BHOY INTSIK AT ANG KULTURAL NA POLITIKA NG WAR ON DRUGS
Rolando B. Tolentino
Si Joel Lamangan ang isa pinakaprolifikong direktor sa kontemporaryong pelikulang Filipino. Kayang gumawa ng mainstream, maindie, at indie films. Sa genre films, kaya niya ang pelikulang melodrama, aksyon, sex-oriented na straight at banding, romance, romantic comedy, fantasy, camp, at iba pa.
At hindi rin naman kaila na sa kanyang pinipiling paksa at script, siya rin ang pinakapolitikal na direktor: kasaysayan ng tagapagtatag at ng Iglesia ni Kristo sa Felix Manalo (2015) human trafficking sa Hustisya (2014), patriyarka sa Kamkam (2014), isyung kabaklaan sa rebolusyon sa Libis (2013), ina ng desaparecido sa Burgos (2013), overseas contract workers sa Migrante (2012), pagpaslang sa mamahayag sa Deadline: Reign of Impunity (2011), Sistema ng batayang edukasyon sa Patikul (2011). First Quarter Storm sa Sigwa (2010), incest sa Sagrada Familia (2009), sapilitang pagkawala sa Dukot (2009), modernong pamilyang Pilipino sa Filipinas (2003), guro at sistemang edukasyon sa Mila (2001), kaapihan ng dalawang nabiktimang babaeng OFWs sa The Sarah Balabagan Story (1997) at The Flor Contemplacion Story (1995).
Matapos ang ilang pambansang administrasyon na may partikularidad ng pagtahak sa panlipunang isyu ng kapabayaan at pang-aabuso sa mamamayan, si Lamangan ay tumatahak na nanaman sa pagbuyanyang sa bagong landasing pamamahala ni Rodrigo Duterte– ang tokhang at ang war on drugs. Kasama ng dalawa pang pelikula noong 2017, Respeto (Treb Monteras II) at Bomba (Ralston Jover), ang Bhoy Intsik ay isang malikhaing tugon ng sektor ng pelikula sa kalabisan at karahasan ng tokhang at war on drugs ng administrasyong Duterte sa ordinaryong buhay ng maralitang mamamayan sa lungsod.
Ito ang nagpapaiba sa kasalukuyang pelikula bilang media at sining: ang kapasidad nitong matalas na magbigay-representasyon sa politikal na epekto sa mundo ng ordinaryong mamamayan, at ihayag ang politikang kultural kung bakit at paano nagaganap at nadadanas ang isyu sa hanay ng mga nasa ibaba – ang historical na ineetsapwera’t inilalaglag ng sistema. Hindi tulad ng pelikula sa panahon ng diktaduryang Marcos na patago o indirekta ang panlipunang komentaryo sa pamamagitan ng madidilim na tagpuan at eksena, mga karakter na representasyonal ng pang-araw-araw na pakikibaka, mga sitwasyong kapangyarihan sa pagitan ng meron at wala sa lipunan, at klimatikong dramatikong pagtataya’t kadalasan pagkatalo sa pagtatapos ng pelikula, ang kasalukuyang pelikula ay mas mapangahas, at mas hayag sa pagbubunyag sa hanay ng indibidwal at hierarkiya ng kapulisan at kanilang katawan, at sa Bomba, ang pag-alingawngaw ng mga talumpati ng pangulo sa radio.
Sa Bhoy Intsik, ang dalawang tila magkaibang tauhan– isang baklang mandurugas at isang kabataang lalakeng peti-kriminal at nasa pinakamababang antas ng komersyo at politika ng droga, isang runner – ay magsasama sa isang barongbarong sa sementeryo, magkakasabwatan sa pagnanakaw, at matututong maging magpamilya ang turing sa isa’t isa. Ibebenta ng bakla ang kanyang isang mata para mabayaran ang utang sa droga ng lalake.
Sa huling eksena sa pelikula, makakatanggap ng tawag ang bakla habang naglalakad sa ulan para hanapin at mapayungan ang lalakeng bumili ng regalo sa labasan. May alok na katawan ng kamamatay lang ng natokhang, at magpapasalamat ito dahil mabuting regalo sa paskong inaakalang makakagaan sa kanya at kinalingang lalake.
