one of the most successful adaptations of The Story of O Ive
ever seen, where the womans submissiveness is every bit as
disturbing as the mans sadism. The film declares that women
have a right to their desires, their own path to self-destruction
- a darker, less easily digestible message than most militant feminists
can take (the film was attacked when it opened commercially). Ironic,
given that its also the finest film ever made by a Filipina
- a daring, defiant work of erotic cinema.
+ + + +
It seems every major Filipino filmmaker has to make at least one
noir film where the city of Manila is a main character; Ishmael
Bernals Manila By Night is easily the most sophisticated -
and sardonic - of the genre, and the most difficult to describe.
The film follows the threads of several lives that tangle with each
other, across the tapestry that is Metro Manila; at its most basic
level its a game of one-upsmanship: which character can shed
the most illusions the soonest - the nurse, the gay lover, the taxi
driver, or the pothead?
a vivid demonstration of what Gustav Hasford said in his novel The
Short Timers - that human nature seen honestly, now that is ugly.
The film owes an obvious debt to Robert Altmans Nashville
- with the difference that Altmans characters never saw this
much grit or grime or outrageous melodrama in their lives. It in
turn has been imitated by most subsequent multiple-story, multiple-character
Filipino films ( Moral and Bayad Puri (Paid With My Purity)
come to mind) - without, however, matching its sweep and intricacy.
Maynila Sa Kuko Ng Liwanag (Manila In The Claws Of Neon)
offers a simpler, much tighter plot altogether: Julio Magadia (Bembol
Roco) goes to the city to look for his loved one, Ligaya Paraiso,
and loses himself in the hellhole that is Metro Manila.
film is often called Brockas best, as well as one of the greatest
Filipino films ever made; I disagree... but understand the high
regard. Brocka uses melodrama unashamedly (Ligaya Paraiso roughly
translates as "Joyful Paradise," a name that, when you
think about it, belongs to a porn star); what lifts his work above
ordinary melodrama is the documentary feel - the sense that what
youre seeing is what the camera caught just a few minutes
ago, right outside the theater.
is one of the most intense expressions of that unique sensibility
ever, no small thanks to the director of photography, Mike De Leon,
who later became a major Filipino filmmaker himself. The films
visuals defined "The Manila Look" for practically every
noir that followed, including those Brocka made himself (Insiang,
Jaguar, Macho Dancer) and those made by others (Bernal - less successfully
I think - with Manila By Night; Peque Gallaga, somewhat, with Scorpio
Nights; and Tikoy Aguiluz with Boatman).
OHaras Bagong Hari (The New King) takes the neo-realism
of Maynila Sa Kuko and twists it even further, into baroque
nightmare. OHara evokes a vast and corrupt cesspool of a city,
filled with predatory creatures constantly feeding off each other.
Its a city where assassinations are commonplace, conspiracies
are a standard mode of operation, and torture an occasional recreational
perk - a city where two people fight each other to the death, and
the decadent rich place bets over the outcome.
all the Manila films Ive seen, Bagong Hari is the most
violent and extreme, which is only fitting - the film, like Scorpio
Nights, was made during the final years of the Marcos regime, when
the despair was at its most intense. A few days later, the February
revolution broke out, and Bagong Hari disappeared in the
political turmoil that followed, surviving only in the memories
of the few that saw it. If we grant for a moment that trends do
not strictly follow calendar cutoff dates... and that the films
of the early 80s were a direct result of what was begun in
the mid-70s... then Bagong Hari should properly be
called the last great film of the 70s Golden Age.