Monday, May 12, 2014

So It's You (2014)

So It's You (Jun Lana, 2014)

Inside a bridal car sits Lira (Carla Abellana), excitedly waiting for her groom while warding off her parents’ persistent questions as to whether or not the wedding will push through. Tony (JC de Vera), Lira’s groom, finally enters the bridal car, and looks at his soon-to-be-wife with all the seriousness he can muster. He mumbles phrases, all of which feel all-too-familiar because of how they have been repeated by tired lovers wanting to end a relationship with as little collateral damage as possible. In short, Tony wants to cancel the wedding and still be friends with Lira. Lira, in reaction, has nothing else to do but accept the decision of Tony, but rejects the offered continuation of their friendship.

The main plot of So It’s You stems from this initial and supposedly traumatic rejection that was experience by Lira. After a few months from her non-wedding, she recruits Goryo (Tom Rodriguez), a shoe designer she serendipitously befriends while returning from Baguio, to act as her boyfriend to inflict jealousy on Tony, who has then married another girl. Predictably, from Lira and Goryo’s sham relationship blossoms something real, which is prevented by all the lies they have already committed to everybody around them and of Lira’s nagging infatuation for Tony.

It is integral to dissect the movie’s opening to summarize the movie’s most prevalent failure. It is an opening that sounds grave and serious on paper, but it is portrayed with blatant ridiculousness and capped with a joke that did not work. Here we have a woman whose dream wedding has been shattered by a man who belatedly exclaims his inability to handle commitment. Here we have an opportunity for the movie to properly propose and introduce a rich emotional layer, a reliable backbone if you will, to both its comedic and more serious intentions.

Lana, who presumably feels the pressure of properly mixing drama and comedy as prescribed by the rom-com formula, has squandered the opportunity of creating something more worthwhile than fleeting escapism by sacrificing the realistic portrayal of pain and betrayal for cheap witticism and gaudy humor. So It’s You is afflicted with the same confusion that has hounded a number of rom-coms. The comedic elements frustratingly serve as mere embellishments to a romantic core. At their worst, the comedy of the movie feels completely separated from its entire point.

It is inevitable to compare So It’s You with My Amnesia Girl, the Cathy Garcia-Molina-directed movie that also has a bride left at the altar by her man. Both are romantic comedies, made specifically to entertain. The thing that My Amnesia Girl got right that So It’s You got so wrong is its depiction of emotional pain. Where Lana was content in drawing laughter out of a truly unfortunate situation, Garcia-Molina mined it for aches, which she subsequently utilized to support the entire conceit of her movie. In the end, Garcia-Molina succeeded in creating a film that sufficiently marries romance and situational comedy. On the other hand, Lana’s film just ends up being silly, with infrequent flurries of charm.

It really is unfortunate, since So It’s You is quite well-crafted. Carlo Mendoza, who has worked with Lana to create an appropriately idyllic atmosphere for the story of a cantankerous old man and his beloved dog in Bwakaw, has created a sumptuous enough look for the movie. Von de Guzman, who has scored most of Lana’s commercial efforts, has come up with delightful melodies that eagerly support the visuals.

It is frustrating that notwithstanding all the gloss and grease Lana was able to muster, it all feels empty. It is as if Lana, who has already acquired the ability to merge charm and depth in his non-studio financed films, has contented himself with something that avoids all notions of heft and complexity.

(First published in

Monday, May 05, 2014

Bunohan (2011)

Bunohan (Dain Said, 2011)
International Title: Bunohan: Return to Murder

The land holds the stories of the past. Dain Said’s Bunohan enunciates the point with an elegance that is unexpected, considering that the film opens chaotically, throwing characters with hardly any introductions into a whirlwind of confusing chases. The film finally settles when everybody lands in the titular village, a backward community whose crocodile-infested swamps hide a picturesque and pristine beach that is ripe to be developed into a tourist resort.

The three estranged brothers that the film centers on find themselves reuniting after a scurry of events and circumstances. Adil (Zahiril Adzim) is a kickboxer who was spirited away by his friends from a fight-to-the-death duel that he was about to lose. Ilham (Faizal Hussein) is a professional assassin who has been hired to hunt down and kill Adil. Bakar (Pekin Ibrahim) is a schoolteacher from the city who returns to his hometown to convince his father to sell their land to the developers.

The conflict in Bunohan is one that seems purely worldly, one that seems to be more entrenched in the sordid affairs of a disjointed brood or a country’s hurried need to develop every inch of its far-flung regions. Said however raises the stake. He populates his film with lore, lingering ghosts of histories that take place in the land in dispute. In a way, it is not only a familial legacy in the shape of an inherited plot of land that is in risk of being dissipated in the name of progress. It is history. It is culture. It is the stories that only a land that is unburdened by the expensive promises of contagious capitalism can tell. As soon as million-dollar villas are constructed, and international tourists start sunbathing, and the land just becomes another one of those advertised destinations for the tired slaves of commercialism, the stories disappear, tragically replaced by lifeless accounting of numbers and profits.

The most indelible images from Bunohan are the ones where the characters are struggling to hold onto their threatened past. Ilham, suddenly aware of the changes in his hometown which he abandoned, takes a detour from his mission, digging for the bones of his mother which were transferred to another location to make way for the development. He distraughtly sits on ruins in the beach, broken structures that resemble his own fractured personality.

The father, headstrong despite Bakar’s persistent pleas for him to give up his land, is desperately attempting to complete the shadow puppets that were supposed to be inherited by his children. Adil has his face bloodied by blows he needs to take in his desire to escape a hometown that only reminds him of his own questionable identity. Said fills his film with visual cues that enunciate the conflicts that are shared by the land and the characters that are forced to dwell there momentarily.

Southeast Asia, a region that despite centuries’ worth of being under Western colonial masters has resisted cultural infiltration, is now falling under the influence of capitalism and global wealth. The region’s recent cinema has thoroughly reacted to the dramatic losses of culture and tradition, represented by lands being converted into agents of profit and modernity, people abandoning their roots, and other injustices. Chris Chong’s Karaoke (2009) similarly traces a man’s reunion with his hometown, now dotted with plantations that have effectively changed the town’s landscape. Auraeus Solito’s Busong (Palawan Fate, 2010) is a parable that laments for an island whose identity is being molested by landgrabbers and industry. Said’s Bunohan takes its place alongside many other films that echo a common apprehension towards the sacrifices various cultures have to take to satisfy the very familiar greed of man.