Sunday, November 19, 2006

Wag Kang Lilingon (2006)

Wag Kang Lilingon (Quark Henares & Jerry Lopez Sineneng, 2006)
English Title: Don't Look Back

Star Cinema and Viva's team-up to make Wag Kang Lilingon (Don't Look Back), an omnibus of two horror shorts, might prove worthwhile for the two commercial film production outfits as the film packs on audience-adored twists and shocks (a sure come-on for the typical horror film viewer). Beyond those twists (some of which, I can smell a mile away), there's really nothing much that Wag Kang Lilingon has to offer. It's quite disappointing really, as I adored Quark Henares' previous film Keka (2003), and this is one of the few occasions for which prolific Ricky Lee writes a horror screenplay (Ricky Lee also penned one half of Magandang Hatinggabi (Good Midnight, Laurenti Dyogi, 1998)). I was expecting to be rocked, I left the theater rattled and disturbed (Henares has one more offering this year --- Super Noypi (2006) for this year's Metro Manila Film Festival; should I start lowering my expectations?).

Actually, it is Henares' episode, Uyayi (Lullaby) that proves to be the film's better half. Uyayi explores the investigation of a night shift nurse Melissa (Anne Curtis) on the numerous deaths that have happened and are happening on the hospital grounds. With the help of his journalist boyfriend James (Marvin Agustin) who undercovers as a hospital patient, Melissa starts doubting the sanity of a grumpy and at times autistic doctor (Raymond Bagatsing). It's far from original --- you can actually detect which films Henares picked his inspirations from: There's a scene that eerily resembles Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Kairo (Pulse, 2001), ghosts and mysteries haunting a hospital is also the focal point of Masayuki Ochiai's Infection (2004). Finally, there's also an interesting resemblance with Henares' own student film A Date With Jao Mapa (1999), a short film wherein a lady fan baits famous actor Jao Mapa into a date, only to turn psycho on him.

Henares pervades his half of the film with his trademark quirks (cinematographer Lyle Sacris shoots the film so beautifully that there's such a noticeable divide when the film starts to scare or when it starts to make us swoon). I've always thought that Henares is more convincing in depicting romantic relationships, than genre (Keka (2003) is ultimately a rom-com disguised as a revenge film and erstwhile police procedural). Here, a generous amount of screentime is used to enunciate Melissa and James' relationship: much of it is Henares trademark cute, cuddly and breezy. The horror elements are done sparingly (a few of the imposed shocks, there's a bit of gore, and Romero-inspired undead); it pales in comparison to the Japanese counterparts named, but Henares is a novice in horror, and he's just directing a script that was written for him; a probable cause for the film's downfall as Henares is as good a writer as he is a filmmaker. Ricky Lee's story and script tries so hard to cover all the holes and answer all the questions, thus the numerous excrutiating revalatory sequences. Looking back, I can't help but, again, admire the way Henares ended Keka --- full of questions and possibilities, questions are left as unanswered questions; it works well that way.

The other and longer half is Jerry Lopez Sineneng's Salamin (Mirror). Sineneng is one of Star Cinema's horses in its stable of filmmakers and thus, he has directed almost everything --- melodrama, teenybopper rom-coms, comedy, sitcoms. Salamin, I think, is his first stab at horror and sadly, the episode overflows with excesses. A family moves into a large empty house with suspiciously low rent (the family members should have watched Ishmael Bernal's Fridyider (Frigidaire) before accepting a housing offer that's too good to be true). One night, they discover a large mirror and unwittingly opens a portal to the spirit world. Ghosts of the past and the future now haunt them wherever they go.

There's a huge difference between Henares' tiptop detailry with Sineneng's television quality aesthetics. The production is a mixed bag --- special effects are overdone to the point of hilarity, newly painted walls adorn a supposed decades old mansion. The crispness and glossiness of the cinematography can't simply hide the defects of Sineneng's filmmaking. Moreover, the film is gratingly noisy --- the musical score is uncontrolled; the actors and actresses' scream to their lungs' absolute torture. The acceptable quality of Henares' first episode is betrayed by this one that when the twist (a connection between the two films) is revealed, it forces you to ask the question: Why hire two directors then to make a film that is essentially one? The answer: big studio gimmickry. The result: a half-baked effort; and we all know which half isn't baked properly.


quark said...

hey oggsie!

thanks for the review man. this is the most insightful and honest one i've read about W.K.L. you really should write reviews for broadsheets :) tama na lawschool! hahaha

but yeah i agree with you on most of your points about the movie. i'm proud of it, don't get me wrong. but then i'm proud of it because it is what it should be- a popcorn flick that delivers the "gulatan" factor. of course, if we had our way it would be a lot more disturbing (like our disturbing movie thread on pinoydvd) and more importantly, less expository. but that's the price you pay for making a mainstream film, i guess :)

i really loved pulse, btw! but which scene was similar? the hallway one? infection i haven't seen yet though.

dude. lower your expectations for noypi til they hit the ground. and then stomp on them some more so they go even lower. i hate that film even more than i hate Gamitan. in fact maybe you shouldn't watch it.

