‘Karma’ (Danny Zialcita, 1981): dying to love again

This Vilma Santos-starrer is quite cheesy, but it can be more than just a popcorn movie.

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Change is inevitable, but some things are eternal—or at least, they reincarnate. In Danny Zialcita’s Karma, a film that premiered at the 7th Metro Manila Film Festival in 1981 and was recently remastered by ABS-CBN Film Restoration, we see such old, past things as a Makati City with an unrecognizable skyline. There were no cellphones yet, and the characters depended on landline services. For audiences today, the movie offers glimpses at how much life has changed in recent decades—but it also suggests that some things are undying, like love and souls and poor customer service from telephone companies.

Karma opens with a scene of lovers meeting at a clandestine location, part romantic and part spooky. Guada (Leila Hermosa) and Enrico (Dante Rivero) have barely made their amorous overtures when Limbo (Ruel Vernal)—Guada’s husband—arrives and threatens to kill the adulterous pair. He points his gun at the unflinching Enrico who, because of either some mystic foresight or simple, tragic romanticism, says “Bala lang ‘yan, katawan lang ‘to.” Limbo makes good on his threat and shoots the two, before killing himself.

The title credits are flashed in the next sequence, over a montage of babies being born in a hospital, intercut with images of the dying lovers, strongly implying that Guada and Enrico’s souls have reincarnated. Limbo’s crime of passion apparently failed to send them with finality to heaven nor to hell, and not even to limbo.

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When the movies were still projected from film reels

I’m old enough to recall the time when couriers still zipped between moviehouses, reels of film on their shoulders.

Since 2008’s The Dark Knight, I’ve been anticipating every Christopher Nolan film with the excitement of a teenage girl waiting for the next One Direction album. Such is my confidence in the quality of Nolan’s films that I splurged on an IMAX ticket to see his latest film, Dunkirk, without reading a review or hearing anyone’s recommendation beforehand. (Dunkirk is a film that a teenage girl would have also looked forward to, because it has One Direction’s Harry Styles in its cast.)

I had forgotten how impressive, how immense, these IMAX screens were. I plopped down on my seat and, wild-eyed, gaped at just how immersive the projected image was. The screen was alarming in its vastness, in how it covered so much of my field of vision. Dunkirk began with a scene of soldiers running from gunfire; when the camera started shaking, I worried that my eyeballs also started jerking around so much just to follow the action on-screen. Thankfully, the rest of movie had its shots taken with steady hands. By the end of it, I was satisfied, thinking my cash was well-spent.

Wooden sculptures of a sitting figure (a Cordilleran bulol) and a movie camera, from an exhibit by Kidlat Tahimik.
A depiction of the Cordilleran bulol as a filmmaker: detail from a Kidlat Tahimik exhibit at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, during Cinemalaya 2014. (Photo by the author.)

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‘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.

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‘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.

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Review: ‘Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?’ (1998)

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.

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