5.26.2009

Wet Dreams May Come

Sweety Tweety

Come being the veiled operative, the arrival of mainstream movie veteran Joel Lamangan into the indie arena with his seminal (pun unintended) work Walang Kawala has left many a moviegoer tightened to the coil and ready to be cloyed by the subsequent votive designs of a master of populist directing. His pseudo-sophomore work Heavenly Touch (Fuschia not included) has all the makings of a crowd pleaser, with the crowd being mostly homosexual men, and the pleasure being solidified and assembled on a conveyer belt of contemporary gay-themed flicks whose production rate can be likened to China-bred teddy bears. If the demand is indeed related to the implacable concupiscence of a predominantly male audience, then the supply has little reason of abating.

The movie centers on the lives of robust young men working as masseurs in the seedy but ostensibly clean “Heavenly Touch” spa run by the perpetually fan-wielding and diminutive Mama Orange (Jim Pebanco) and his tyrannical not-so-campy masculine counterpart Sir Tong (Jeffrey Santos). Their able-bodied employees are displayed like vacuous dolls behind a glass pane, and like the industry that prides itself on the dispensability of its human resource, Sir Tong does not hesitate to discipline his nubile wards with casual fatality. Though a more sensitive dimension is conveyed through a romantic dynamic between the two, the portrayal of Sir Tong and Mama Orange in the movie is a fascinating reflection of the sexual politics that predominates among gay Filipinos. To summarize, effeminates are seen as weaklings, with predictable desires and informidable but amusing personalities, while bisexual mustache-clad men are imposing, albeit malicious, assholes, but ultimately more desirable. Of course the crucifix of seduction is planted on the masseurs themselves, hard-up and fresh-cheeked detachables that cater to a more primal logic conveniently stored in every ticket-payer this side of the pink district. This is the very essence of Lamangan’s cinematic language, he practically wrote it, the sweet and universal poetry of the shirtless male constitution. Though true poetry is of a more rarefied ilk, Lamangan makes no apologies in giving the public exactly what they asked for, and that is something you can bring straight to the bank. He employed them all, along with some of his favorites, the scandal king Paolo Serrano, the frontal nudity king Marco Morales, the monotonic and awkward king of the moment, Mr. Lakan male pageant winner Joash Balejado. Throw in a pair of clichéd queens predictably acted by Paolo Rivero and that other gay guy giving away expensive merchandise and you have a full house. And that is exactly what Lamangan intends to achieve. It may be an iffy gamble but his delving into a more concentrated target market may reveal more than his artistic experimental proclivities. The fact that he is able to make such movies, release them with no perceived trammeling from the ratings board, and have them run for more than a week is sheer evidence of his considerable hold on the industry. The power is there, and perhaps the patronage, but does Lamangan have what it takes to elevate his work to a higher tier, more than Mano Po 3000 uberload or Manay Po 10? Does he care? The fact that he endeavored to tread on this side of the river implies that he does. And he knows well enough how tricky the river bends.

Inevitably Lamangan’s Heavenly Touch will be compared to others of its flock, to the Chionglo and perhaps even the Brocka films that virtually created the genre. The subject matter itself is almost identical to Brillante Mendoza’s Masahista though that is where the similarity ends. The two films represent two different schools of thought, Lamangan’s plot-driven traditional film-making (though not without its surprises carefully calibrated to shock the jaded moviegoer) and Mendoza’s stylistic exhibitionism rank with fancy angles and sprawling particularities. The latter being buffeted with shiny trophies and pretty plaques, mostly international, while the former being more accessible to the masses, the divergence hints a wobbling diversity within contemporary Philippine cinema. Hopefully it will not be inimical to the industry as a whole. While some things are changing, Lamangan’s socio-political expressionism that teeters on the edge of redundant melodrama underscores his reliance on recurrent themes and cookie-cutter archetypes that are not always redeemed by his talent for characterization. He mixes it up a bit and breaks some of the rules, but in the end his intrinsic almost perfunctory desire to placate the audience is indomitable. He even made two hot guys fall in love, placing them on a bus bound for a golden world of reciprocal passion and resolved conflicts, a certified wet dream both timeless and meretricious. It is a mollified version of his previous indie adventure, cherry-topped with a happy ending that eluded a disappointed swarm of romantics. Even the weak female archetype in the person of Irma Adlawan, the powerless mother-spectator, was content in the end, despite watching her only son evanesce indefinitely with a man-whore. It’s ingratiating to be sure, but if I were asked who among the current Filipino directors society should cryogenically freeze for the sake of our culture’s posterity, I would personally elect Joel Lamangan as one of my top choices. Embedded in his DNA are the desires and weaknesses of an entire nation, an organic admonition to the future Philippine stock. If that’s not worth preserving, I don’t know what is.


Written by: Alex Milla (Guest Critic)

3 comments:

thebaklareview said...

seriously? that joel lamangan endeavored to pander what he thinks the gay audience wants is not achievement. it's simply intention. the resultant product is still miserable.

Alex Milla said...

Sounds like somebody hates Joel Lamangan. How could anyone hate Joel Lamangan's profound body of work? That was sarcasm, like the whole article. The movie is basically the junk food of gay indie films.

thebaklareview said...

no, no, i don't hate joel lamangan. hate the sin, not the sinner. i always hope his next movie will be good.

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