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To judge from the movie Ploning, the island of Cuyo in Palawan teems with fit, good-looking men and boys who are often shirtless – playing futbol, parading during fiesta, doing ordinary chores. Actor Bodjong Fernandez, a Cuyo local, is a perfect specimen of deep brown skin and chunky beef. We almost never see someone like him play a lead role. The film makes him act like an unoiled robot most of the time, but his torso in the opening and closing scenes had me creaming my pants.
But the men are minor distractions. The film itself is a wholesome, non-gay, G-rated piece of cinema that nobody in this country makes anymore: a widescreen sweep of virtuous bucolic life. Based loosely on a folk song about a woman who waits eternity for her lover to return, the movie, with its yearning, sacrificing characters, is really about the struggle and rewards of faith. Ploning can feel like chicken soup with scenes built around spoken metaphorical truisms spewed as wisdom, but when the froth works – especially in the locomotive final third – it’s damn near magical in its healing.
Looking back, what heralded this year’s summer was the image of actor Dingdong Dantes in briefs on billboards sprouting across Metro Manila. It got everyone talking and announced the impending heat. The biggest and best was a humongous horizontal display at the foot of North Luzon Expressway.
I’m convinced each billboard space was utilized to contain as much flesh as possible, with the model practically spilling over the edges. The effect is like an invasion of a giant. I’m not too keen on the photography itself, and the modeling seems freakish; but you have to admit: It makes you look, duck for cover, or kneel in worship. If only all eyesores were as bold.
In the movies, put two people in an enclosed space and you can expect high tension that is ultimately a dissection of their relationship. The sneaky surprise of Daybreak — about a gay couple in an empty hideaway mansion in Tagaytay — is that it isn’t so much a trajectory of emotions as it is one complete encapsulated moment. No explosive turning points, no overt character arcs — the narrative isn’t much — but as a snapshot of two men on the eve of a breakup (Coco Martin the boatman player and Paolo Rivero the married doctor), in which they cook, eat, talk, fuck, dance, shower, sleep, and fuck some more, Daybreak plays out like a protracted sigh of goodbye. It’s a fart, but it’s a beautiful fart.
Director Adolf Alix Jr., with cinematographer Albert Banzon, capture the serene luminosity of sterile interiors, but the best images are of the two actors in passionate liplocks. Those are some of the hottest Pinoy man-to-man kisses ever committed on screen. Coco Martin and Paolo Rivero are extremely evocative in their most physical gestures (heads side by side in a slowdance; playing with unwanted food; the bare-butt lovemaking and the tiny movements in the morning after) that when they dialogue, the power seems almost insufficient by comparison.
Someday, an enterprising critic might analyze our fascination with gay pairings from opposite economic backgrounds. (Is there a political undercurrent to this? Why is rich-poor a sexually enticing proposition?) Or someone might explain to us the dramatic significance of a top turning bottom. (How much an act of love is submission? Why are bottoms presumed to be submissive in the first place?) Daybreak is only one of several recent films to capitalize on these story elements fast becoming cliches.
But the question most pertinent to Daybreak is the position of gay relationships/marriage in a larger society. Isolated from the rest of the world, a gay relationship can be a beautiful, powerful thing. But with a wife or a girlfriend or a lifestyle of multiple partners waiting outside, why does it seem natural for gay affairs to take a backseat in priority? In its quiet way, Daybreak asks us to rethink the way we value homosexual relationships. When two men love each other, what good reason is there, if any, to break them apart?
It’s the story of a gay 16-year old and the random events that happen in his life. That’s all there is to it. A falling out of friendship after drunken sex; coming out to another friend; living with a compassionate but broken mother; reaching out to an absentee father; and the arrival of a hunk uncle. The plots don’t exactly bleed into one another in a satisfying, cause-and-effect, or thematic fashion. Collectively, they paint a portrait of a coming of age that is incoherent, and maybe that’s the point.
Antonio spends a lot of time asking questions in his head. (We hear them as voice-overs.) It’s an existential journey that ends in senseless tragedy — where else? (The ending is a gay twist on the classic Insiang.) Maybe, the movie is saying, the meaning of life — and of being gay — is that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a strong statement in our age of self-importance, when, in an increasingly liberated environment, we make so much fuss about our sexuality.
