The Pathogenic Turd in Joel Lamangan’s Walang Kawala (2008) November 19, 2008Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Indie Sine, Noypi, Queer.
English Title: No Way Out
Directed by Joel Lamangan
Cast: Polo Ravales, Joseph Bitangcol, Emilio Garcia, Jean Garcia
In Joel Lamangan’s dictionary, there is no such word as subtle. One can start with A for abominable, B for brainless, C for cartoonish, D for despicable, E for emotionally execrable, F for foolish fakery of fantastic felons full of fart, and so on and so forth until it reaches Y for yielding yaps, yelps, and yawns and Z for zap the zeal and zip the zoo (don’t let them out!) but the entry for S will always be one of these four: sappy, silly, slushy, soapy. No surprise that he is the most prolific director working today, and in such grave misfortune he may also be the most awarded, with more than fifty films under his belt and a steady offer of TV shows that give him more than enough reasons to venture in independent filmmaking – – the latest craze these days and the pill that is giving both life and death to Philippine cinema, for what is thought to be the local industry’s savior is abused so easily, morphing it into a mere fad, and this, in all honesty, I am telling you, in a few years’ time, as short as you can predict, as cynic as the wisest men can be, it will all come back to where we were before, maybe not exactly but definitely with that same thirst for independence, that quicksand, those years of deafening inactivity, remember that a spring, once pulled too much will revert to its original position, something like that, or even worse, cause itself to break and stumble on the surface, hopping, skipping, rolling, until it finds a point of rest. What with the massive slew of queer-themed films that had its breakthrough after the success of Solito’s Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, which prides itself in taking the matters of homosexuality in the context of various constraints imprisoning a young person’s life – – physical, personal, political, economic, social, even spiritual – – only these latter films are more liberal in the subject of sexuality while being frustratingly empty in their vision, a vision that can fairly represent them in this society where even the ways of the majority are still considered a taboo.
“Walang Kawala belongs to the trash heap,” you can put that as a blurb on the DVD once it gets released. Lamangan’s immersion to heavy dramas, ranging from the incredible to the pitiful, finds its culmination here, where every scene seems to work to exploit its unbearable weaknesses, causing you to mouth incomprehensible profanities out of sheer lewdness and unforgivable insipidity. Is this the price of liberation? Is this the revenge of the mainstream, to show us that independence has no virtue of knowing the criterion of maturity? Dressed as a queer film, Walang Kawala still reeks of Lamangan’s soap operas and films with Regal – – whether about a family falling into pieces, a famous boxer, a love story set in a world war backdrop, a coming-of-age romance, or an attempt to pay homage to Ishmael Bernal, only to make a fool of himself – – seriously, nothing has changed, in fact if I have one positive thing to say, I didn’t feel any disappointment, it is everything that I expected: blunt, misled, predictable, constipated, unjustifiably harsh, done in bad taste and with prurient interest.
Quite an oblique yet valid statement, basing it on the qualifications of this strong theory, is that Lamangan is an auteur – – consistent in both style and content, the recurrence of visible motifs in his films (ten gallons of tears and characters who are facing stupid situations and doing stupid things), and a definitive view of the world. So how different is Lamangan to John Torres? Aside from the obvious professional gap between the two, nothing seems to differentiate both of them, as far as having these general ideas are concerned, but the beauty of the auteur theory is also its fault – – that it is not all-encompassing, that we still have to use our mind, to determine which food is edible, which dish is delicious and which one is worthy of a puke.
Right, let’s be more specific. First, credibility. If they are doing their rounds in the beach, how come no one sees them? If it’s a small town, how come there is no hint of caution in their expressions of desire and exchange of fluids? It happens, true, but I don’t buy such chance. Not only it feels contrived, it also assumes that you are inane. Second, the social relevance piss. The attempt to relay the news on the desaparecidos and political activism, surprisingly in nonchalance, in whichever way you look at it, feels forced – – it is out of place, it is intended to sound politically conscious yet it isn’t. Third, the acting. Polo Ravales is a crying lady; he is more credible than Sharon Cuneta. Joseph Bitangcol is fine, which limits me from saying anything more than that; he is just fine, even tolerable. But being fine, in cinema, cannot be considered passable, except if the role requires you to look just fine, which I believe, more than anything, is not this film’s intent. I can’t even buy the thought that they are lovers – – they just look hungry for the other’s flesh, of course flesh being a euphemism for company. No wonder Emilio Garcia shines in his diabolical greatness because of their lousiness. In an attack that reminded me of Johnny Delgado in Ligalig, both impressive roles that eclipse the films where they belong, he urges you not to walk out, to finish the film, to stomach his nastiness. In one of his grilling moments, he asks Ravales to kneel in front of him, naked, hands behind his back, and puts the gun inside his mouth, thrusts it into his throat, as if fellating it. It is chilling – – but that’s too short to compensate other things. Jean Garcia is more attractive as a villain, but here she proves she can do anything, and adds to the consuming madness of male species as embodied by her husband.
It amazes me that if I am asked to describe a gay bar, even if I have never been there once, my descriptions will be so disturbingly vivid, doubts to my honesty will be raised. I owe it to this film. The education it provides, that is knowing what the interior of a bar looks, the poles, the lights, the chairs and tables, what happens in a night, and what kind of moves its dancers oblige themselves for their audience, is overwhelming for its cultural reflection. Is life a huge gay bar that we are all stuck in? Walang Kawala, bathed in orange hues of ineptitude, answers that with a phallic nightmare – – in layman’s terms, we will all die so what the hell.