Call me weird but in the speculative frenzy over who the next James Bond was going to be after Pierce Brosnan broke loose from the franchise, my draft pick was never the crowd favorite Clive Owen but rather Tilda Swindon. Tilda had the bone structure and the sartorial cunning and the acting chops for it. If Cate Blanchett can pull off a convincing Bob Dylan, 007 would be a piece of cake for Tilda. And an androgynous Bond might just be precisely the sort of trangressive endorphin the franchise needs. In my wildly, wishfully hallucinating mind, I pictured Grant Morrison writing the script, Portishead scoring, John Woo directing and Tilda totally rocking the ubiquitous tux, the de facto uniform of Bond. If she got the job, this entire piece would have been all about her.

Roger Moore, though, he never did quite rock that tux, did he? I bring him up first because I really liked his Bond, possibly a bit more than Sean Connery. Moore had a tinge of smarmy perv uncle to his look, and I always thought he should come back to the franchise as a villain. His Bond films are the Bond films I seem to go back to the most.  Live And Let Die, The Man With the Golden Gun, The Spy Who Loved Me, even Moonraker. They were the most fun, the most self-aware, at least. And that’s mostly out of how Moore always had a comic mischief about him, a sense almost of his own silliness, and if nothing else, it fed a unique current through his run, and somehow neutralized the potential horrors his horrible wardrobe might have wrought had he been on the wrong side of dour. A function of era, perhaps, his dress code, but there is a reason he’s almost always singled out as the worst-dressed Bond. It wasn’t just all those leisure suits. But they sure didn’t help. Specially that blue one.

Connery, on the other hand, gets the good grooming thumbs up almost by default, perhaps as a testament to the wonders of Brylcreem, perhaps as a concession to his universal exalting as the Bond to beat. The first two Connerys, Dr. No and From Russia With Love are superlative, sure, both filmwise and fashionwise, but it was his third, Goldfinger, that broke through the roof, but it also had that horrifying blue toweling playsuit (see picture) which no amount of nostalgia can re-assess, not even forcibly. Connery did have the advantage of having the sort of lean frame on which any piece of apparel will hang with some measure of style. But there’s an anonymity to his suavity, a dapperness without flair, almost generic, by-the-numbers.  Years later, and Pierce Brosnan would have the same dilemma, which isn’t surprising given how his fundamental approach to playing Bond was to channel as much of Connery as he can, despite being the one Bond actor who feels as if he was born to play the part.

I’m not being merely contrarian, then, when I say I proclaim affinity for the remaining three Bonds, in terms of what they brought to the films and in terms of what they brought to the styling. I’ve always rooted for Timothy Dalton, but his brief two-film run was saddled largely by indifference: lackluster scripts and even less enthusiastic filmmaking. Daniel Craig was, in a nutshell, Jason-Statham-As-Bond, and did take getting used to but if nothing else, his Bond is a visceral upgrade and with  Skyfall, gave the world the only other Sam Mendes film that’s actually any good. (after Road To Perdition) Also, the man can wear anything. But it’s the one-off Bond, George Lazenby, that gets the maddest props from me and this is no underdog vote,  On Her Majesty’s Secret Service just happens to be my favorite Bond. Lazenby’s disadvantage was that, for more than half of the film, he was undercover, pretending to be a character that was the diametric opposite of Bond, at one point even wearing a kilt.  But none of the Bonds before and after him gave that tux as much justice as he did and when he abandoned his disguise just before the climactic ski chase scene, it may have been a sleek jet-blue ski suit he changed into, but he made it feel like a badass superhero costume.

