ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
sometimes like to strike a pose and say: Im objective and
above it all. Which isnt true at all: everyone has his prejudices,
preferences, and blind spots, and anyone who says otherwise is an
idiot or a hypocrite. I think the best way to deal with ones
biases - possibly the only way to deal with them - is to lay them
out in the open, where everyone can see. Then people can decide
whether they want to take you seriously or not.
So - talking
about prejudices: I was faced with two Filipino sex films opening
this week. One had a decent budget, featured three interesting actors,
and was done by a proven, commercially successful young director.
The other was shot on a non-existent budget, by a filmmaker who
hasnt had a hit but otherwise is an original sensibility.
Guess which one I liked better?
Ekis (Cross) is a handsomely produced sex thriller with nary
an original bone in its handsomely produced body - its really
Reservoir Dogs done by John Woo crossed with The Postman Always
Rings Twice. A kidnap ring has abducted a Chinese boy and is holding
him ransom for three million pesos; meanwhile, one member of the
gang (played by Albert Martinez) is having a torrid love affair
with the wife of a next-door neighbor (Sunshine Cruz).
unlikely premise - but okay, let that slide; John Woo never let
an unlikely premise stop him. Matti probably felt confident he could
solve his problems the John Woo way, by covering the gaps with pure
style - but just how much style did he think hed need? His
kidnap gangs strategies are sheer idiocy - they wait for the
ransom money all day in an empty stadium without once posting lookouts;
when crossing the field to get the money, they dont have any
signals ready to use in case the pickup goes wrong. When the pickup
does fail and one of them is arrested, they have no fallback plan,
or alternate hideout; they go back to their original hideout and
make more ransom demands (never mind that the arrested member could
be leading the police to them right this minute).
Matti has everyone
pass the time by pointing guns at each others heads and shouting
insults (if they spent as much time planning as they did yelling,
wed have understood the plot more, and wed have felt
more confident that they actually knew what theyre doing).
The gang members look half-hearted about the ransom anyway; maybe
they never really believed theyd get the money. Maybe its
the director whos being half-hearted about the kidnap scheme
- and, judging from the amount of time the film spends with said
neighbor as compared to time spent with the kidnap gang, Id
say the second guess was correct.
But let it
all slide, even the hilarious scene at the swimming pool - half
a dozen NBI officers surround the perfectly clear water and no one
can spot Albert Martinez swimming inside - after all, John Woo never
depended on realism. But Woo can confidently pour his style over
the holes in the plots because his is a tremendous style - a sort
of gliding dance between actors and camera, cut to the rhythms of
rapid-fire violence. Matti has an eye and at times he can afford
the occasional camera glide, but rhythm seems to be a totally alien
concept to him. Simply put, he cant cut footage to save his
life; he cant build a sequence and make it gather any momentum
or suspense. In a way he shares this defect with his mentor, Peque
Gallaga (who produced and wrote his first feature, Scorpio Nights
2) - theyre too much in love with their beautiful imagery
to pay attention to the story.
Which is too
bad - Matti wastes a perfectly good cast of talented actors. Albert
Martinez is intense and compelling as always; he looks good beside
Sunshine Cruz, whose personal architecture - 100 per cent natural
- puts the sagging superstructures of most softcore porn actresses
to shame. And Raymond Bagatsing is a total delight playing a macho,
Joe Pesci kind of character - who walks about with a short fuse.
the project himself; hes canny enough to make Mattis
name prominent, and even cannier to make the words "from the
director of Scorpio Nights 2" even more prominent (anything
with the words Scorpio Nights on it is bound to have an audience).
Martinez is too smart to lose any money, especially on a film like
this, but if he wants to work with Matti again - this time on something
really worthwhile - he should get Matti a better scriptwriter and
a better editor, or he should put Matti on a tighter leash.
Hubad Sa Ilalim ng Buwan (Naked Under The Moon) is an altogether
different creature, about a young girl (Klaudia Koronel) who sleepwalks
naked under the moonlight. Her parents (Elizabeth Oropesa and Joel
Torre) are worried but have problems of their own - like the money
they owe a friend (Julio Diaz), and their failing charcoal business.
Again the film
has flaws, but - and here my prejudices show - the flaws in Hubad
seem more forgivable. Hubad was shot on a much smaller
budget than Ekis, about three to four million pesos. And
while you can spot practically every movie and music video that
has influenced Mattis style, you cant quite guess where
Diaz gets his visual ideas from - they actually seem to sprout from
some personal vision of his.
It would be
nice if Diaz made that vision more accessible. The films pacing
is lethargic at times, and he seems stubbornly unwilling to make
commercial concessions of any kind - a welcome change from Matti,
who likes to paw and dribble saliva on you - but sometimes Diaz
can swing too far the other way, to emotional opaqueness. A more
serious flaw is casting Koronel in the central role - granted shes
playing a sleepwalker, but must she take the role so literally?
You feel like slapping her face so shed wake up, or at least
giving her a good spanking... but thats another subject entirely.
roles fare better. Elizabeth Oropesa is very good as Koronels
mother, and she figures in the one sex scene that has any punch
- a quick and gasping sexual encounter that may leave you slightly
stunned. Julio Diaz is perfectly loathsome as the familys
so-called friend - Diaz seems well suited to playing bastards. Joel
Torre isnt given much to do most of the time, but by films
end you feel you understand him, the man who feels hes a failure
at everything hes done.
long, depressing, and cheaply done, but at least its something
different. Its something to look at, and sometimes it gives
you something substantial to chew (or argue) over. Which is more
than I can say for the glossier, more popular Ekis. I remember
watching the movie at its UP Film Center premiere with the man beside
me continually breaking wind; I wanted to tell my neighbor to "go
ahead and fart away - you cant smell worse than what were
July 3, 1999.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.
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