Temptation Island (Joey Gosiengfiao, 1981)
Joey Gosiengfiao's cult classic Temptation Island has often been compared by local critics to the Pedro Almodova's early works. The comparisons maybe due to the fact that Temptation Island is a bizarre and absurd sexual romp where genre elements merge into a hodgepodge that is surprisingly effective and hilarious. Temptation Island is pure unadulterated fun. Even with all its technical faults, one can sense that what may be regarded as a cinematic hiccup by the uninformed critic is actually something more, a delightful embellishment to the film's inherent camp.
The story is simple. Four girls, each for their own reasons and aspirations, join a beauty pageant where they are observed while socializing in a cruise ship to determine who among the contestants are deserving of the beauty title. The ship bursts into flame, forcing everyone to abandon ship. The four girls, a gay millionaire, one of the contestant's maid, and two men are then marooned in a desert island where social and sexual politics are prime, and erotic energies, class struggles, and personalities whirlwind while all of them are satisfying that animalistic need to simply survive.
As mentioned above, the haphazard execution of the film has added a rustic, if not entirely humorous, dimension into the already absurd scenario. The production cannot afford a real ship to burn and sink; in fact, the budget cannot even make room for decent special effects. Instead, flames are cut and then superimposed into the windows of the cruise, as the delegates jump for their dear lives. The other sets are much more ingeniously crafted. A paper mache giant fried chicken turn into an opportunity for the lady survivors to pose and flirt amidst the lifeless desert. Gosiengfiao achieves perfection despite the restraints of low-budget studio filmmaking. Exploitation, social commentary, and escapist entertainment mix in what seems like a senseless romp, but in time, has been discovered to be one of the real gems of Philippine mainstream cinema.
One can just watch the film and enjoy the fact that everything happening onscreen is utterly ridiculous. The helicopter spreading flyers for the upcoming beauty pageant, the disdain between social climbing aspirant and the impossibly rich spoiled brat, the romance angle between one of the virginal ladies and her love partner, these elements meld to form a coherent but essentially playful mix of the absurd and the more glaring social anomalies of its period. Gosiengfiao then injects homosexual politics in the map, with the character of millionaire pageant director whose object of admiration, his hunky laborer-turned-life partner, has become infatuated with one of the pageant competitors. The gay man's tale is tragic, alluding to a life that seems disposable in a culture that idolizes female beauty.
The gay man's life might have ended in tragedy, but Gosiengfiao imposes that his demise be draped in the same absurd air that pervades the picture. The survivors consider the gay man's suicide as an act of generosity, cooks the meat from his corpse so that they may survive. Minutes later, they are rescued. While the gay man's suicide was converted into a selfless sacrifice, this sacrifice was then converted into an unnecessary act of depravity, where human eat fellow human only to learn that had they waited a few more minutes, they would not have inflicted upon themselves that act of cannibalism. History has trained humanity for civilized comforts to the point that society has become an instrument for wastage. Gosiengfiao ends his masterpiece with this candid observation, which would probably be drowned by the endless laughter that precedes and proceeds from this realization.