Monday, January 28, 2008

Keka (2003)

Keka (Quark Henares, 2003)

Nearing the end of Quark Henares' Keka, everything stops to make way for a song and dance number, reminiscent of the ones that populated popular Philippine cinema during the eighties. It's reflective of Henares' undying affection for cinematic camp, and to finally direct one, complete with the obvious dubbing, the hilarious choreography, and the signature freeze-frame that would signal the rolling of the end credits of a cheesy comedy, is probably a dream come true for the then-young director. However, above the very personal reasons behind that number's existence in the movie is the fact that it's an enjoyable and very effective cinematic device for Henares to portray the inevitable realization of the repercussions of the actions done by Keka (played quite playfully by Katya Santos). The freeze frame thaws. The dancers leave. Keka is all alone, reciting her frank monologue about how life is different from the happy endings of the corny movies she cherishes and that the story will definitely not end when the director decides to freeze the frame during that moment of extreme happiness and start rolling the end credits. Her dilemma remains. She has killed four men out of vengeance and is now deeply in love with the cop tasked to solve the murder mystery she started.

Keka remains to be Henares' lone truly satisfying effort (apart from the several wonderful shorts he made during college, most especially A Date With Jao Mapa (1999), a film that playfully pits real life matinee idol Jao Mapa with one of his obsessive fans). Previous to Keka is Gamitan (2002), an unremarkable soft core pornographic picture wherein it is obvious that Henares was wrestling his artistic integrity with the viler commercial requirements of the movie studio that hired him. After Keka, Henares would be directing the more interesting half of Wag Kang Lilingon (Don't Look Back, 2006), a plot twist-reliant ghost story that had him team up with television hack Jerry Lopez Sineneng, and Super Noypi (2006), a miscalculated sci-fi fantasy picture made for the Metro Manila Film Festival that had too many untalented teenage stars yet too little spark, an apparent mismatch of talent and studio bickering. Its indubitable that Henares has real filmmaking talent and of equal importance to that talent, a graspable and workable sense of pop culture cultivated through the years of cinephilia mixed with arguably good taste. With Keka, Henares was able to utilize everything he has in a project he wanted to do thus the very good results.

The story of Keka will inevitably invite comparisons to other films that is fueled by vengeful women in a murderous rampage like Francois Truffaut's The Bride Wore Black (1968), about a widow who leaves town to kill the five men who killed her husband right after their marriage, Toshiya Fujita's Lady Snowblood (1973), about a lady samurai who was born to kill the perpetrators of the massacre of her family, and Lino Brocka's Angela Markado (Angela the Marked One, 1980), about a raped woman who swears to kill every single one of her rapists, among others. The amusing thing about Henares' film is that unlike the mentioned films wherein the women are adequately burdened with psychological anguish to fuel their quest for vengeance, Keka's motivation is comparably slight, a sudden spark of extreme emotion that led her to that obsessive and illogical of ridding the world of her boyfriend's killers. The intent of Henares for Keka is for her not to be taken seriously.

The emphasis here is not the depth of pain or emotional turmoil that led Keka to become a serial killer, but the insignificance of her motivation. That insignificant motivation is something we've become consistently aware of through the many stories and movies that romanticized that blur of a feeling, love. In a sense, Keka attempts to replicate what has been done countlessly before, to romanticize the concept of love and to exaggerate the feeling of losing such love. The film approaches the romanticization in a completely different manner, by converting the traditional sweetness that accompanies the feeling into a maniacal tendency that would easily erupt upon acquisition or loss of such emotion. Remarkably, the repercussions of Henares' decision to showcase the more extreme facet of being in love is not totally alien in reality. Henares pumps humor in the quirkiness and corniness of that feeling that will drive most of us drunk with depression or elation, depending on whether you lose it or earn it: such as when the cop Jason (played charmingly by Wendell Ramos), upon being dumped by his girlfriend the night he was going to propose to her, disastrously tries to keep his tears from falling when looking at an album of pictures of them together, before completely covering the face of his girlfriend with bits of masking tape; or when he finally gets Keka to drink with him and talk for hours in a roadside canteen, he expresses his delight with wild gestures of happiness, all to be seen by those who pass through that major thoroughfare.

Does it have anything important to say? I believe not, but is saying something important really important in cinema? What Keka does so proficiently is to commit to celluloid the idiosyncrasies of Henares' generation, the generation he shares with his main character Keka, the generation that was fed with the pure escapism of eighties pop culture and its larger-than-life representations of love and losing it. It is the reason why despite its fantastic elements and the several inconsistencies with reality (like the fraternity ambush inside the school building since smarter fratmen would choose a less conspicuous location; or the careless conversations in public about murder between Keka and her best friend Bhong (Vhong Navarro)), the overall feeling never strikes you as too strange or absurd. It's still very reachable, still very watchable.

