Monthly Archives: September 2012

Healing The Mistress

When I was living in Cambodia, there were no cinemas showing English films so my only means of watching them was through my neighborhood-friendly-pirated-DVD-shop. That, or I inserted going to the theater whenever I was in Bangkok, Saigon or any city that had cinemas. Watching Filipino films was more tricky since this usually involved getting it from someone who had just visited Manila the quality of said DVD was more debatable than my virginity.

Upon coming back, however, I realized that going to the movies was not as enjoyable as I remembered. Aside from the prohibitive ticket price, whatever happened to the multiple screenings that Philippine cinemas used to do? And the cinemas, ugh! Even the supposed upscale theaters are so blah compared to the cinemas in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. And just a year ago, at least two cinemas showing English films opened in Phnom Penh. I wonder how those are.

My complaints aside, these have not stopped me from watching films that I desired. When I saw the trailer of The Healing, it immediately aroused my interest. First, it’s a horror film; second, it’s by Chito Rono–who brought us the delightful ‘Spirit Warriors’ and the under-rated ‘Bulong’ and third, it starred Vilma Santos–even if she said that this was her first horror film, she has done films in the past with horrific elements. Remember ‘Tagos ng Dugo’ and ‘Haplos’?

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So I made sure I caught it when it was shown. Now, as a horror film, ‘The Healing’ was very effective in delivering the goods with its combination of well-placed shocking moments, escalating violence and gore, and effective acting. By her presence alone, Vilma Santos provided gravitas to the situation her character was facing. But a great group of actors was also assembled in this movie, which increased its likability factor exponentially. Although, I must admit, their identities were a bit catalogue-ish. One of the secrets of an effective horror film is its characters’ ability to gain the sympathy of the audience, to root for them as they go through their darkest moments. I found myself rooting for each of the healed neighbor–praying for their safety while enjoying the set-pieces that served as their demise. I heard comparisons to another Chito Rono movie, ‘Feng Shui’ but I haven’t seen it (along with T2) so I can’t really say.

Technically, the film looks good but I think it relied too much on computer-generated imagery (CGI) for the visual effects. Many scenes would’ve looked better if they used more practical effects instead of CGI. Scenes like the death set-piece of Pokwang and of the young girl. I also found the eyeball effect on the doppelgangers to be silly looking, since it reminded me of this TV ad for a pain medication. I was initially baffled by the color blocking of the movie (kudos to the production designer/ art director!). It took me a while to come up with a theory–based on the ‘journey’ of Seth, the lead character.

At the start of the movie, the predominant color denoted purity of Seth and the healer. When the scene switched to the color blue (which meant constant, dependable), news of the healing had spread in Seth’s neighborhood, prompting them to take part of it. The switch to red signaled the start of the grisly deaths of the previously-healed patients, with escalating violence. Initially, the switch to yellow signified cowardice on Seth’s part as she struggled to solve the mystery before it ended in an optimistic and hopeful manner. Too much of a stretch? That’s just me.

The things I mentioned are just minor quibbles, though. They do not diminish the over-all entertainment value of the film.

If ‘The Healing’ was a milestone film (celebrating Vilma Santos’ anniversary in showbiz), ‘The Mistress’ also has its own milestone: the 10th anniversary of Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz’s love team. And they chose to celebrate this through a big movie that will blow their previous films away in terms of dramatic quotient. Star Cinema, I think, came up with a check list: controversial story: check; controversial love scenes: double check; resurrect retired formidable actress as support: check; bankable director: check. At the rate I’m going, one might surmise that I am bound to conclude that I found ‘The Mistress’ to be formulaic and ultimately cliched but I won’t. Far from it.

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Clearly, though, this film is a vehicle for Bea and John Lloyd. So the film focused on their budding but doomed relationship instead of exploring the vagaries of being a mistress, as the title promised. But it’s okay–that would have been a totally different film. What is left is a compelling tale that shows us the many social and personal implications of the choices that we make in life. One of the things that I liked in this film is that it started in the middle of the action–so to speak.

When John Lloyd spotted Bea in the bookstore, much has already happened: Bea is already the kept woman of John Lloyd’s father, John Lloyd is already his father’s prodigal son. Same goes for the other characters: Carmi Martin and Hilda Koronel–as the mothers of Bea and John Lloyd, respectively–are still making amends for having an extra-marital affairs, the former by servitude and the latter by tolerating her husband’s own extra-marital affair. Bea’s grandmother–the reason for her current relationship status–is doing well under her own circumstances. But we do not know these things yet.

So whatever happens to both of them after this meeting is affected by these previous events, making us wonder, then commiserate after finding out the reason–or the context–through well-placed plot devices of such events. It made the experience richer for me, personally speaking.