*Originally published in Vault


Hong Kong was the first kiss in my eventual, and undying, romance with all cinemas Asian. I call it a romance because that’s precisely what it is, a love affair. And because, well, there are women involved. I’m talking about movie star women, of course, opulent peacocks, dream girls on parade. My first movie star crush was Nora Miao, whom I’ve only seen in the Bruce Lee film Return of the Dragon and nowhere else. I should’ve known that was the start of something. Much later, there was Joey Wong and Shu Qui and Zhao Wei and Karen Mok and Gigi Leung and Miriam Yeung and Jo Kuk and Kelly Chen. There was Sammi Cheng bustling through the Johnnie To/Wai Kai Fai office rom-com Needing You. And Cecilia Cheung grieving her way back to love in Derek Yee’s tearjerky Lost In Time. Some of them were ghosts, as all women you love eventually become. Some of them could take me in a fight. Some of them melt you with a gaze. And some of them flew.

Brigitte Lin did a lot of transgender flying, and fighting, in Tsui Hark’s hectic and wondrous 1986 wu xia inversion Peking Opera Blues. When Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon emerged in 2000, it all but brokered the mainstreaming of wu xia cinema outside of Asia and the cinephile fringes, but you only thought hoary old paradigms of the Asian leading lady shifted in its wake. That was really nothing more than the flex and fallout of American hegemony. Brigitte, and really, Michelle Yeoh, among many others, had, at this point, been doing it for years. Ang Lee himself was merely riffing off King Hu’s 1966 masterpiece Come Drink With Me, going as far as casting its feisty leading lady Chang Pei-Pei as Jade Fox. China, and HK, and really Japan and South Korea and the Philippines, have long-standing traditions when it came to the prominence of their leading ladies, a lot of their films tend to be centered by women as a result. Peking Opera Blues had no less than three.

Before she retired, in a canny bit of stunt casting, Brigitte Lin gleefully subverted her own image as HK showbiz royalty, by putting on a trashy blonde wig and an even trashier raincoat straight out of John Cassavetes’ Gloria for Wong Kar Wai. It was an iconic last bow. But Chungking Express, if you press me to a corner, was all about Faye Wong, whose character, also named Faye and arguably the prototype for Sinitta Boonyasak’s Noy  and Apinya Sakujaroensuk’s Ploy in Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life In The Universe and Ploy, respectively, as well as Jun Ji Hyun’s nameless girl in Jae-young Kwak’s My Sassy Girl, was every bit the Manic Pixie Dream Girl before Hollywood coined the term and claimed it for their own. Only none of them had the self-aware affectation that makes it such a grating trope. Faye, hair shorn to that of a boy and making pink gloves sexy as she sneaks into heartbroken cop Tony Leung’s apartment and stealthily insinuates herself in the minutiae of his life before turning it on its head, was, aside from being almost intolerably cute, effortless and unfussy and fresh.

 You could tease a meta throb from the casting of Brigitte Lin and Faye Wong as two halves of a diptych, a sense of a torch being passed perhaps, with Brigitte being the last of her generation of leading ladies and Faye being the first of hers. When Joseph Campbell said the condition of a movie star is also the condition of a deity, he was mostly talking about Hollywood movie stars and how they can exist in several places at once, that is, on the screen and in real life. But he was also talking about this heightened, almost otherworldly, glamour you associate with them, how they were larger than life abstracts. Asian movie stars were, by refreshing contrast, life-sized. I’m not just talking about Faye here, of course, or for that matter, Hong Kong, but also of Japan’s Chiyaki Kuriyama and Taiwan’s Chieng Shiang Chyi and Korea’s Lee Young Ae and Yunjin Kim and our own Angeli Bayani and Alessandra De Rossi. These are women with presence, stars with wattage, but with a girl next door vulnerability and naturalism.