In the end, Keka becomes less a tale of revenge and more a celebration of the irrational things we do for love. Keka is correct when she said that in reality, the story does not stop when the director decides to freeze the frame but what she could not foretell is that in her story, there is another thing that might just catch her by surprise. Although already deeply entangled in the series of murders she has committed, she has learnd to move on and has in fact, fallen in love with someone and in return, that someone has fallen in love with her.

In the film's brilliantly conceived conclusion, Keka is caught red handed by Jason in her apartment while engaging in a violent brawl with Bobby Domingo (Ryan Eigenmann), the last of her boyfriend's murderers. During that scene, something miraculous happens. Instead of ending in the realistic way Keka expected it to end as she has envisioned in her post-song-and-dance monologue, or ending in the escapist way those cheesy eighties movies would cause it to end through songs and freeze frames, it goes into a totally different direction, a direction that convincingly reiterates the thesis that if the sudden loss of love can cause a woman to turn into a killer, the sudden gain of it can cause the world to spin, turning a dire situation such as where one is cornered by a horde of armed policemen into a moment of pure bliss.


Anonymous said...

Whether a film is actually saying something or not, it will always say something; of varying importance to the spectator, of course.

Keka is definitely one of the best local films shot on celluloid of late. I think.

Oggs Cruz said...

Keka is definitely saying something. Somehow, I think what it tries to impart might get lost or be misunderstood from generation to generation. It really is a terrific film. I actually got scared watching it again, after several years of treasuring the memory of seeing it in the big screen. I'm glad to note that the movie aged very well.

Noel Vera said...

I need to see it again, then.

What I remember is something cruder, livelier and more imaginative than Tarantino's flick, which came out around the same time. Kill Bill, both of em, didn't have a song and dance number, just sequences that use song. Which is like dancing on a tabletop bur refusing to take your bra off. It's a wimpy cop-out

Oggs Cruz said...

Tarantino loved this. He probably admired how Henares turned his vengeance movie into something essentially silly yet beautiful, while he made his overtly geeky, operatic, and less emotionally resonating. I do need to see Kill Bill again. I remember being hypnotized by the indiscriminate amount of blood in the first film, and the indiscrimante amount of verbs in the second film.

Noel Vera said...

I can believe the verbs are hypnotic, but really up till Death Proof, I just couldn't believe Tarantino could direct an action sequence. If he handed direction of both Bills to oh, Yuen Woo Ping or even Ronny Yu, we might have had something.

Oggs Cruz said...

True, the action scenes in Kill Bill are only made memorable by the gimmicks and not really by the coherence of the action. The battle inside the tea house wouldn't be as celebrated if it weren't for the fact that it's one girl versus so many samurai-wielding men. The beauty of the action scenes in Death Proof, I attribute to Zoe Campbell.

Noel Vera said...

Zoe is a work of art, yes.

Anonymous said...


you know how they say, oggs, that good criticism is like having good conversation after a movie? how it sheds light on certain things, makes you appreciate (or unappreciate) the film more, makes you see things you never saw or realized before?

this is the first time i went through that about my own movie. i never connected the freeze frame and the real ending, and i never really realized that the movie was about the crazy things we all do for love. admitting this may make me look not as clever as you may have thought, but i'm sincerely blown away by what you saw. and i thank you for that.

at least i can promise you this -- my next movie you may or may not like, but i'm putting the same love into it that i did keka, and this is the first time i've done it since then. so yes, i'm back to making movies i love, and i think that makes all the difference anyway :)

Oggs Cruz said...

Thanks quark,

I was actually apprehensive revisiting Keka, since I loved it the first time I saw it, even defended it from my unappreciative friends from U.P. I guess the maturity I gained since the first time I saw it got me to appreciate it above the technical brilliance (Jomi keeps on telling me you didn't waste a single inch of celluloid on the film). It really is a great film, and it's even more thrilling that you (or at least I think) subconsciously made a uber-romantic chick flick. Kudos!

I can't wait for your next film!

Anonymous said...

Liked keka very much! Have to score that P100 VCD to have my own copy and let my children watch it.Hehe One of my college buddy saw it on big screen. He was right, it was really something - from the opening scenes with that Sugarfree the ending (with that Ciudad song)

re: Kill Bill- liked the gimickry but not the action (sword fight)...was it really inspired by Tarantino watching Zaitoichi? I think Reservoir Dogs and Pulp were better. Tarantinos should have balanced the action and storytelling between the 2 Kill Bills.

- ken