Kumpara sa ibang politikal na pelikula ni Lamangan, tahimik ang control nito sa mga element ng editing, karakterisasyon at akting, sinematograpiya, tunog at musika, at disenyong produksyon para natural na pag-ugnayin at paigtingin ang mga kontradiksyon sa buhay ng representatibong lumpen ng mga tao, komunidad at kondisyon sa ilalim ng kahirapan at pandudusta sa kaganapang tokhang at war on drugs.
Piniling mabuhay kahit mahirap at lalo pang pinahihirapan sa karahasan sa war on drugs ng administrasyong Duterte, na ang buhay at kamatayan ay wala na sa indibidwal kundi sa kanyang kapanganakang uri at tinahak na landas sa kawalang pagpipilian sa buhay, ang Bhoy Intsik ay isang mahalagang interbensyon ng kapangyarihan ng pelikula na makapaglatag ng diskursong kultural sa kaganapang politikal sa bansa.
At sa ganitong malikhaing interbensyon, nananatili ang tiwala sa pelikula bilang tinig ng mga pinipi’t tinatanggalan ng tinig sa lipunan – noon at lalo na sa ngayon.
NOT YOR USUAL POOR FOLKS
Squalor has always been a rich source of inspiration for filmmakers worldwide.
In the Philippine cinema, Lamberto Avellana was one of the earliest directors to mine this material via Anak Dalita in 1956. Written by Rolf Bayer it follows the story of a Korean War veteran (Tony Santos) and a cabaret dancer (Rosa Rosal), who fall in love amidst the ruins of Intramuros. Alas, after it had fallen to decay prior to the Second World War, this once great noble city of Nick Joaquin was reduced to rubble after the Battle for Manila.
The Intramuros ruins became a magnet for the displaced war survivors who built their homes in the dungeons and against the concrete walls that remained standing after the American carpet-bombing during the liberation period. Here, in this setting, is where the story of Anak Dalita unfolds. The film went on to win best picture at the 1956 Asian Film Festival.
Three years earlier, LVN Pictures produced a Nida Blanca movie called Squatters. In this film, a group of slum-dwellers are pictured as victims of oppression by the rich and powerful. Like Anak Dalita, Squatters is also very sympathetic toward the poor and the homeless.
The same sentiment was carried into the 1960s films of Joseph Estrada who became an action superstar in films where he is portrayed as the defender of the noble poor.
Then came movies of Lino Brocka who always championed the rights of the underprivileged.
But with more and more people living below poverty line, society has became calloused to the plight of the poor. Although “informal settlers” is now the politically correct term for squatters, the urban poor is still derisively called various names: eskwa, iskwating, iskwaterik (after esoteric) and – as a tertiary character in the 2017 horror film Ghost Bride is described with utmost distain– iskwak-kwak.
With the influx of indie movies came poverty porn, which became the easiest way to make films. It is cheap to produce: just a little grease money for village officials and you have your location.
Need drama? It’s all in the slums: hunger, misery – excreta even – all laced with the foulest and most vulgar language ever spoken by man since the Tower of Babel. Unlike the LVN films and the pictures of Joseph Estrada and Lino Brocka, today’s indie movies actually show the worst of human behavior in the depressed areas – with the poor exploiting their fellow poor.
In 2017 again came a parade of indie movies set in the poor districts of Metro Manila. Bhoy Intsik is one of those films. It is set in a crowded cemetery, which has become the go-to place for the homeless after they’ve been already occupied all the city’s riverbanks and estuaries. Wasn’t the late character actress Moody Diaz once their poster girl?
But Bhoy Intsik is still a cut above the rest of the films released last year, regardless of setting. Directed by Joel Lamangan, it features the unconventional relationship between a cross-dresser, played by RS Francisco and a young lumpen, portrayed by Ronwaldo Martin.
With the two characters forever at odds with each other in the beginning, it actually looks like a Star Cinema-goes-gay film project. But it veers away from the Cathy Garcia Molina formula. Sure, they eventually learn to love each other, but certainly not in a romantic fashion. Oh, far from it.
In the movie, RS and Ronwaldo are two felons who have committed every crime covered by police reporters, save for murder, rape, and arson. Ronwaldo, however, was into drug-peddling until the extra-judicial killings came to fore and he is forced to turn a new leaf.
So is Bhoy Intsik pro-EJK? Sorry, Mocha Uson and other pro-Duterte supporters, but from drugs Ronwaldo, eventually in tandem with RS, merely switches to other illegal means: robbery hold-up, and even prostitution – with RS pimping Ronwaldo to a moneyed gay man.
