Monday, July 07, 2014

Ang Bagong Dugo (2014)

Val Iglesias' Ang Bagong Dugo: The Burden of Playing Messiah

Val Iglesias’ Ang Bagong Dugo has been eagerly touted by its makers as the film that will salvage the Filipino action film genre from obsolescence. It is quite a lofty ambition, considering that the genre has been left dying for several years by Filipino moviegoers who are quick to consume Hollywood drivel and locally-produced rom-coms at the expense of everything else.

It is this lofty ambition that becomes Ang Bagong Dugo’s undoing. As it is, the film has slivers of promise. It is wildly entertaining, but not in the way that was presumably intended. Intriguingly, it is its missteps and excesses that provide the film most of its enjoyment value.

Ang Bagong Dugo opens with an ambitious action sequence. A quiet afternoon of low-rent politicians and their powerful backers performing some sort of charity work erupts into a wild chase between gun-wielding goons and the film’s protagonist, Anong (Joem Bascon), who just attempted an assassination amidst much fanfare. The police belatedly catches up, arrests Anong, and delivers him to jail, where he becomes the right-hand man of prison lord, Herman (Mark Gil).

Much of the film involves Anong surviving in prison, either on his own, or with the help of his benefactors like Herman and the jail warden (Roi Vinzon). The prison setting allows Iglesias and screenwriter Angelito San Jose to conjure sequences that can only be described as part cliché, part ingenious. How else can you make cinematic sense of prisoners collectively stripping to force the warden to release a fellow prisoner, or a hilariously choreographed rumble morphing into an impromptu dance showdown?

Unfortunately, Iglesias has nobler ambitions which derail what could have been a humorously surreal depiction of prison life. There is more to Anong than his will to survive. Through awkwardly placed flashbacks, Iglesias telegraphs Anong’s main intent for his imprisonment. The scope of the film expands, turning itself into something far more complex than Iglesias’ straightforward yet lackluster direction can handle.

Perhaps in its ambition to spearhead a new wave of action films, Ang Bagong Dugo desperately digs for depth, which it frankly does not need. It only eventually finds itself in a hole of confusion as to what it really wants to be. The film sufficiently entertains, but when it attempts to reach for heights it can never ever attain, it stumbles quite ridiculously. This is the burden of playing messiah.

In fairness to Iglesias, he forgoes convenience in recreating the stark physicality of the action films of old. Instead of using computer-generated images which a lot of filmmakers rely on nowadays, he makes use of old-fashioned practical effects, with fake blood gushing gloriously out of wounds, and an out-dated sedan being demolished just for spectacle.

Also, with the exception of Bascon whose attempt at playing action star proves to be quite underwhelming, the cast is populated with former action heroes and stuntsmen who add much-needed brawn and rawness to the endeavour. As a result, the film’s action sequences have such palpable heft.

Ang Bagong Dugo will definitely not manage to spark a resurgence of interest on action films. What it will do is to provide an erstwhile but somewhat worthwhile diversion while giving faint glimpses of the faded glory days of Filipino macho cinema

(First published in Rappler.)

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