Like I said, ‘The Mistress’ is a Bea – John Lloyd film, but acting-wise, I think Bea owned the whole film–sharing it only from time to time with John Lloyd. Bea displayed enormous range in her scenes, even her voice didn’t sound like she was about to cry. I’m not sure if this is the director’s work but her lower-trebled voice in this film is sultry and vulnerable and strong in all the right places. The scene where Bea discovers who John Lloyd really is and she feels she’d been played with is especially heartbreaking.

The movie offers no judgement to anything that happened in any of the characters. If this film was color-blocked in the same manner as ‘The Healing’, the characters would’ve been dressed in varying shades of gray because it has no clear moral stance, as things tend to be in real life. Fittingly, the film ends ambiguously. Some issues in their respective families were resolved but can we say the same thing about Bea and John Lloyd’s predicament? Fortunately, the film allowed us, the audience, to come up with own answers–imagined, or based on the preceding events.

By the way, ‘Chasing Cars’ was a perfect–if not overused song (at least, to Grey’s Anatomy fans) to end the movie. Loved it!

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Hello again, world! part 3

So now, it’s been 2 years since I returned to my home country–to my mother’s home–eagerly awaiting for the next opportunity to fly away. Appearances may say otherwise, of course. I feel I have many issues to deal with before I feel confident enough to take such undertaking. Financial issues are, of course, a huge consideration–for this I admire my mother for taking me in, despite of her questions.

I feel like a bird whose wings need mending–something that I feel I need to do in solitude. I imagine the process to be long, but I’ve gone a long way as well. Finally, I see a bit of brightness at the end of this road I’m traversing. There is hope. Do you want to know why I said it?

Because, after a long time, I am starting to miss things–my old life in my adoptive country, my independence, my personal responsibilities, even my sex life… I’m starting to miss going out, getting around, traveling physically or through books… I’ve begun to miss people too.

Ms Fagan said it best: “When you live abroad, you realize that, no matter where you are, you will always be an ex-pat. There will always be a part of you that is far away from its home and is lying dormant until it can breathe and live in full color back in the country where it belongs. To live in a new place is a beautiful, thrilling thing, and it can show you that you can be whoever you want β€” on your own terms. It can give you the gift of freedom, of new beginnings, of curiosity and excitement. But to start over, to get on that plane, doesn’t come without a price. You cannot be in two places at once, and from now on, you will always lay awake on certain nights and think of all the things you’re missing out on back home.”

In the mean time, I will live.

Hello again, world! part 2

Almost seven years, however, I decided to go back home–under not so-pleasant circumstances. Looking back, I’d say it was clinical depression that did me in. I think it started after I had two major surgeries to deal with my gallstones and a protracted recovery that almost led to a third surgery. I felt I lost more than my gall bladder in the ordeal–I don’t know. I’d rather not dwell on it.

Before I finally reached home, however, in a period of self-destruction, I burned a lot of bridges–professional and personal. To this day, I haven’t addressed this thoroughly. I regret having done it to colleagues who had been good to me, to persons who’d been very supportive to me, and to friends who took me in without question when I was feeling un-well already. Still, there are some connections I don’t regret losing because I had proven they were, at best–fair-weathered friends.

After arriving, I didn’t step out of our house for almost 10 weeks. I only did when I had absolutely no choice; I had to select the coffin for my father who succumbed to end-stage renal disease. So, the secret was out: I had returned. The grief led me to further wallow in my misery. Christmas that year was hell. And it took me a few months to push myself to enroll in graduate school even if I felt half-ready to go back to school. I thought school work would somehow distract me from my depression.

I wish. By the time I went back to school I think I had actually become bigger than when I arrived. The commute from home to school fatigued me so much that I spent the first 5 minutes of my arrival at school inside a toilet cubicle to catch my breath and wipe the sweat from my face and arms. And who knew school work could be so traumatic? The 18 years between undergrad and grad school certainly didn’t help me. Add to this the intimidating culture of my school.

It seemed that I spent the entire first semester coping with the physical, psychological, and intellectual challenges of grad school. I mean, my grades sucked! I had never received grades this low in my previous life! I wasn’t faring well, socially, either. My classmates were friendly enough. However, I found it hard to trust people–after everything that happened.

In spite of myself, I was able to make a few friends while in grad school. I have chosen to stay behind–with one course to take on the summer term before I can finish my course. Some of my new friends finished their courses this year. Some others will be with me in the end.

And now, in the lull between school, I slowly find my way back to work. I take on few projects–only the ones that do not frighten me for one reason or another. I have taken steps to deal with my obesity. I’m reading books again. Writing, as well. And on some nights, I allow myself to remember good memories of my life in Cambodia.

(To be continued)