Sure, there is a token scene with the cops conducting a peaceful surrender of those involved in the drug trade. But the movie shows that tokhang and other mass arrests (or even surrender) are not the key to Rodrigo Duterte’s dream of a drug-free society.
Unfortunately, the drug problem in the country is so deeply-rooted that the big fish literally get away with murder, while it is the small fry that gets, well, fried – given their lowly position in life.
Aside from drug issues, Bhoy Intsik also tackles problems plaguing the city’s depressed communities – starting with corruption that begins at the barangay level.
But unlike most other indie movies that resort to poverty porn in an attempt to stir viewers’ emotions, Bhoy Intsik shows that slum life is not misery 24/7 – that poor people also know how to laugh and have a good time. And yes, they know how to observe proper hygiene.
RS, for instance may live in a hotel, but he makes sure that it is clean, orderly, and comfortable. Plus he knows how to flush the toilet. Why, there is even a scene where he tells Ronwaldo which type of bread goes well with pancit (noodles).
More importantly, the film also shows that even slum-dwellers know how to love and care for each other and even make extreme sacrifices for people dearest to them. Thanks to Joel Lamangan’s masterful direction, all that human drama is expertly woven into a colorful and realistic tapestry that shows how it is like to be poor in a Third World country like the Philippines.
Credit also goes to John Anthony Wong for his skillful editing of Bhoy Intsik. This is one of the very few indie movies about the urban poor that do not bore viewers even a wee bit. Goodbye to scenes of aimless walking, walking, and more walking.
As a film artist, Wong is not only disciplined, but is also a master at his craft that he knows how to make a film interesting through the magic of editing. Bhoy Intsik is actually a film that is difficult to trim down because of its many layers – all assembled into a fine script by Ronald Carballo.
Carballo is not a newbie in the entertainment profession. A former movie writer, he has directed two films: Mainit na Tubig with Phillip Salvador and Pikit-Mata where RS Francisco was also a cast member. Mostly, he has written scripts for television, a lot of which were produced by Maalala Mo Kaya.
Bhoy Intsik is Carballo’s best work so far. His script is so tight that there are no loopholes in any part of the film. It’s just too bad that the blueprint he laid out for Bhoy Intsik was so neatly laid out that the viewer is often given clues on what is in store for the lead characters toward the end. But still, the screenplay deserves an A for effort.
But truly effortless are the performances of RS Francisco and Ronwaldo Martin. And boy (or is that bhoy?), what a great screen chemistry they have! Had they been boy and girl, they’d probably be perfect in a Valentine movie.
Of course, it helps that both are very good actors. The son of the late Sampaguita Pictures actor Rudy Francisco (and nephew of the original Bondying, Fred Montilla) RS first made waves in the Manila production of M. Butterfly where he received rave reviews as Song Liling.
In Bhoy Intsik, his character goes through an entire gamut of emotion, but he delivers each one without necessarily going overboard.
RS carries the weight of the film with the able support of Ronwaldo Martin, who also gave an exceptional performance in Pamilya Ordinaryo. His best scene in Bhoy Intsik happens after finding out why his mother abandoned him as a child of eight. Here he hides in a corner where he lets out a controlled sob – yes, very much like a child of eight. It is one of the best scenes in the film.
Although the direction, screenplay, and most of the technical elements are exceptional, Bhoy Intsik works mainly because of the performances of both RS and Ronwaldo. They work well together and complement each other on the big screen.
Bhoy Intsik is truly one of the best films of 2017, but the combination of RS and Ronwaldo make them the acting tandem of the year.
BHOY INTSIK (2017) Direction: JOEL LAMANGAN ; Screenplay: RONALD CARBALLO; Production Design; EDGAR MARTIN LITTAUA; Cinematography: RAIN YAMSON; Editing: JOHN ANTHONY L. WONG; Music: EMERZON TEXON; Sound: PAULO AGUDELO; Cast: RS FRANCISCO (Bhoy Intsik), RONWALDO MARTIN (Marlon), JERIC RAVAL, JIM PEBANCO, MIKE LLOREN, ELORA ESPANO, TONY MABESA, ALVIN FORTUNA, AHWEL PAZ, SHYR VALDEZ, DENNIS CORONEL, MON CONFIADO, LIZ ALINDOGAN; Produced: RS FRANCISCO, FERDINAND LAPUZ, SAMUEL S. VERZOSA; Running Time: 107 mins.
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