ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
A remake is
a remake is a remake is a... Were told that this is a remake
of the original Ang
Pinakamagandang Hayop Sa Balat Ng Lupa (The
Most Beautiful Creature On The Face Of The Earth)
back in the 70s, with Gloria Diaz.
What we arent told is that the 70s skin flick was very
much inspired by David Leans Ryans Daughter. Consider:
a passionate woman (Sarah Miles) scandalizes a small town set in
wild and beautiful countryside (Ireland) by having an affair; wandering
through the story is a retarded man (John Mills, who won a Best
Supporting Actor Oscar for his performance) instrumental in the
womans downfall. Ad. Castillo, in adopting the story, multiplied
the womans single affair by a factor of 10 (for more sex),
set it in a seaside village (for wetter shirts), and cuts out all
the political conflicts (for a simpler-minded audience).
So what are we to make
of this second-hand - actually third-hand - material? Youd
think with another shot at the story, director Celso Ad. Castillo
would fix the lobotomized characters, unconvincing plot, hilariously
hyperdramatic dialogue, but no, theyre still there; you can
only wonder why. Maybe because after the failure of his Comfort
Women, he felt he needed a hit more than he needed a good film;
maybe hes so sold on the virtues of his original Hayop,
he cant see the termites for the tree.
of the film was taken away from him, which you cant help but
hope is the real reason. Celso Ad. Castillo is the most erratic
and unpredictable of our great directors. Hes made one undisputed
masterpiece: Pagputi ng Uwak, Pag-itim ng Tagak (When The
Crow Turns White, When the Heron Turns Black) one lost masterpiece,
Burlesk Queen (Burlesque Queen - the print is presently unavailable);
and a few good films, including Tag-Ulan, Tag-Araw (Rainy
Season, Sunny Season). He can do films like those, then turn around
and do something like Comfort Women which, to put it kindly, looks
like a cheap exploitation flick. And now this.
There are traces
of Ad. Castillo the Filmmaker in this skin fest: Isabel (Ruffa Gutierrez)
is found floating in the sea, arms spread wide like a crucifix,
in startlingly crystal water. A white horse comes out of the same
sea, unexplained and enchanting. Two men, panting in lust, fear
and hate, strike dramatic poses against a massive, gorgeous landscape;
one chases the other with a machete, and his vicious swipes at innocent
banana trees suggests the damage hed like to do to his intended
victim more effectively than any amount of Hollywood prosthetics.
You can see,
with the clarity with which he shoots perfect Philippine scenery,
what hes trying to do. A story, simple to the point of banality,
elevated by photography and music and passionate performances to
the level of Edenic myth. The sun, the sea, the dappled, sultry
forest burning and flowing to the ebb and rise of human emotions.
You can see
with equal clarity where the vision falls short. The characters
are sketchy, their motivations dictated more by plot than by real
humanity. The plot isnt even very inventive: every man is
a seething cauldron of suppressed lust, every woman wears wet, skimpy
folk are all full of envy and malice and suspicion towards Isabel.
One man kills another for her hand, and the murder is blamed on
her; when the real killer is arrested, he blames his misfortune
on her too. This happens over and over, with perfect predictability;
if E-VAT is ever imposed on this little hamlet, you can bet that
theyd take signboards and placards and demonstrate in front
of her house. In a scene that parallels Sarah Miless humiliation
in Ryans Daughter, Isabel is chased into the sea and beaten
by a group of women: the actresses struggle hard but the knee-deep
water only slows them down and makes the whole scene sadly comic.
What should have been high drama turns into a Ladys Wrestling
Special, full of splashing limbs, pulled hair, and sodden underwear.
Isabel is presented
as a child of nature who effortlessly tames and rides the white
horse; the next moment, shes a ruthless bitch, determined
to seduce Simoun (Allan Sia) into taking her away with him to Manila.
One minute all hurt innocence; the next, frigidly defiant seductress.
Gutierrezs non-performance doesnt help explain things;
her face is so blank and her lines so melodramatic you drop your
jaw in wonder at the incongruity. Allan Sia plays Simoun as a sullen
fisherman with head forever cocked to one side: he spits out his
lines as if he was choking on them.
and Evangeline Pascual come off much better as Isabels adoptive
parents: in one scene, Diaz begs to make love to Gutierrez while
Pascual, hiding, listens in horror; the suggestion of betrayed love,
shameless lust, and incest almost manage to give the scene some
texture. Dick Israel as the retard turns in the best performance:
he almost gives John Mills a run for his money. His squat, clumsy
body swivels left, right, firing an empty rifle; his rotted-tooth
grin manages to be both funny and unself-consciously tragic.
The film ends
with a box of dynamite blowing up, a good way to wake the audience
up and remind them its time to leave the theater. They seem
to leave with a sense of vague dissatisfaction on their faces, as
if they had missed something crucial. They have: a directors
lost opportunity to make a truly daring film, charged with the eroticism
of believable emotions, not stiffened nipples. There is tragedy
in this picture all right, but its up there on the big screen,
hidden under all the sunsets, seasides, and heaving wet T-shirts.
Chronicle, January 26, 1996. The article also appears in
Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine Cinema (BigO
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