On Equal Ground
by Jansen Musico
Ilo Ilo (2013)
D: Anthony Chen
S: Angeli Bayani, Koh Jia Ler, Yann Yann Yeo, Tian Wen Chen
There is something important about Anthony Chen’s Ilo Ilo that Filipinos need to grasp. And that is the way he frames his OFW character, Auntie Terry. Though a main character, he neither puts her on a pedestal nor hails her a hero. Instead, he does something foreign: he treats her as an equal.
Since the boom of the OFW phenomenon, we have seen movie after movie dramatizing the hardships of Filipinos working abroad and the families they leave behind. Many, if not all, are ethnocentric, skewed to champion the Pinoy. Rarely do we see an OFW film involving the employers. If ever they’re given menial back stories, they are either demonized, as in the case of Anak or the Flor Contemplacion films, or crafted to help out the Pinoy protagonists, like in Transit. The plot is almost always driven by the Filipino character. This is only natural, given that these films are produced by Filipinos. But it makes for very one-dimensional storytelling.
Having been raised by a Filipina nanny for almost a third of his life, Anthony Chen is in the perfect position to make a movie that gives us both sides of the story—the employee’s and the employer’s. By doing so, he gives us something different, a fresh perspective.
Ilo Ilo is about a Singaporean couple who hires a Filipina nanny to take care of their young son, Jiale. That summary isn’t alien to our typical OFW lore. The difference comes in the form of Chen’s treatment. His story is set during the Asian financial crisis. It hits the family hard and forces the couple to adapt to their circumstances. The father, Teck, is laid off and scrambles to find a new job. His wife, Hwee Leng, is made to juggle being a mother and an office worker. We are absorbed into their world, sharing their problems and seeing how they deal with the stress. In the same way, we’re also shown Terry’s struggle of having to raise a child back in the Philippines while looking for an extra source of income, not to mention also tending to Jiale.
It’s a very simple story made complex by Chen’s fictionalized personal anecdotes and rich characters played by a really good cast. Tian Wen Chen, and Yann Yann Yeo especially, are naturals. Angeli Bayani is spot on as an OFW. Not once does she come off as a martyr with a victim complex. She’s simply a hired professional, doing her job and settling her personal affairs on her day offs. Her chemistry with the young unbashful Koh Jia Ler is what ultimately carries the film.
Ilo Ilo may share the same pitfalls of many melodramas. At times it can be gloomy without hope of reprieve, but there are tiny moments of cheer and running jokes involving chickens that liven it up. Unlike many melodramas, though, Chen’s film has zero pretentions. It doesn’t aim to gain praise or beg for a certain emotional response from its audience. It’s merely a rekindling of his own memories. Lucky enough for us, they’re interesting. And for Filipinos, they shed a new light on the OFW experience.
Her turn as Aunty Terry in Anthony Chen’s Cannes Camera d’Or winning Ilo Ilo, has placed Angeli Bayani in the watch list of many film buffs here and abroad. She’s been in local and foreign movies for a decade now, and has been working on her craft for much longer. She may not be a local household name now, but soon, with just the right exposure, there’s no doubt she will be.
She was having a kip in the bathtub, of all places, a few minutes before I met her, this petite morena void of the stereotypical trappings of a movie star. After a quick splash of water, she was ready, wearing nothing but a simple blouse and a simpler smile. Though small, there was nothing meek about her. Angeli Bayani commanded attention.
Ilo Ilo is now showing in cinemas nationwide.
Tell us about your role.
I’m playing Auntie Terry. She’s a Filipina maid hired to take care of Jiale, this little boy, by a family in Singapore.
Auntie Terry is based on a real person. Have you ever met her?
Yes. We first met at the gala in Singapore.
How did she react to your performance?
Sa totoo lang, of all people, kung meron man akong gustong i-please talaga, eh siya. Iniisip ko, sana magawa ko ng tama yung role. Nahiya akong tanungin, kasi she’s kind of a quiet person. Pero, eventually, nung nagkalakas-loob akong tanungin, ang sabi niya, “Okay naman… Tama naman.” Ganun lang ka-simple yung sinabi niya. Parang tuloy akong tanga na nag-alala buong araw.
How was it working with Anthony?
It was a learning experience. Masaya… Magulo… Oo, ganun. Sometimes talaga, hindi maiiwasan yung conflict. Pero looking back on that, it was all for the benefit of the story. It was all for the benefit of the film. Personally, even if I seem difficult, if it will work naman, if it will be for the benefit of the story or the film, bakit hindi ko siya gagawin, di ba?
Puwede namang magtanong ng maayos. Puwede namang mag-usap ng maayos. I think that’s my biggest takeaway working with him. I learned to do that in a way na hindi abrasive, but in a confident manner. Hindi puwede yung “Ummmm, direk, uhhh, ummm…” [She twirls her hair with her finger.] Hindi. As in, “This is what I think… This is what I feel…” At valid, and you don’t come across as being obnoxious or a smartass. I would like to think that I did it in a way as someone who can bring something to the table.
Ilo Ilo is not your first international production, so having experienced working on both foreign and local movies, how would you describe the difference?
