believe, but there you are: of all the recent actors whove
tried their hand at directing, the most promising seems to be
Ronnie Ricketts. Ricketts onscreen comes off as a quiet, unassuming
action star with day-old stubble and excellent kickboxing form.
Not exactly material for Aspiring Director, which usually calls
for an actor whos won dubiously earned acting awards (nowadays
all local acting awards are dubious) with an ego to match.
is the real thing. His budget for Hawak Ko, Buhay Mo
(Your Life In My Hands) cant come up to more than a fraction
of Mission: Impossibles budget, and he still manages to
make lively action sequences that rival Impossible in energy
and inventiveness. Without the money for a Steadicam, he simply
keeps the camera handheld: the resulting jumpy, restless images
charge up the audience, keeping them on the edge of their seats
for the next manually operated shot. The secret of his cinema
seems to be in the wrist, which is kept fast and loose and funny.
three weaknesses that I can see. His editing can be tight when
the situation is tight and someone wants to manhandle someone
else, usually with both bare hands. And he knows counterpoint
- a few fast cuts, then a sudden image in slow motion. But in
between the action set pieces, the film is oddly slack. Ordinary
scenes which shouldnt bother more conventional directors
are long and drawn-out; dialogue in particular is a real pain.
Once in a while the editing can get too tight, and you dont
know where you are in the fight scene - a cardinal sin for an
action director. I cant emphasize this too much, but the
greatest action directors on film are great precisely for their
clarity - Akira Kurosawa, John Ford, Howard Hawks. Even Sam
Peckinpah with his furiously edited violence never allowed you
to get lost. (His slow motion is cited as a trademark style,
but its more than that - its one of his ways of
letting you know whats going on.)
is competent with actors, but only competent. He still doesnt
let his actors or himself break out of that stop-start style
of declamation thats standard with local action flicks.
You know - the scene where the hero faces the villain and they
state their philosophical positions on the meaning of life in
endlessly convoluted speeches before they try to whack each
others heads off. Its a formula, true; something
the local audience tends to expect. But the least he can do
is subvert the convention, give it a satiric spin the way Anjo
Yllana did in one of his action-comedy capers - I cant
for the moment remember what.
Aldana does well in whats largely an ornamental role.
Her affair with Ricketts is nicely low-key, with minimum dramatics.
Ricketts himself isnt really acting; this is the persona
his fans are familiar with, a mix of melancholic vulnerability
and driven determination, badly in need of a shave. Ricketts
seems to be modeling himself after Clint Eastwood, an approach
which has its advantages and drawbacks. The drawback is that
Sergio Leone once referred to Eastwood as a block of marble
that you have to shape yourself; the advantage is that, well,
he is after all marble - material that gleams once all the polishing
Ricketts block is Michael De Mesas fine-marble performance
as villain (Leone, when asked about Robert De Niro, considered
him not a block but a finished work of art). De Mesa isnt
given equal billing or even equal screen time but his slyly
perverse grin and laser-sighting eyes have a way of burrowing
under the skin, to the point that in the final face-off with
Ricketts, he achieves a larger-than-life stature.
Its been years since I felt any kind of shudder in a Filipino
action film (the last time might be in Mario OHaras
noir masterpiece, Bagong Hari [The New King]). Standing
on that catwalk in leather cladding, his hands held loosely
at each side like the weapons that they are, De Mesa made me
shudder. (Can I suggest De Mesa as an anti-hero in a Ricketts-directed
flick? Just hoping.)
most serious weakness is in scripting. We get a serial killer
(De Mesa) who likes to twist peoples necks around until
they break; then we get a sex slavery ring thrown in for good
measure. The two storylines could make a movie by themselves;
together, they tend to detract and weaken each other. De Mesa
is very good, but his serial killer isnt that much out
of the ordinary. After the tableau-setting killer in Se7en and
the mimic-killer in Copycat, you tend to expect a little more.
The sex slave ring just cries out for a twist or three - the
revelation, for example, that Ricketts boss is actually
heading the ring.
we do get is pretty interesting. The showdown between De Mesa
and Ricketts features a deft mirror-maze sequence that recalls
something of Enter The Dragon and even Orson Welless Lady
From Shanghai. Ricketts is fast on his feet, and he has a filmmakers
eye. With more consistent editing, a more inspired script and
a somewhat bigger budget, he might make a movie worth sending
to film festivals abroad. He is one propulsive vehicle that
shows every sign of taking off.
Manila Chronicle, July 26, 1997.
The above also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review
Of Philippine Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.