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11.27.2015

THE DEVIL IN LION CITY




Singapore was my first foreign city. I’ve never been back but it has since had resonance  for other, deeply personal reasons. Needless to say, I’m excited to return.

Violator screens next Friday, December 4, 11:59 PM, at the Projector. Come over and say hello. I’ll buy you a drink.

11.24.2015

PHANTOM POWER IN TAIPEI CITY










On my last day in Taipei, we had started showing each other pictures of our family on our phones. We being festival volunteers Lily and Daniel and myself.

It has come to this.

“You’re strange,” Daniel tells me. He meant it as a compliment. “I think I’m going to miss you.”  Likewise, man.

I almost didn’t make it here. I missed my flight on Monday, thanks in part to the epic disruption APEC smugly wreaked on all our lives. Come Tuesday, though, it was all sorted out, but at the expense of a forfeited ticket and with only three whole days to take in as much of Taipei, the city, and Taipei, the film festival, as I could.

But time in other countries turns to jelly, the way it becomes slower and faster at the same time. And Lily, it turns out, was the consummate guide. She had mapped out a wall-to-wall, and off the wall, itinerary that had us steering clear of the beaten tourist tracks and instead taking in, among others, the new Tsai Ming Liang short, an artist space with a balloon floor, an election campaign headquarters that looked more like a design boutique, a 24 hour bookstore, a calligraphy lesson, a secondhand vinyl shop, a Hou Hsiao Hsien exhibit, Hou Hsiao Hsien himself, endless walls of vibrant graffiti and an odd detour talking about The Act of Killing on the rooftop of a bar run by a beer gourmet named Brandon who had bicycled around the world and had the book to prove it. That night at the bar alone would have sealed this trip. But on my last night, we went to a gig at a local livehouse (the Taiwanese term for club) called Sappho where a young fusion band tore through a scorching cover of Herbie Hancock’s Butterfly. If Mumbai was all seduction and opulence, Taipei was pop-up and agog.













In a world where life is measured by what you have to show for living it,  this has become the only currency left to me: the soaking up of experience for the sake of soaking up experience and the soft, often sentimental, traction of strangers you meet and connect with and who are gone before your friendship calcifies into permanence.

This is not the life I was used to. Soul-delay and displacement, brief encounters and magical thinking. Half the time, I feel like a ghost haunting myself. But I don’t want it to end.  It will end, of course, but knowing that can be its own phantom power, too. If nothing else, it blurs the future enough that I don’t live in it as much.

Not that I don’t fear the future anymore, its inevitability and the disease it carries. Every night, when all the noise dwindles, I give in to my anxieties. This is, I suppose, the inescapable fate of the chronic, aging over-thinker. But the cosmos has thrown me a bone. All this started from an irrational fear that I was going to die soon, and two years since my inadequate prophecy, everything remains in blissful function. My dead-of-night bartering these days is ultimately out of some greed for continuance. I asked for renewed vigor so I could keep working. Because, at fucking last, work has become a font of joy.

I feel myself getting older but also sort of growing older. I hope that this is somehow enough. I hope, too, that when all this ends, it will end well, away from the crowd and with grace and composure and a lack of complaint.

We left Sappho with the lush, sexy strains of Feel Like Making Love still ringing in my ears. Lily asks to have one last cigarette in the rain before we parted ways. She was going off to meet her boyfriend. Daniel was taking me back to the hotel.

“You tired?” Lily asks me.

“No.”

“You’re lying.” She laughs.

It was half past midnight. I had been up since 6. We had been walking since 2. I had an early flight and needed to be up by 5. I was tired, sure.  But I also wasn’t lying. This was, I realize, the time of my life. I wanted to be awake for every minute of it.

11.01.2015

GO-TO HORRORS

Asked what my go-to horror film for Halloween is and I gave five, two of which aren't exactly films.



THE DREAMLIKE LANGUOR OF THE SUPERNATURAL

Bogna Konior interviewed me about Violator, horror, cinema, horror cinema, ghost stories and typhoons. You can DL the PDF of our conversation here.

5.25.2015

FIGHT CLUB : 10 UNDERRATED PINOY ACTION FILMS

The original version of a shorter piece I did for Spot.PH which you can find here.