The movie’s main fault is that it doesn’t really make us care about any of this. Antonio is a walking empty shell. None of what he does, or what happens to him, seems to have any gravity. What keeps us watching is not that he’s interesting, but that the occurances are familiar to us as gay men who’ve been there before or at least heard stories about it. Sure, I giggled at the memory of wearing somebody’s used underwear on my face, but what was so special about that scenario, really? I got tired of scenes unfolding without distinctiveness or consequence. I stayed on my seat mainly because I already know uberstud Josh Ivan Morales will eventually flash his hefty manhood and that he will finally do it with cute newcomer Kenji Garcia. It was just a matter of when.
Lihim was created by the same team as last year’s sensational Ang Lalake Sa Parola, but it lacks that film’s central provocative idea and the dirty allure of exploitative filmmaking. Lihim takes a more serious (read: dry) approach (just look at mother Shamaine Buencamino’s serious acting), but doesn’t have the serious meat with which to fill it. It’s unremarkable cinema that gets by on expectation.
The default thinking in the Philippines is that men who work as male strippers do so out of poverty; they wouldn’t be in that profession otherwise. Stardancer, the straight-to-video documentary directed by Ihman Esturco, wants us to think it’s different: It’s pushing the idea that the men love what they do, out of unbridled choice.
The video seems to be in direct reaction to another recent release, Confessions of a Macho Dancer, which was a frustrating repetition of cliches about poor guys forced to do things against their morals. Stardancer is a lot more liberal. In truth, though, the two documentaries couldn’t be any more alike. They both forego the actual evidence to support their unoriginal claims, instead bludgeoning us with tabloid throwaway voice-overs and texts. In Stardancer, the voice of God is saying things that the real-life macho dancers aren’t really saying. It also skims through topics like romance and the history of the profession, but it’s so pedestrian, it’s barely cohesive.
The one big difference, and Stardancer’s achievement, is that the men unabashedly show their faces during interviews. And what a bunch of good-looking men they are. It’s easy to believe they’re the titular monicker in whatever bar they work for. They overflow with charisma, confidence, and PR skills, which are valuable in their job, and for the camera, they seem to say they’re not ashamed. Some of them are personalities you may recognize from modeling shows or male pageants, or from past erotica, such as Kiko Montenegro and Brent Lorenzo in Esturco’s own Pantasya. You have to wonder if they were bar dancers discovered to model or act, or models/actors who are role-playing as macho dancers especially for this video.
In fact, the real reason to buy this DVD is the bonus feature of the guys individually performing one-minute erotic dance numbers packed with skin close-ups, peekaboos, and in some cases, erect penises flashed menacingly. The episodes are often photographed in low-key lighting that makes what is otherwise total flesh exposure a little harder to see (and also a little more pretentious in its artfulness). What the video fails in documentary respectability, it makes up for in trashy titilation.
Roxxxanne sets up a world that may appear commonly third-world, with cramped housing spaces and limited water supply, except for one key advancement: Anyone can produce celphones from their pockets. In this world, instant videos and file sharing can dictate new order.
The achievement of Roxxxanne is that, for the first time, it makes us understand the viral life force of a “sex scandal” (a private sex video gone public) — how it can start, its constantly snowballing momentum, and the extent of its impact, much more than Co-Ed Scandal, a 2005 movie that wasted the subject. Roxxxanne recreates our present wired world with astounding potency, fashioned around a story of secrets and intrigue. It’s Scorpio Nights for the internet age, and it’s gay, too. It couldn’t be more en vogue.
Marlon (Jay Aquitania) is a student who receives blowjobs from gay men in exchange for cash and the latest video scandal. But he may be gay, too, as his sexual feelings for his friend Jonas (Janvier Daily) distract him more and more. It’s the videos that will undo him. The two actors are undeniably hot, and there’s been much talk already about Jay Aquitania’s morning fresh deliciousness and Janvier Daily’s sweaty from-the-streets machismo, but the sexiest thing about them in this movie is not mentioned enough: They talk like real boys and their naturalness is panty-dropping hot.
But where is all this going? That’s the problem. MILD SPOILER ALERT! The movie is forcefully spiralled towards tragedy in the classic mode of those “important” social films like Scorpio Nights, with lots of blood and violence, and it seems to point to a naive cautionary message about the dangers of holding a celphone in your hand, and also, the dangers of being a closet homosexual teenager. What is it really saying about young men with confused sexual feelings? It’s one thing to talk about the chaos brought about by the new media, but it’s another to suggest that homosexuality is as poisonous to society as sex scandals, bringing only death, rape, and misfortune. Not very progressive, and alas, not very modern.
