Angela Markado (Lino Brocka, 1980)
English Title: Angela the Marked One
Seeing Lino Brocka's Angela Markado (Angela the Marked One), one is immediately reminded of Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (1968), or Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood (1973), which were Quentin Tarantino's sources of inspiration (or copycatting) of his Kill Bill films (2003-2004). Actually, Angela Markado was adapted by Jose Lacaba for the screen from the comics written by Carlo J. Caparas. It's probable that Caparas could've borrowed the storyline from the Truffaut film, as Caparas is no stranger from copying (he would later become a film director of no serious merit, mostly rehashing of genre works by other directors to much dismay and boredom). But the comics, honed and most probably improved by Lacaba, and visualized by the exciting camera work of Conrado Baltazar, and ultimately put together by the seamless talent of Lino Brocka is a gorgeous piece of filmmaking: part noir, part social commentary, part vengeance film, and all fun.
Angela Delmar (Hilda Koronel) works as a waitress for one of the seedier bars in Manila. There she meets five patrons of the bar, who also turn out to be a gang specializing in drugging and raping girls and later on selling them to prostitution. Angela is the only one tending to her mother, a laundrywoman who stopped working due to tuberculosis. One night, she gets kidnapped, raped, and kept for five days by the five men. The men tattoo their names on the back of Angela, before selling her to a brothel. Angela escapes, and is taken in by a kindly hostess (Celia Rodriguez). However, upon returning to her home, she discovers her mother has died, her best friend has also been raped by the same five men and later on committed suicide. From then on, she makes it her life's mission to kill the five men by wearing wigs and costumes, and stalking the men with a handy switchblade.
Despite the plot similarities between Angela Markado and The Bride Wore Black, I thought Brocka's style is more akin to Italian giallo, most notably of Dario Argento. The careful editing, the generous amount of bloodshed, the musical score paving the way for a violent eventuality, the way the actual murders are filmed --- all of which point out to Italian giallo-filmmaking. Brocka also brings forth some noir expertise (mostly thankful to cinematographer Baltazar). Manila is mostly at night: very little illumination (mostly coming from scarce street lamps), the seedy clubs and its neon interiors, the brothels and their lonely denizens, shadows in almost every corner. Moreover, the plot is certainly a downward spiraling of Angela's life when fate decided that she be marked by the five men (not when she was physically marked by the tattoo), but when one of the men (somewhat metaphorically) determines her future when he reads her palm in the beginning of the film. From then on, Angela is pulled away from the path of righteousness, and turns herself into the film's femme fatale and victim at the same time.
It's a very cruel joke Brocka is playing here. He presents the film initially as somewhat of a melodrama, with Angela making ends meet, having to do with rowdy bar patrons, and taking care of her sickly mother. We see where Angela lives: a little wooden shack full of religious items but is ultimately filthy and poor. Brocka, a master in portraying the lives of the downtrodden and the oppressed, already shows Angela's life as impossibly difficult due to her poverty. Then, when we think things couldn't get worst, it does, and in the most cruel way. When poverty and her mom's tuberculosis has taken away all hopes for a better life by forcing her to quit school, the five men take away the last thing she can treasure, her dignity --- and that is not something anyone can take from her easily, thus turning her into a savage vengeful monster.
Brocka is mirroring a Manila that is devoid of anything pleasant. Even the good Samaritan who saved Angela from the brothel, is closely connected to her victimizers, and is also in a sense, a victimizer of men, cruelly keeping a neighbor in love with her for his everyday favors, but keeps another man on the side. The law student/police informant, who is probably the single signal of righteousness in the film, is the brother of one of Angela's victimizers and even then, there is a notion of impossibility of a better life for Angela with all the murders that she has committed (as shown by the court order in the end of the film).