We laugh now, at least I hope we do, at the incoherent bluster Hollywood has turned their iteration of action cinema into, all shaky-cam confusion and cartoon violence like some bastard love child of Michael Bay and Luc Besson with a videogame for a brain. But in its heyday, our own, and rather ubiquitous action cinema gave us a few things to laugh at, too, even vilify, not least being the laziness of its set pieces but also the lurid caricatures, the sexist double-standards, the casual misogyny, the same old eye-for-an-eye claptrap. Growing up watching these films on TV, though, I was in gleeful thrall, taking it all in with virtually no shred of irony. A tremendous amount of it was crap, sure, but nostalgia tends to be a lot more forgiving.

Our combat aesthetics are of course nowhere near as intoxicating as the balletic anti-gravity of Hong Kong or the ultraviolent minimalism of Japan. It’s closer to the graceless brutalism of Don Siegel with a lot of street thrown in. And in the right hands, it can and does attain a brutish poetry all its own. Lofty words, perhaps, but this isn’t merely the nostalgia talking. If it were, the list below would be rife with films like Muslim .357 (FPJ), Ulo Ng Gapo (Rudy Fernandez) and Notoryus (Victor Neri), personal favorites that hold up rather well, notwithstanding my biases and their excesses. But instead, the films on the list are, give or take a few, the ones that go off tangent, that are underrated by dint of being underseen, that you probably didn’t realize were action films, and would hotly debate its inclusion. The fun stuff, if you will. Some still indulge the clichés, sure, a cackling villain here, Old Testament retribution there, but this time in the service of characters less hewn from cardboard. And much as the hand-to-hand still tends to go on forever, in the few instances where there is actual hand-to-hand, it’s often glorious. The right hands, yeah. The list detours at one point into the 70s, takes in two mongrel specimens that expand the definition of what an action film can be and ropes in a few post-studio independent films that genre purists may balk at for being included but are at the very least spiritually kindred, nailing the essence of the genre long after it’s been proclaimed dead.

 Let’s do this, then.

 10. Kastilyong Buhangin (Mario O’Hara, 1980)

Only Mario O’Hara would be nutty enough to graft a pop musical onto a prison melodrama, package the odd cocktail as a Lito Lapid vehicle about doomed love then make it all somehow mesh. The scene where Lapid takes down a roomful of goons by sliding on the wet tiles of a communal shower room should be enshrined in set piece nirvana. Even if your first response is to stifle a chuckle, the sequence is so amazing that when you at last let that smirk loose, it would’ve turned into a whoop of joy.

 9. Ang Utol Kong Hoodlum (Deo Fajardo Jr., 1991)

He got more range when he got older but in his bad boy prime, the younger, coltish Robin Padilla could play that one note that was the whole of his range like a gunslinger, milking his street cred into iconicity, not so much a mere action star but almost a folk hero of the thug life. My favorite scene here is when he casually strolls into the enemy’s lair drinking kerosene from a gin bottle then spews fire on them. Enter the dragon, something like that. Far from under-rated perhaps but sort of essential.

 8. Utol (Toto Natividad, 1995)

This one sticks closer to the genre playbook than anything else here but is somehow shot through with more nuance and pathos than you’re used to. Ricky Lee and Jerry Sineneng, who wrote the screenplay from parts of an obscure American TV movie, bring an outsider sensibility to bear on the catalog of tropes it indulges, leeching it of its dimwitted crudities, leaving its stars with a lot of room to maneuver. And the chemistry between Montano and Neri was so electric, you could hang everything on their swagger and get away with it. Action Film 101, really, which is what the film mostly does anyway. Like Ang Utol Kong Hoodlum, this is nowhere near under-rated, and certainly not under-seen, but it’s become one of those genre touchstones that’s stupid to omit from lists like these. That, and the final act train shootout is a blast.

 7. Engkwentro (Pepe Diokno, 2009)

 Essentially an extended chase scene through a gangland slum oppressive with an evil presence you never really see except as a blurry photograph on a campaign poster and a disembodied voice on the radio. If its making the list rubs you the wrong way, think of it as stripping the genre down to its guts, all anxious motion and the constant threat of violence.

 6. Ishmael (Richard Somes, 2010)

Somes has been working this patriarchal strain of male cinema from the get-go that when he calls this neo-Western-in-all-but-name his valentine to the domestic action film, he only means it’s the one that wears it’s heart on it’s sleeve. Works best as a showcase for his fluency in expressionist delirium and mythopoeic hyperbole, and when Ronnie Lazaro duct-tapes two machetes on his broken arms before going postal on what seems like an entire town, you’re either given over or beyond its reach. I’d succumb. 

