This is part of FRINGE MAGAZINE’s coverage of Cinemalaya 2018. Themed “Wings of Vision”, the 14th iteration of the annual indie film fest is said to continue to “discover, encourage and support the cinematic works of upcoming and veteran Filipino filmmakers who boldly articulate and freely interpret the Philippine experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity.” So here’s a closer look at whether the films do exactly that.
From the get-go, you know Afi Africa was “inspired” to rip off Poj Arnon’s Bangkok Love Story in The Lookout. Deny this if you want, but it is too plain to see that he attempted to capture (almost) the same gay love story set in the beauty of the urban jungle – e.g. wide shots on the roof deck, with the train passing by; overhead shots of shanty areas with (slow-moving) people; and (too obvious) the often almost naked gay assassin going at it with the MSM (man who has sex with another man, even if self-identifying as non-gay).
Sadly, this is a lame copycat.
I’d go as far as saying that The Lookout proves why some ideas may be good as proposals (such as when this flick was proposed to Cinemalaya), and the end-product ends up as something that will make you question why this passed Cinemalaya in the first place.
This sounds harsh, yes. But I’ll stand by this.
Let me tell you why…
The Lookout tells the story of “Lester” Quiambao, a gay hired killer, who was abused as a child. This led him into his crime-riddled adult life. His criminal life also affected his relationships with everyone around him – from his mother, his sister, his mentor, his boss, and eventually the man he loves.
- Eye candies. And if you’re into this: almost fully naked male eye candies.
- Some good (even poetic) shots. That is, until you see they’re pale copies of the likes of Bangkok Love Story…
THE NOT SO GOOD
- Actors who can’t act; or were not properly directed (if they can act at all). No amount of being an eye candy can help here because – good looking as some of the people onscreen may have been – the moment they opened their mouths, people were literally laughing out loud at the screening I went to. If you watch the film at all, watch the NBI girl’s panic acting; or when Efren Reyes or Rez Cortez starts talking to himself; or the child performer’s non-existent “acting”; or how the main character changes his “voice” as he turned really “evil” at the end of the film; or how the dead was still standing.
- Bad story contained in a badly written script. The director wanted to throw everything into the flick – from EJK to homoeroticism to homophobia to child rape to child abuse to poverty to police abuses to cross-dressing to abuses in State bodies/offices to toro/live sex show to social apathy to fighting for the same woman (and the jealousy that ensues when one is chosen over the other) to… EVERYTHING. I get it: Life does not exist in a vacuum; life is multi-layered. But if you dump everything in one “story”, you’re not really telling as much as further convoluting.
- Those dialogues; and in many instances, as if the characters are in dramas made for radio, they even had monologues. You’ll know how bad the script is when you know that lines were chosen to – simply – elicit some shock (that even doesn’t come because people know the intent, so they were laughing at the lameness) – e.g. Ano kaya ang mararamdaman ng ama kung makikita niyang kinakantot sa puwet ang anak niya (How will a father feel if he sees his male son getting fucked in the ass)?
- Incoherent storytelling. For instance, the boy toy kept saying he wants to stop making a living as a killer (which he said was “forced” upon him by the gay assassin) and “just surrender”. But then again, he was not even shown as becoming as like the gay assassin, so what the heck he was talking about, no one really knows.
- Inconsistencies in… everything – e.g. The main character can “buy” everything, even a human being, but then he lives on this dilapidated place atop some old building.
- Lack of research – e.g. no self-respecting supposedly affluent gay guy will be caught wearing that underwear (Seriously!).
- The shameless copying – e.g. as mentioned, the Bangkok Love Story, and (GET THIS) even The Continental Hotel in John Wick (!).
IN THE END
A few days back, also in the Cultural Center of the Philippines where The Lookout was shown, Ishmael Bernal’s Manila by Night (City After Dark) (1980) was shown; with a mini-discussion held on the famed director’s take on Manila (complete with the grime and all, and his B.S. tying-all-loose-ends ending). The film – in not so many words – remains very divisive (e.g. his characterization, his shots, and that ending).
It was said that Bernal took a “hit” with this flick (perhaps particularly personally, with his “lens” changing vis-a-vis his inadvertent use of glam shots in later films, for example, because the “grimy” approach was lambasted).
But Bernal still ended up with Himala (1982); and by 2001, was declared a National Artist.
The point of this is even filmmakers “falter” (whether this faltering is judged on a personal level, or from the response of people from the film/s made).
Having said this, it was notable during The Lookout showing that people were actually walking out. People were laughing at wrong parts of the film (e.g. when it was already supposed to be serious). People were loudly questioning the errors in the narrative; and then laughing out loud at these errors (e.g. bringing the BF’ body, but leaving the father’s body).
The Lookout wants one to “look out” (lame attempt to be funny, yes; but you ought to get the point, LOL); and it succeeds here. BUT in my manner of speaking, that is no compliment…
Running time: 105 mins
Yayo Aguila, Rez Cortez, Efren Reyes, Alvin Fortuna, Jeffrey Santos, Benedict Campos, Aries Go, Lharby Policarpio, Jemina Sy, Jay Garcia, Elle Ramirez, Andres Vazquez, Nourish Icon Lapuz, Xenia Barrameda, Dennis Coronel Macalintal, Ahwel Paz & Mon Gualvez
Director & Screenplay Afi Africa • Editor Mark Jason Sucgang • Cinematography Marvin Reyes • Production Design Arthur Maningas • Original Music Myka Magsaysay • Sound Design Immanuel Verona