dyangga, the bitchy sister mermaid; on the other hand, Gloria Diaz underplays her role as Dyesebel's mother, and sinks without leaving a trace. I believe Gary Estrada to be an excellent actor; but his attempt to give Juno, Dyesebel's loving merman, some dignity is defeated by a hilarious finned helmet and a pair of blue-green diapers. The happiest performance in the film is that of the Queen Mermaid: squeaking in a silly falsetto, she is an exact replica of Johnny Depp's rubber octopus in Tim Burton's Ed Wood.

Albert Martinez plays Dyesebel's lover, a badly underwritten role, with grace and bad-boy élan; emotionally, it's miles distant from his sensitive performance as Nora Aunor's younger boyfriend in Muling Umawit Ang Puso (When The Heart Sings Again). Jaclyn Jose plays Dyesebel's adopted mother: she's far too beautiful and far too young to sport grey hair but, with Julio Diaz in a small role as the husband, they achieve that crucial mix of gravity and conviction needed to sustain belief in the fairy tale. Incidentally Jose would have made a lovely, sensual siren, a devastating Dyesebel.

Director Emmanuel "Maning" Borlaza, who also helped write the script, seems to come from the Jean-Luc Godard School of Jump-Cut Storytelling. Scenes come one after another, but not necessarily in logical order and not with any intention of telling a clear, believable story. Dyesebel and Fredo meet, and by the next scene they're steady dates, and before you know it he's carrying her to bed. Betty takes one look at Dyesebel's fins and faster than you can shout "Exploit me!" has her in a water park, being whipped. And after Betty's crimes, Fredo still hasn't caught on that she's Not To Be Trusted, entrusting Betty with the task of throwing Dyesebel a bridal shower. Two-thirds into the film, Fernandez, the bitchy stepsister, does an unmotivated 180-degree turn and decides to help Dyesebel, in an ending that leaves most of the characters happier than the audience. As a fantasy, the film does work, but in an unintentional way. I salivated over Dyesebel; I lusted, not for her tepid smiles and meager charms (hidden by clumsily glued hair extensions), but for the massive fish tail growing from her waist. There's a bowl of Kikkoman and plenty of wasabi in my fantasy, and I'm having the meal of my life.

Note: Manila Chronicle, December 22, 1996. The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
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