Friday, June 17, 2005

Debut Review

(SPOILER ALERT! Important plot points will be revealed. If you haven’t watched the movie yet but are planning to, then skip this episode.)

My officemates and I watched Star Cinema’s Nasaan Ka Man last night in Gateway Mall. It is a laudable effort from a commercial studio to offer the audience something more than the usual. Plus it also marks the auspicious commercial film debut of its director, Cholo Laurel, whom I personally know. It is for these reasons that I will start with the positives first.

The cinematography is excellent, especially the camera work. Cholo shot scenes using relatively unusual angles. And the acting in general is excellent. Jericho proves he’s a very natural actor, while Claudine delivers a very efficient performance. Diet’s efforts are a bit uneven at the start, but towards the end he makes the best of his role. Gloria Diaz and Hilda Koronel are alternately hilarious and infuriating as bickering sisters. The rape scene was particularly impressive—movingly acted and shot with restraint.

There was a major editing snafu near the start of the film—Claudine sees Diet spying on them and runs away; the next shot shows Claudine running out of the woods with Echo behind her, but when the camera cuts back to Diet, Echo is still there with him.

But over-all the movie had stumbling blocks which made certain parts unintentionally funny, or at times abruptly jarring, breaking the mimetic flow of the film. When Claudine pushed Diet off the cliff, instead of being shocked the audience laughed out loud. When Echo stumbled out of the cliff to see Claudine on the ground, it elicited giggling and side comments. Certain lines of the dialogue came out funny and awkward. The sex scene between Echo and Claudine was unnecessarily long. Claudine’s outburst at Echo was not set-up properly and came out unwarranted. Gloria’s change of heart came too abruptly after just fingering her wedding gown (which made me wonder—how come she had a wedding gown made?)

But for me the biggest twists turned out to be red herrings after all. First, the set-up of two adopted kids falling in love, with the third adopted kid being jealous of the two, was very intriguing and ripe with possibility. But instead of exploring the implications of such a set-up, the filmmakers dropped the ball. In fact, there was no need for the ball in the first place—the characters of Echo, Diet and Claudine need not be adopted and with a bit of tweaking, the plot will still stand. Second, the fact that Claudine was actually the real daughter of Hilda is an unnecessary twist.

I think I’ve seen too many “I see dead people” movies already. The moment Echo climbed up the side of the cliff and approached Claudine, I had a sinking suspicion that it was a set-up for a “surprise twist”. In the next scene with Echo, Claudine, Hilda and Gloria, my suspicion was confirmed when the two old women did not acknowledge Echo’s presence. Way before the scene where Echo is at the top of the cliff and his bloody hand is seen in the foreground, I knew that Echo’s character was a ghost. To be fair, many of my officemates who watched it with me didn’t get it immediately until they saw the bloody hand.

What was interesting is that while the movie shifted genres quite suddenly and very often (sometimes in the middle of a scene it switched from romance to horror to comedy and back), the shifts weren’t too jarring—or if they were, they were justified. The director succeeded in establishing that kind of over-all atmosphere of the movie—anything and everything unexpected can happen.

Walking out of the movie house after, I told my officemates, “May funny factor ang pelikulang ito.” Nasaan Ka Man may not cohere 100%, but for a first movie, you could feel that direk Cholo gave it his 100% all. And it’s the effort that counts.


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