Even Gong Li and Maggie Cheung had this earthy quality. These two, were, for a time, the Western embodiment of the Asian leading lady. Gong Li’s work with Zhang Ymou and Chen Kaige were world cinema game-changers. And Maggie Cheung had her own formidable arthouse cachet with Stanley Kwan’s Actress, Peter Chan’s Comrades: Almost A Love Story and, more prominently, Wong Kar Wai’s In The Mood for Love. Despite the profile and the overtures, Maggie never succumbed to the Hollywood cross-over that all but dismantles the careers of Asian filmmakers and actors, with the possible exception of Ang Lee. She did make one Hollywood art film with Gong, Wayne Wang’s middling Chinese Box, but that was as far as she got. Gong Li, too, had said no to Michael Mann the first time. She said no, in fact, to Heat, because she didn’t want to be a prop, which may come off a little harsh, except she totally would’ve been one. She did eventually say yes, to Mann’s reboot of his own Miami Vice, and to a part that was more fulsome, had more consequence. The film was thoroughly excellent if sadly misunderstood, but her dalliance with the refurbished Crockett and Tubbs was unnecessary. The only thing it proved, apart from the impeccable taste Mann has in actresses, was that she didn’t need Hollywood. None of them ever did.

1. Faye Wong : I’m biased. And tremendously so. Chungking Express happens to be my favorite film. Of all time.  Oh, but Faye is so puckish and adorable here as to be almost indelible. She was last seen in 2046 and has since focused more on her music than on films, realizing perhaps that she can never outshine this with any other film role. Even one that’s directed by Wong Kar Wai.

2. Sammi Cheng :  Sammi’s acumen for screwball makes her a shoo-in for rom-coms. That’s her winning streak, all those Johnnie To comedies, of which Love On A Diet, where she acted through a fat suit, was the funniest, and Romancing In Thin Air, from just a couple of years ago, the most sublime.

3. Angeli Bayani  and  4. Alessandra De Rossi :  The only time they were together was in Ka Oryang playing embattled activists.  But they’ve cut their own respective swaths through domestic independent cinema on their own, not to mention laid claim to serious Cannes pedigrees: Alessandra, significantly, in Raya Martin’s Independencia and Auraeus Solito’s Busong, and Angeli, as a semi-regular member of Lav Diaz’s rotating ensemble last seen at the center of his exuberantly-praised Cannes film Norte.

5. Cecilia Cheung : For my money, HK cinema’s prettiest face.  That she has the acting chops, too, seals it. Her work in the Korean drama Failan was her calling card to the world. But I’m a huger fan of her heartbroken single mother in Lost in Time.

6. Chen Shiang Chyi : Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Girl flies to Paris. Boy starts changing all the clocks in Taiwan to Paris time. What Time Is It There? is another lifelong favorite. Which is to say I’m tremendously biased here, too. But she’s only been in nearly every film by Tsai Ming Liang, and one with Edward Yang.  Tough to argue with credentials like that.

 7. Jun Jy Hyun:  Last time we see her was part of the massive all-star ensemble of  The Thieves but sometimes all it takes is one iconic role to seal your fate. She had two: My Sassy Girl and Il Mare, classics of modern Korean cinema made more essential by the dreadful American remakes.

8. Chiyaki Kuriyama  : As Go Go Yibari, she was Kill Bill's entire surfeit of cool. But you’re really better off going to Sion Sono’s Exte Hair Extensions, Takashi Miike's The Great Yokai War and Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale.

9 .Maggie Cheung and 10. Gong Li : Before she wore all those opulent cheongsams in In The Mood For Love, I succumbed to Maggie Cheung when she walked on the rooftops of Paris dressed as the cat burglar Irma Vep. And much as Zhang Ymou had a hand in it, Gong Li converted me to Chinese period drama as the longsuffering wife in To Live.  A little predictable to name-check them, perhaps, but ultimately foolish to omit.

