Ishmael (Richard Somes, 2010) November 18, 2010Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinema One, Indie Sine, Noypi.
Directed by Richard Somes
Cast: Ronnie Lazaro, Mark Gil, Pen Medina, Dan Alvaro
Dear Richard S.,
I like Ishmael. I don’t know how much, but I like it the way I like certain films whose failure can easily be recognized from the start, knowing they can only be half-empty or half-full. I must admit I’m still high on Yanggaw, which, come to think of it, I only saw once, and it’s obvious that no matter how much atmosphere Ishmael shares with Yanggaw, it isn’t by virtue of comparison that Ishmael lets down. It’s the way you were not able to conceal the glitches. The way you get too engrossed in polishing the script. The way you give away too many things, wary of loopholes in the plot, cautious of how logic and the lack of it might affect the film.
Remember, you are good at your imperfections. You can wrap us in your mood and burn us in your madness. You can take us to the infernal and leave us there. Correct me if I’m wrong but it seems to me that the whole idea for Ishmael is built around that final sequence, that moment when Ishmael is resurrected and goes on a killing spree. That frightening mania in Ronnie Lazaro’s eyes, his tattoos crawling in his skin, that Kurosawa precision: that’s you, that’s Richard Somes. Why you let it be soiled by the consistently annoying music I don’t know. It sounds more like computer game noise to me than music, disjointed, lacking architecture, frustratingly and erroneously placed, almost ruining the film. Overemphasis is not something you should be so fond of. I enjoy that final combat—though the attempt at paying homage to local action films disappoints a bit (knowing your intention only serves to raise our expectations)—and it’s my favorite part in Ishmael. You know why? Because that’s the only time when you let go of reason, when you go over the top, when you simply jerk off everywhere. It reminds me of Spoliarium, of Luna’s depiction of darkness, the brush of seemingly careless paint on the side, the sound of sword-slinging without the sight of actual swords, ruthless, bloody, dripping cold.
Expletives in Philippine cinema has never been as powerful as when Ronnie rumbles “Tang ina niyoooo!” whose delivery, I’m sure, would make even the foreigners laugh. The way Ronnie swears is scrumptious, and no acting award, out of the very few we give here, can deserve to have Ronnie as a recipient. It delights me to see how Ishmael’s character steps closer to Sanjuro’s—the dry humor, the wandering samurai, the arctic soul of a ronin—only, sadly, it’s too scared to take the risk of imitation. Instead, the writing slackens and focuses on the intricacies of faith, far from being an original idea but still holds up, though I would have preferred to see the western genre in the Philippine setting explored.
Ishmael is neither a step up nor a step down. I don’t think it will look better when I see it again, but one thing I’m sure: no one has ever depicted the Filipino night as good as you did here. Please: make more films. Embrace your style. Take risks.
Best regards, Richard B.
P.S. I think Hiligaynon suits you much, much better.