Sunday, April 12, 2009

Big Time (2005)

Big Time (Mario Cornejo, 2005)

Danny (Winston Elizalde) and Jonas (Nor Domingo) are petty crooks whose idea of going big-time is kidnapping the only daughter of a middle-class couple for a ransom price of 50,000 pesos, which is roughly a thousand American dollars. Before even fully realizing that their kidnapping plan is not very different from the dozen little felonies they have committed through the years (the most memorable of which is their dog-napping escapade, foiled by the mutt's incessant barking), they are involuntarily pushed into shady affairs far larger than what they have imagined. Melody (Joanne Miller), the duo's target whose recurring daydreams involve her ambitions of being a famous celebrity, turns out to be the girlfriend of Wilson (Jamie Wilson), the underachieving son of mob boss Don Manolo (Michael De Mesa). Wilson sees the awkward situation as an opportunity to double-cross his father by staging his own kidnapping, using Danny, Jonas, and his starry eyed girlfriend as props in his attempt to raise enough capital to fund his proposed illegal drugs business.

Mario Cornejo's Big Time, written by Cornejo with Monster Jimenez, is easy to enjoy, blanketing its genre affiliations with its extraordinary grasp of pop culture. The film's vocabulary, composed of references to mass culture, both past and present, is used to communicate its effective brand of humor, dark yet wildly efficient, and the aptly limited scope of emotions that it utilizes (Danny thinks that Melody looks like popular actress Kristine Hermosa; and in one scene, subtly declares affection to Melody by choosing Hermosa over another celebrity in an impromptu preferences game). In truth, Big Time is deliriously morbid in its processes and notwithstanding its reliance on fantabulous narrative twists and turns, penultimately realist in its philosophies. Its narrative, despite the distractions provided for by the screenplay's reliable internal wit, actually zeroes in on a pressing social issue that is supposed to be meant to be taken seriously, but the filmmakers decide to enunciate using genre conventions and black humor.

Cornejo and Jimenez, in pitting two small-time crooks with the complications of big time criminality, reflects on the absurd situation of Philippine society, where the gap between rich and poor is undeniable in its extent, where it is not only social status or financial capability that separate them but also their needs, wants, and cultures. In Big Time, Danny and Jonas' sudden involvement in Wilson's scheme awakens them into a realization of their insignificance in the larger world, that their felonies are trivial if compared to the convolutions of organized crime, and that because of their pitiful place in the criminal world, they become nothing more than voiceless subordinates in Wilson's strategies. Even Melody's ambition of achieving stardom, an ambition that both humorously and poignantly consumes her very existence, is negligible in the midst of Wilson's immediate plans of siphoning money from his father through the sham kidnap-for-ransom ploy he concocted. The idle time conversations are written (and the pop references are selected; Wilson prefers to refer to Francis Ford Coppola's The Godfather trilogy, while Danny limits his references to local entertainment) and staged to flesh out the cultural ignorance and lack of sophistication or finesse inflicted by Danny and Jonas' small time status.

Big Time, with all its overt silliness and glaring implausibility, is tons of fun. It takes cognizance of the overwhelmingly real injustice that attaches to Filipino society without employing shock tactics or drowning its artistry with revolts or laments. Instead, it dwells on the absurdity of the societal situation of big dreams, quick fixes and unfathomable repercussions. The film reaches its bloody climax outside the abandoned Film Center of the Philippines (an artifact of a building that was created to serve as nucleus of the country's film industry, but has then been converted into a haven for amorous lovers, drug addicts, and ghost searchers; the setting of the final showdown in the Film Center can be read either as a criticism against the expensive government rendered useless both by Marcos-era lavishness and negligence, or simply put, or a slogan against a dying, if not totally dead, Philippine cinema as represented by the building, only to be given life by the sudden influx of new work by young filmmakers), where double-crossings, broken promises, and revelations erupt into a survivor-less bloodbath.

The film provides no real resolution for its pitiful small-time protagonists and no satisfying comeuppance for its shady big-time villains. Except for Jonas, whose reward is survival and whose punishment is insignificance in a sea populated by small-time persons like him and dominated by only a few. In the end, he works as a janitor and like the rest of the country, struggles to survive as one of the nameless and faceless in the streets of Manila. There is bittersweet comfort for a man to know his place and be satisfied, lest he plunges himself once again in a world that is too complicated and too big for his severely wounded ambitions.

1 comment:

Ape Rockstar said...

I just saw this movie this afternoon. It was tons of fun! Michael De Mesa was his usual solid self in terms of acting and was able to justify being 'Don Manolo'.

I also think Jamie Wilson was a revelation in that movie. He started off sluggish but came through midway and til the end.