ASIAN VALUES DVD REVIEW
is a simple story about a man (John Robert Porter Jr.) beaten, shot
and left for dead by a group of four men (Mike Magat, Gardo Verzosa,
William Martinez, Allen Dizon) who survives to take revenge on each
of the four. Simple story... yet the first half-hour is not a little
confusing, with the story jumping ahead a year, then jumping ahead
again for another few months; there are over half a dozen characters
to follow, not all of them recognizable at first (though Magat with
his huge physique, Verzosa with his youthful features, and Martinez
with his pretty-boy face - weathered nicely to an early middle age
- tend to stand out).
As is usual
with recent Mario OHara (The Fatima Buen Story, Sisa), he
tells a great deal of story in a relatively short amount of time
(roughly 90 minutes); almost too little time - you sometimes have
to play catch-up with the narrative. OHara doesnt pause
or put any extra emphasis on what turn out to be necessary story
points; he seems to assume youre paying (superhumanly) close
There are worse
flaws to the film... beautifully vivid colors in one shot, milky-white
pastels in the next (a result of careless color timing). Some scenes
come out of nowhere, and add nothing to the plot; others go on for
too long. Transitions between sequences seem sloppily edited, as
if parts of the film were patched together at the last moment. Worse,
theres way too much music, crudely cued, and the sound effects
it turns out, left during the middle of post-production, after having
done a rough-cut. He claims that the final product is not his, which
may explain most of the botches - OHara is too much a creature
of sound (he began his career in radio dramas) not to know when
to use or not use music (his silences - in Tatlong Taong Walang
Diyos (Three Years Without God) or Babae Sa Bubungang Lata
(Woman On A Tin Roof) - are particularly eloquent). His previous
films show too much superb editing (particularly his action masterpiece,
Bagong Hari (The New King)) for you to believe the slovenly
transitions are entirely his fault.
hard to know just what he wanted to do with the material on hand.
Revenge flicks are an old genre - anyone from Akira Kurosawa to
John Ford to Sam Peckinpah to John Woo have done them, and taken
them to extremes difficult to match, let alone exceed. Did OHara
really have something new to show us, or was this just over-confidence
on his part? Was he even trying? You can see part of what he was
aiming for - a visual and psychological experience in fear so intense
audiences would cry out for release - but such an experience lives
or dies on its details, and OHara didnt stay with the
production long enough to see said details through properly.
Maybe he couldnt
see his way through at all; maybe he took a look at the footage,
realized what a mess he had wrought and gave up, blaming it all
on the producers. Maybe pressure had been put on him to make changes
(there were already rumors of a rift between OHara and the
producers during the films shoot) and he refused to knuckle
under, walking away instead of giving in. I wouldnt know;
all I can do is judge the film at hand.
something to Sindak that makes you refuse to dismiss the
film totally - for example, the characters. Mike Magats character
is both sterile and a cuckold - his wife (Rita Magdalena) is bored
with him (hes a lowly racetrack guard, shes a journalist),
and shes having an affair with her photographer. Gardo Verzosa
plays a man whose wife (Aya Medel) was gang-raped, and the sexual
trauma threatens to drive them apart. William Martinez is a man
living with an older woman and his younger sister, who turns out
pregnant (his subplot is strangely left undeveloped). Even the killer
is given his moment of sympathy, as he desperately steals food to
stay alive. Seems that OHara literally cannot not care about
his people - he whips up a story for each and deftly weaves it into
the fabric of the narrative. Youre not just looking at a collection
of serial-killer fodder; youre looking at people you have
come to know and like, being threatened with painful, violent death.
scenes seem more or less whole, and are, for the most part, terrific
- cleanly staged, wittily inventive. The film shows the distinctively
shadowy lighting of Romulo Araojo (The Fatima Buen Story, Sidhi
(The Story Of A), parts of Bagong Hari - definitely a
cinematographer to watch). It makes good use of Metro Manila locations
- the Sta. Ana racetrack, the Quezon City General Hospital, the
Film Complex Building - in a way that the city itself is a major
character. If the film was more successful I would have been happy
to include it in OHaras trilogy of Manila films - Condemned,
Bulaklak ng City Jail (Flowers Of The City Jail), Bagong
Hari (The New King).
As it is, its
only a minor work - though head and shoulders above most of the
crap coming out of the local film industry in recent months. Catch
Sindak if you want an indication, however flawed, of what
OHara is capable of in the action-thriller genre; also if
youre interested in the grittier, less commercial, more interesting
directions the local film industry is capable of going into.
But do it quick:
the producers show every sign of having abandoned the film as utterly
as OHara has. Mid-December is possibly the worst time of the
year to release films... and this one was launched with almost no
publicity or advertising to speak of. Definitely a flash in the
pan - but one worth catching, if you care at all about local cinema.
Businessworld, December 17 , 1999.
The article also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.