Sa lahat ng ginawa kong international film… Yes, parang ang dami [Laughs] Pero yung pinaka-common sa kanila, yung malaking kaibahan is yung oras. Sinusunod nila yung twelve hours, as in. As in. Finished or not finished, pass your papers talaga.
After twelve hours, uwi na, pack up na. At ang sarap nun. Alam mo kung ano’ng naisip ko nun, lalo na nung first days ng filming? “Ay puwede pa akong manood ng ganun… Puwede pa akong magabasa ng ganyan…” Ang dami kong naisip gawin ng gabi pag-uwi ko. Pero ang nangyari, hindi ganun. Kasi kaya pala nila ginagawa yun, ang nangyari sa akin pag-uwi ko, babasahin ko ulit yung script. Babasahin ko lahat ng gagawin for tomorrow. Aaralin ko na naman siya. And you need that time alone. Para pagdating mo bukas ng 9 o’clock, handa ka.
Tayo lang ang hindi sumusunod doon. Kaya dito pag taping, i-aabot sayo yung script, linya, gawin mo na lang the best way you can. Pero puwede namang hindi ganun. At mas mabilis sana kung rerespetuhin natin yung twelve hours kasi lahat tayo uuwi, pag-aaralan yung gagawin the next day, mabilis na tomorrow. Less friction pa dahil nakatulog yung mga tao.
You’re playing an OFW. There’s a long list of actresses who’ve played that role. How is your take different from theirs?
I would like to think that I didn’t do it the stereotypical way. Alam mo yun? Feeling ko, hindi stereotype si Auntie Terry. This is, for me, one of the most real characters I’ve ever portrayed. And that made it equally hard for me kasi, like you said, it’s a long list. Aminado ako na ang dami ko nang nakitang ganitong klaseng portrayal. Pero with Anthony kasi, we both wanted Aunty Terry to come across as a real, fleshed-out character.
Kung maiyak ka man sa kanya, it’s not because yun yung intention namin, or matawa for that matter. And um, I’m not saying that the other people’s portrayals were not real. But defenitely, yung amin, wala kaming intention to make you feel anything. And I think that is what’s important kasi. It comes from a sincere objective to just portray the truth, to just portray a real person.
Read the interview with her director, Anthony Chen here.
This Is Who?
by Jansen Musico
One Direction: This Is Us (2013)
D: Morgan Spurlock
S: Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson
Being a fan of One Direction myself, I will probably get a little heat for not calling their film perfect as other fans have already done. Though it’s far from horrible, One Direction: This Is Us somewhat fails to deliver what it promises.
There’s something about Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, Liam Payne, Niall Horan, and Zayn Malik that make them the biggest boyband in the world. The boys have charisma, they’re full of energy, and they can sing well together. Their concert footage speaks for itself. Taken during their live concert at the O2 Arena, their show is entertaining regardless if you dislike their music.
With the added bonus of 3D, which director Morgan Spurlock uses with much gusto, their concert becomes a full-on spectacle. The screen, for example, pops out like a comic book during the boys’ infectious cover of “Teenage Dirtbag” and then turns into a deep blue ocean of gleaming white lights during an intimate performance of “Little Things.”
The concert alone would have made for good viewing, but the film promises more. Like the concert movies that have come before it, it pledges an inside look into the lives of the stars performing on stage. This Is Us follows the boys’ as they hop from country to country during their worldwide tour. It gives the audience a glimpse of their rise to fame and their backgrounds, and then decidedly focuses more on pandering fans. There’s nothing wrong with that except for the lack of sincerity it causes the film.
This Is Us comes across as a PR piece made to sell the band’s image. Spurlock follows each band member at home, but we barely get to see who they truly are as people. Each one has a chance to speak in front of the camera, or is given opportunities to talk to each other in staged scenarios like fishing and camping trips, but it’s what they do outside of these that ultimately gives away their real personalities.
The most revealing are their parents’ confessionals. When Louis and Liam’s mothers tear up at the sight of their sons’ cardboard cutouts, we get to see reality of the strain the boys’ success is causing. When Niall’s father talks about how his son knows more about the world than him or how Liam’s dad says he’s missed his opportunity to bond with him, it’s so sincere, it’s heartbreaking. It would have also been interesting to see what the boys’ friends would have to say about them since they’ve known the guys before all the craziness began.
It’s unfair to say that how the boys present themselves on screen is put on. Aside from the obvious plotted storylines, like Zayn buying his family a new house, there are several moments of truth that permeate, and Spurlock luckily catches some of these instances when the boys are left alone with each other. If he only let those interactions flow freely in front of the camera, he would have captured something indelible and special.
There are no apparent conflicts in This Is Us, which is surprising, given the flak the band has gotten since they graduated from the X Factor. There are no mentions of their squabbles with other artists, no scandals, and not even traces of their current and past relationships. It’s as if their PR agency wiped their slates clean. The film is even void of pressing dilemmas akin to Katy Perry’s marriage turmoil in Part of Me or Justin Beiber’s swollen vocal cord scare in Never Say Never. Its sole intention is to market the boys as “normal guys who had fun, but are terrible, terrible dancers.”
