‘Sa Aking Mga Kamay’ (1996): the dual faces of crime and passion

The ‘Cattleya Killer’ thriller is intriguing for Aga Muhlach’s atypical casting, and satisfying for its intelligent writing.

In my recollection of the 1990s, a decade I had the questionable fortune of experiencing as a young kid, Filipino movies were generally of two types. They were either silly comedies that invariably included song-and-dance numbers at the beach, or drama-action flicks that were almost always about crime. The Philippines in the 90s was a society obsessed with crime; it had a dual fascination and dread for the drama and tragedy of heinous violence. Kidnappings and massacres (and frequent brown-outs) filled the news, and filmmakers responded by repackaging these horrifying stories for the silver screen. (Before the decade ended, audience-voters apparently also responded by electing a swashbuckling former movie star into the presidency.)

Sa Aking Mga Kamay (literally: In My Hands), a 1996 Star Cinema picture, fits perfectly into this latter category of my simplistic classification of 1990s Filipino cinema. But what sets it apart—its unique selling proposition—is its featuring of Aga Muhlach “not doing a pretty boy thing,” as a friend put it. Now, Aga Muhlach was quite the household name back then, the actor having enjoyed the status relished these days by, say, Dingdong Dantes. (Although I make such delicate comparisons only approximately, lest some pundits get mad at me). Muhlach was the premier leading man of the time, pairing off with such ladies as Dayanara Torres and Lea Salonga, and therefore to see him play a psychopathic serial killer is a true novelty.

Continue reading “‘Sa Aking Mga Kamay’ (1996): the dual faces of crime and passion”

‘Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit’ (1991): evocative beauty and provocative intensity

Old-fashioned both in visuals and in story, this 1991 ‘Goma-Dawn’ film can nevertheless startle even modern audiences.

Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit is a 1991 adaptation of the classic English novel, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. That novel, while without doubt an excellent work of fiction on its own, almost begs the question: does it owe some of its success, part of its much-celebrated status, to the tragedy of being its author’s first and last novel? (Brontë passed away only a year after her novel was published, and so never came to appreciate her novel’s full success.)

This is not to criticize the novel’s value in any way, because no amount of sympathy for the author’s misfortunes can save a novel if the work itself lacks substance. This is merely to suggest that Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit, in drawing from Victorian literature, also acquires much of its charm in this association with its source material. Like the idea that the appeal of Wuthering Heights, as a creative work, is enhanced by the circumstances of its creation, there is neither criticism nor praise in declaring that its Filipino film adaptation borrows heavily from the beauty of earlier works—there is only acknowledgment, that any work of art cannot escape being part of something larger than itself, of a world beyond the boundaries of the art form.

Continue reading “‘Hihintayin Kita Sa Langit’ (1991): evocative beauty and provocative intensity”

Review: Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang? (1998, restored 2017)

Art, insecurities, and youthful passion drive the classic rom-com starring the famed 1990s love team.

An enthusiastic crowd converged at a cinema complex in Quezon City, on a Tuesday night in early January. The occasion: the premiere of the restored film, Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?, which features the ’90s love team of Jolina Magdangal and Marvin Agustin. The people in attendance, many of them barely containing their excitement, proved that the pair can still rally a good crowd of supporters.

The actors may have been glamorous in their presence, but the true star of the night was the film itself, a classic Star Cinema romantic comedy. After the screening, a few guests started comparing the movie to entries from the recently-concluded Metro Manila Film Festival. A fellow guest, with a mixture of disgust and an aficionado’s righteousness, cried, “Don’t compare!” Because it is absurd to label an old film as formulaic, when it hails from a time when such storytelling conventions were still being established.

And that is true. Let us take a closer look at what exactly makes this rom-com a classic.

Continue reading “Review: Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang? (1998, restored 2017)”

Ang Babaeng Humayo (2016, Lav Diaz): time and solace and sorrow

Lav Diaz, inspired by Leo Tolstoy, delivers another distinct portrayal of life’s pains and suffering, as well as its quiet joys.

The manipulation of time is the soul of Lav Diaz’s artistry. As many writers have noted, time is Diaz’s instrument of exchange with his audience: the viewers surrender their precious hours for his films, in exchange for glimpses at truths of the world and humanity, and insights into the fabled human condition. It is not merely about the unconventionally epic lengths of his works, which is apparent enough, but also his penchant for protracted, steady gazes. In the spectrum of pacing in cinema, Diaz’s works occupy the extremity opposite the dizzying, rushed rhythm of Hollywood action flicks.

Lav Diaz manipulates time in this manner often to express both solace and sorrow. In Ang Babaeng Humayo (The Woman Who Left), this takes particular resonance. It is the story of Horacia (Charo Santos-Concio), a schoolteacher who is imprisoned for thirty years for a crime she did not commit. Her name itself derives from the Latin hora, signifying hour, or time.

Warning: this review presents a reading of the film, and it necessarily shares details of plot and other elements, or ‘spoilers’.

Continue reading “Ang Babaeng Humayo (2016, Lav Diaz): time and solace and sorrow”