Once Upon A Time In Chinatown
by Jansen Musico
The Leaving (2010)
D: Ian-Dean Loreños
S: Alwyn Uytingco, LJ Reyes, LJ Moreno, Arnold Reyes
The Leaving is not your typical Mano Po movie, and I say that with huge a sigh of relief. In his quest to give the world a true depiction of the Chinese-Filipino community, newbie director Ian-Dean Loreños goes back to Chinatown where he introduces us to the characters of his triptych.
Recently fired and recently dumped Martin (Alwyn Uytingco) lives alone in his apartment where he spends his time eating instant noodles and watching TV, which he claims is boring and full of rubbish. The same can be said about his life. Living next door is Grace (LJ Reyes), a neglected housewife trapped in an unfulfilling relationship. Her husband William (Arnold Reyes), spends his time doing office work for his crumbling company while also doing his mistress Joan (LJ Moreno). The two try their best to keep the affair a secret, but in such a small community like Chinatown, running across each other is a very common happenstance… somewhat too common.
The movie starts where it ends, Martin packing up his things and leaving to America. As the title of the film suggests, everything in the story is about leaving, although not always the way we expect them to. With seemingly no chance of a good life in this “godforsaken country” Martin finally succumbs to his parents’ wishes of migration. But first, he must consult at the temple.
The narrative is deeply rooted in Chinese-Filipino traditions, from the opening credits which showcase a dragon dance to the strict observances of Spirit Day. Loreños makes good use of the day as the central pivot point of the movie where all subplots’ climaxes take place. On the downside, his emphasis on Spirit Day also drastically screws up the film’s genre.
The Leaving is a strong drama, with sharp stabs at suspense perfectly suitable for the film’s second segment. But when it starts to dabble in the Asian horror genre, things go horribly grotesque. Some scenes which closely mirror those of Hideo Nakata’s Ringu (The Ring) and Oxide Pang Chun’s Gin Gwai (The Eye) make the film unintentionally laughable. Although good for abrupt thrills to keep the audience on their toes, the unoriginal scares do not serve the narrative any justice. Just a straightforward drama making use of the four lead actors could have elevated this film into something quite exemplary.
Alwyn Uytingco and LJ Reyes combined is a revelation. Although both are prone into dipping back into bubblegum matinee acting, the two deliver some of the movie’s strongest performances in their respective segments. Ironically, those particular scenes do not have speaking lines. At times, the script tends to go overboard with narration that only states the obvious.
For a first jab at a full-length movie, Loreños did a good job with the visuals and direction, though the same cannot be said for the poorly edited audio. As for his goal to represent his community, he did well. He broke stereotypes, reinforced some, and introduced concepts alien to outsiders. All in all, The Leaving is decent, and definitely better than the Mano Po franchise.