As a fan, these flaws are forgivable. I, like many others, have done enough due diligence to know whatever’s not shown on screen. It’s a pity to note, though, that after all the effort that went into producing This Is Us, its audience barely gets to know who the boys of One Direction really are.
by Jansen Musico
On The Job (2013)
D: Erik Matti
S: Joel Torre, Joey Marquez, Piolo Pascual, Gerald Anderson
Many have touted Erik Matti’s On The Job (OTJ) as the bullet that would end Philippine action cinema’s woes. But does the film really deserve that kind of burden? There’s no doubt it’s the best Filipino-made action film there is today, but expecting it to be the cure-all to a wailing genre is ludicrous. Yet, as always, Erik Matti is taking a step in the right direction.
Last year, he took a risk with Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles. Its payoff was respectable. It became a proof of concept, showing how, with the right treatment and ample skill, it’s possible for local filmmakers to wield technology and use it for storytelling. This year’s OTJ is no different. It gives filmmakers and viewers alike a reprieve from the typical Pinoy action flick—a rarity nowadays—and its bombastic Hollywood counterparts.
OTJ does not engross its viewers in cheap explosions and over-the-top setpieces. The film respects its audience too much for that. Though there is definitely no lack in action, it doesn’t sidetrack its intentions. Behind the blatant machismo and gunfire is a hard truth that cuts deeper than a blade.
The film explores an underground industry whose roots are tangled deep within the armed forces of the country. Hitmen are plucked out of prison to assassinate targets designated by various clients. Doing it this way makes the suspects untraceable. FBI agent, Francis Coronel Jr. (Piolo Pascual) and his unlikely partner, Sgt. Acosta (Joey Marquez) are set to uncover who’s behind a series of murders connected to senatorial candidate. Inside prison are “Tatang” (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson), a veteran hitman and his protégé, who spend their days waiting for their next assignment.
It’s a complicated web, but Matti knows his way around it. He starts the film with a literal bang and does not hold back with the gore. He does, however, slow down, giving his audience some time to draw parallels and discover all the dimensions of his characters. Matti’s attention to pacing is impeccable. He and his editor Jay Halili allow his characters moments to breathe and use that to heighten the tension before jumping into another action sequence.
The film’s chases and fights offer something noteworthy. Aside from being paced really well, the cinematography was consistent and the continuity was fluid. Though it’s easy to cover up flaws with a flurry of motion, Matti and his crew do not cop out. There is finesse in the grit they show on screen.
OTJ's filmmakers pull tricks out of the bag to make the film more charming than it already is. The way Halili treats Daniel's prison routine and Daniel and Francis's on-the-job training is a good example. The same can be said of the film's accompanying music. But what stood out, for me, more than its brilliant cast and production, were all the tiny details that rounded out the narrative—from the warden's manicured nails to the radio dialogue lazily playing in the background in Tatang’s shanty.
On The Job is a rarity in contemporary Pinoy action. It carries a significant social issue, and yet it’s still able to entertain without losing its macho exterior. It will not change Filipino action cinema, though at least not overnight. Like the problem the movie takes on, it will take time to win that fight.
The Joy on Their Faces
by Jansen Musico
Purok 7 (2013)
D: Carlo Obispo
S: Krystle Valentino, Miggs Cuaderno, Arnold Reyes, Angeli Bayani, Julian Trono
Purok Siete is not a film about the idyllic life, although its narrative depends on it. This little rural village is very much a character of the film as its settlers are. And it’s very evident in the way director Carlo Obispo treats it, as if an old friend rekindling memories of their childhood. The film is about growing up, and the pains and joys that come with it.
The protagonists are kids: Diana (Krystle Valentino), a blossoming barrio lass, and Julian (Miggs Cuaderno), her inquisitive runt of a brother. They live alone in a hut on the outskirts of town. Their mother left to work in China, while their father (Arnold Reyes) tends to his new family.
Though orphaned, the siblings manage living day to day, with Diana taking odd jobs in the morning and Julian staying in the houses of their neighbors. At night, they share a plate of adobong kangkong, and, if they’re lucky, “lechong manok.” The kids are not portrayed as victims. In fact, they’re resilient despite the strains. Diana, for example, does not complain when she’s made to sell rice cakes while watching her friends play on the street. She even jests, calling someone out for cheating before going her way. She may take on the roles of both her mother and father, but that doesn’t rob her of her childhood.
The bond between Diana and her little brother is endearing, and Obispo takes advantage of this to shift the story from light to melodramatic. He goes from giving us a case of butterflies in the stomach to eyes brimming with empathy. And the fact that he manages to seamlessly inject something so jarringly political in the middle of it all, makes the story richer than your typical Maalaala Mo Kaya tale.
Obispo’s respect for rural life adds another indelible layer to the film. Purok 7 is alive. More than just a setting, it’s a tight-knit community, neighbors who look out for each other, unselfish and untainted. It’s almost unrealistic, but Obispo’s handling of it, backed by a solid cast of competent actors, gives it sincerity. Purok 7 makes you believe there are good people in this side of the world, like Diana and Julian, and they deserve to be happy.