(and then delete this comment once you've read it)

but yes, i do miss making films i love with all my heart again. i just need to get them funded. hopefully that'll happen soon!

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks Quark,

I really feel honored that the directors read my reviews and actually do comment. Bobby Bonifacio first, then you. Law school is for my parents, so it's a must for me. I'd love to write for broadsheets, and earn something out of my passion but I really don't want to be lined up with "reviewers" who patronize or get paid (I honestly can't believe how much of the reviews you read in the papers are almost always positive --- especially for the Filipino films). My dream, of course, would be to make films myself, but I've never finished a screenplay or even a complete story treatment.

I thought the ghosts appearing on the patient's TV screen looked very similar to the part in Kairo wherein the guy clicked the "Do you want to see ghosts" question on the screen.

Who directed the latter parts of the film, those parts are eerily similar to the end credits of "A Date With Jao Mapa," absent the humor, of course.

Are you adverse towards the current indie scene, with their use of digital video? I'm sure you can make something you like with very little money, or seed money from huge corporations. I'm sure it's easier for you to get funding from culture-friendly benefactors since you already have an admirable filmography?

Lastly, Noel Vera wants you to make a film about something. Any opinions on that?

quark said...

i love bobby's film man! proud dad, hahaha (bobby was my student) ;)

yick. forget about reviewers here. what we need are critics like noel and alexis. i think you'd make a great addition!

the ending was actually by jerry lopez sineneng. everyone tells me it reminds them of Jao but i never saw the connection. maybe because Jao was totally tongue in cheek in that aspect? :p

as for indie and dv, i've never been adverse to it. i resisted it at first to tell you the truth, but that's only because i never wanted people to think that i can work out of the system because i can afford to.but yes, the next movie's definitely going to be on DV, and i'm really excited.

oh, and does noel want me to make a movie about something in particular? or just about "something"? :)

Oggs Cruz said...

Noel wants you to make a movie about "something." I guess that should mean anything that's not merely fluff, cool, or cute.

Noel Vera and Alexis Tioseco, I have great admiration for. I've seen Alexis Tioseco in a couple of screenings, but never really approached him, or actually anyone. I'm not the type of person who goes out of my way to say hi, especially if I really don't know them personally.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that I agree with a lot of your review, except for one point, I really enjoyed this film. I must admit that horror films are not my favorite. I prefer older horror films like those made by Hammer Films back in the 50's or Gerry De Leon's "Blood" films from the 60's. I love atmosphere and I thought the hospital scenes were great at creating this. And it did it without resorting to the dimly lit hallways you see in most hospital horror films.

But I also think a lot of the enjoyment I got from the film was because we had a great audience response. They came to enjoy themselves and really got caught up in the film. It was a great time.

I caught it when it played in Glendale, California, and I wish Quark had been with the actors to promote the film. Though Kristine and Anne were certainly a feast for the eyes.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the release of "Super Noypi", though I will have to wait till the DVD comes out.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks anonymous (introduce yourself next time), I did enjoy Quark's portion a lot --- but that was ruined by the mediocre second half. I bet the film would've been wonderful if Quark just did everything, and co-wrote the entire script with Ricky Lee.

And I'm looking forward to seeing Gerry de Leon too... I have the DVDs lined up; just couldn't find the time.

Anonymous said...

Sorry about not introducing myself. I am often forgetful in that department.

Anyway, my name is Len and I've only recently become a Filipino film fan. In fact, I think it was Quark's film "Keka" that hooked me.

I found your site while I was looking for info on "Wag Kang Lilingon", because my Tagalog is atrocious and it would help me follow the storyline better. (My wife fills in the subtle plot details.)

Thanks for putting up with this post. I look forward to reading future reviews.

Oggs Cruz said...

No worries Len, and thanks for putting up with my reviews too.

It's nice to know that Pinoy films are reaching California. Hopefully, our films can reach a wider audience, which is why I'm thankful for the internet. Inch by inch, we're causing interest on the cinema of this part of the world.