5. Carnivore (Ato Bautista, 2008)

Another left-field choice, sure, and one with tangential parallels to Batch 81, which no one would qualify as an action film, not least because it doesn’t have the visceral immediacy Carnivore does. But where Mike De Leon was using fraternity culture as a lens to interrogate fascism and torture and the regime it was made under, Bautista and collaborator Shugo Pracio are using it to delve into the male psyche and its predisposition to violence and brutality: the macho posture as primal scream, which, taken one way, is the quintessence of action cinema.

 4. Dugo Ng Birhen: El Kapitan (Rico Maria Ilarde, 1999)

 Rico Ilarde makes horror films with a weird, lurid, Lovecraftian imagination no one else can touch, that tends to overshadow how much of a pulse he has for action, despite the way he flaunts it in nearly every film he’s made. This is where he full-hogs the mash-up, a zombie film that’s also a pulp adventure, closer to Doc Savage than George Romero, with a full-on action star at its center. The film is almost two decades old but its action scenes still have a rigorous coherence that make all those shakycam fetishists come off like the wankers that they are.

 3. Ekis (Erik Matti. 1999)

His maximalist aesthetic notwithstanding, something the sinewy noir of OTJ served well, Matti has arguably more game scaled down, and despite one set piece in this ensemble piece about small-time crooks on the lam (a shootout in a swimming pool) defying logic to the point of almost pulling you out of the film, the rest of it, from the testosterone dynamics of the exceptional cast (Martinez, Raymond Bagatsing, Ace Espinosa) to the way it assumes you’ll catch up without expository pandering, is conceived with such a raw, almost fearless enthusiasm, you tend to overlook what is most likely the clammy hands of studio interference.

 2. Return of the Dragon / Revenge of the Dragon (Celso Ad. Castillo, 1974) (see picture)

Ramon Zamora was a comedian who parlayed his resemblance to Bruce Lee into an auxiliary career as an action star, making a string of soulless but profitable chop sockey pastiches and at one point, being shortlisted to play Lee in the biopic (Dragon) that would star Jason Scott Lee decades later. The trump card Celso Kid pulls here is tonal, the way everything is saturated in this bleak, humorless, fatalistic gravity, taking the standard revenge plot and twisting it into a grueling exorcism of trauma. Not that he forgets he’s making an action film, of course. The entire final act is set in a desert where Zamora takes on . . .well, everyone, which is to say, he takes on the world.

1.Bagong Hari (Mario O’Hara, 1986)

O’Hara again. In the beachside fight sequence that opens Bagong Hari , the conspiracy thriller that many proclaim is his lost masterpiece, two shirtless men fight to the death over a golden butterfly knife. There are at least two more action set pieces with arguably more bristle but it’s what O’Hara does here that remains his most striking inversion of genre tropes. The way he abstracts the action by closing in on the combatants, then freezing the frame on every contortion of pain, not only creates this glitchy staccato that would foreshadow the film’s own peculiar narrative rhythms, but also deconstructs the action film for what it really is but often refuses to assume: an apotheosis of pain.

This is by no means a complete list and if any of this tickles your fancies, you can slake your thirst further by looking for Celso Ad Castillo’s Asedillo, Lino Brocka’s Santiago, Tikoy Aguiliz’s Biyaheng Langit, Chito Roño’s La Vida Rosa and Boy Golden and, of course, Erik Matti’s OTJ, which you really ought to have seen by now.

4.09.2015

LAST CHANCE TO SEE




Violator screens on April 14 at 7 PM. School of Design And Arts Theater, College of Saint Benilde. Tickets at 150 per head.

Because people STILL keep asking me where, when and how they can see this. Here you go, then. This really may be your last chance at least until November when the 2015 festival rolls out. I hope some, if not all, of you can come. Much as we'd like to have more screenings, it's really not up to us, and the truth is, it really isn't that simple. I'd like to see Soap Opera, Esprit D'Corps, Red and Seoul Mates on the big screen myself, since I missed them during the festival. But I understand why I can't. Believe me, the filmmakers would like for you to see them, too. That Thing Called Tadhana (April 10), Soap Opera (April 13) and Lorna (April 15) will also be screening at the same venue.

See you there.

1.31.2015

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