*Originally published in Vault


Apologies. This is terribly late and worse, this isn't even how I usually write these year-end pieces. I never expected the other writing I'm doing to take up  as much of my time as it did. My only consolation, for those seeking some, is that most of the films on this list have been written about more exhaustively elsewhere and don’t need my endorsement. I was also going to rant at length about the culture of versus that domestic cinema flies like a flag and flaunts like a cause and continues to retard us in  far worse ways than nostalgia does, out of how it draws and quarters the holistic joy of cinephilia into a rigid picking of sides, a sports rivalry, if you will, between arthouse and commercial, independent and mainstream, genre and non-genre, narrative and experimental, this festival and that festival, this studio and that studio, this filmmaker and that filmmaker, this batch of filmmakers and that batch of filmmakers, filmmakers and film critics, digital and analog, Golden Age and New Wave, Nora and Vilma. But I’ll leave the bulk of it for another, more exhaustive piece except to say that if our sensibilities, as an audience and as a culture, don't have the latitude to make room for all of the above, then dumbed-down really is an understatement.

My rules are stringent and geographical. Everything considered for the list must have been shown publicly in Manila during the year, be it a domestic release, a brief festival run or a special screening. And both local and foreign films must share the same list. Recently, for fun, I've even ranked the films, although the ranking tends to be a lark that's open to change and is, in all likelihood, inconsequential. Part of why I made these rules up is as a deterrent to the cloying sameness with which (predominantly Western) lists lapse into every time the year ends. The other reason is to force me to watch as many Hollywood and local studio films that saw a domestic release as I can, to level the field, if you will. And this year, I saw , if not everything, a lot more than I have on any given year, and if they're not here, that means I have no opinion on them, or they were awful. I was as visible as I ever was at all five film festivals in Manila. And last year was a terribly exciting time at the movies, specially locally. But through some mishap of time and traffic and life, there were a few films I meant to see but was not able to, my annual sins of omission, if you will. Which is to say that the only reason no mention of Ang Huling Cha Cha Ni Anita, The Guerilla Is A Poet, Ang Turkey Man Ay Pabo Rin, Purok 7, Porno, Babagwa, Woman of the Ruins, Otso or Shift is made here is because I didn't see them.

A few shout-outs are in order, for the films that, for some reason or the other,  I didn't have space for, and some of which have found their own measure of traction and their own measure of love and fandom and which deserve a second look. My honorable mentions, then, most are flawed, some terribly so, but they were nevertheless, for various reasons, bright spots. Alphabetically: Alamat Ni China Doll (Adolfo Alix Jr.),  Kabisera (Borgy Torre),  Man of Steel (Zack Snyder), Pantomina Sa Mga Anyong Ikinubli Ng Alon (Jon Lazam), Puti (Mike Alcazaren), Sana Dati (Jerrold Tarrog), The Search For Weng Weng (Andrew Leavold) and The Silver Linings Playbook (David O. Russell).

Oh, and I do realize that #4 on the list below constitutes a glaring conflict of interest. But what can I do? I loved the film, despite my involvement. So fuck it. My  best films of 2013, then. Intolerably overdue and in an order that tends to change every day.

1. LEVIATHAN (Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, USA, Fete De La WSK!)

2. ISKALAWAGS (Keith Deligero, Philippines, Cinema One Originals)

3. NEIGHBORING SOUNDS (Kleber Mendonça Filho, Brazil, Cinemanila)

4. LUKAS NINO (John Torres, Philippines, QCinema)

5. OTJ (Erik Matti, Philippines, Domestic Release)

6. NORTE END OF HISTORY (Lav Diaz, Philippines, Cinemanila)

7. ANG PAGBABALAT NG AHAS (Timmy Harn, Philippines, Cinema One Originals)

8. HOW TO DISAPPEAR COMPLETELY (Raya Martin, Philippines, Cinemanila)

9. BUKAS NA LANG SAPAGKAT GABI NA (Jet Leyco, Philippines, Cinema One Originals)

10. HELI (Amat Escalante, Mexico, Cinemanila)

11. THE ACT OF KILLING (Joshua Oppenheimer, Denmark, Cinamanila)

12. BEFORE MIDNIGHT (Richard Linklater, USA, Domestic Release)

13. THE HOBBIT: DESOLATION OF SMAUG (Peter Jackson, New Zealand, Domestic Release)