Writer-Director Jun Lana’s Blog
Fancy, swirling camerawork and speedy cutting create a frenzied energy that was lacking in the 2007 live show. We do get close-ups that reveal some information — like, nobody was really naked onstage; they wore codpieces — but don’t reveal much else. Like, with all those video angles, why can’t we be treated to a peekaboo or two? The men may not be great (or even good) dancers, but they’re spectacular eye candies. Smooth butts are in ample supply, and they beg for rewind-and-pause. The program itself is hit-and-miss, but I want to watch another show like it.
“More Features Inside!” says the DVD box cover. That would be a photo gallery of the models and short behind-the-scenes footage during dance rehearsals, shooting, and photo shoot. Unlike the bonuses in the first M2M (Masahe), made essential by resplendent nudity, the extras here reveal nothing. A couple of the guys goof off for the camera rather gamely, but that, too, is unsubstantial.
The main feature is still a thing to behold, so if you don’t already have the bonus-free VCD release, you might want to snatch the DVD for its better image quality. Otherwise, this belated disappointment is an unnecessary waste of money.
Review of the VCD
You may think you’ve heard the story before, and maybe you have. A boy falls in love with his childhood best friend, who happens to be a boy too, and he keeps his feelings secretly up unto his adult life. It sounds like your own story or your friend’s or dozens of foreign films on the subject. Afterall, isn’t repression a staple on the gay literary menu? It’s practically inseparable from the territory of homo experience. But there’s an authenticity and richness to Sikil‘s portrayal that makes it one of the more evocative Pinoy gay romances perhaps ever, and especially in a recent wave of films that try to do just that but fail.
Though structured with two intercutting lives, the point of view really belongs to Enzo (Ken Escudero), the one in love. The movie’s best moments are those that zing with his romantic pain. When he finds he’s been left alone in the brook by his friend who went canoodling with his girlfriend, on his own bike, he’s wet and naked and shouting his friend’s name — you know you have a movie that understands the double-edged nature of his love: What gives him reason to live is also what’s killing him inside.
I’m still waiting for the movie that can dig into the character of the straight-guy-object with the same forceful inner reflection. Andong (Will Sandejas), the best friend who prefers the girl, though sketched with careful detail in childhood, eventually turns, at film’s end, into more of the usual man of mystery. What, finally, is the shape and color of his feelings for his friend? We’re left to guess from a few tentative clues. From Sa Paraiso Ni Efren‘s Efren to ZsaZsa Zaturnnah‘s Dodong to Ang Lalake Sa Parola‘s Mateo, with countless other macho men past, our films have always seem content on leaving the straight-guy-who-does-gay-things be. We venerate them with their inscrutability. Only the fags are battered inside out with brutal analysis. Anyway, it’s our story.
Both male leads are hot, and able new actors. Ken Escudero plays Enzo like a hapless martyr child. His lust seems almost saintly. Will Sandejas has a gruff and guarded exterior that rubs nicely against bursts of open playfulness. I just couldn’t get why his embraces with his best friend are always softpedaled by light taps on the back. It made me think he or the filmmakers weren’t really ready for a straight guy like Andong to accept gay Enzo’s love, up til the end. The actors’ sweet bodies and sweet, sweet butts are nicely displayed, but the two frontal exposures elsewhere are not theirs.
There are glimpses of a gay underworld that leaves me more curious than enlightened: a gay bar with elaborate costumed sex shows, a garden-air bath house with a what’s-going-on cruising dynamics, a bondage torture event in what appears to be a parking lot or garage, a dingy moviehouse inhabitted by one regular joe pimp and fags loudly offering handjobs. It’s a memorable world, if not fully realized. The family melodrama is sincere enough to avoid histrionics, though it skids dangerously close. How can I complain about a mother who loves her gay son enough to let him go and welcome him back when he chooses to return? I do wish key sex scenes were dramatized more for maximum emotional impact, and I’m sometimes bothered by the haphazard visual style. But then, all of these can only hold a candle to what is ultimately a great story that aims at a great gay love and succeeds.