Tag Archives: Cinemalaya

tv + film by Philbert Dy

‘Respeto’ is the Movie We Need Right Now

This courageous hip-hop film has many things on its mind

NBHD movie 4-2 ticketsRespeto tells the story of Hendrix (Abra), a poor kid suffering under the thumb of his older sister’s drug-dealing boyfriend. He dreams of becoming a hip-hop artist, and he’s drawn to the world of underground rap battles. But Hendrix doesn’t quite have the skills to hang with more seasoned battlers, and he ends up losing some money that wasn’t his to lose. He gets his friends together and tries to rob a book shop, but they get caught. They end up having to work off their offense by rebuilding some shelves that they damaged. And Hendrix gets to know the book shop’s owner, Doc (Dido de la Paz), a poet haunted by his past.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 6.03.27 PMIf this were just any other movie, that setup would lead to something that might resemble a mashup of 8 Mile and The Karate Kid, with Doc serving as Mr. Miyagi to the precocious young Hendrix, and them taking on the dominant forces in the world of underground battle rap. But Respeto has something else on its mind, the oppression of past and present intersecting in this unique milieu. This is one of the first films to truly tackle this current era of extrajudicial killings, and it does so with striking panache and courage.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 6.04.19 PMThe story itself plays out a little strangely, in that Hendrix isn’t much of a hero. The film hardly gets around to the story of his growth and redemption, which is kind of understandable in context, but still doesn’t make for a particularly workable narrative structure. It feels like the two main characters spend too much time apart, and not enough time really learning from each other. It is interesting to a point that the film is so committing to depriving audiences of the conventional pleasures of this setup, but the lack of progress within Hendrix does become problematic.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 6.05.00 PMBut again, it turns out that this film is hardly about winning rap battles at all. It draws something more powerful through the stark juxtaposition of two generations of oppressed peoples. It bravely draws the line between the Martial Law Era and the current drug war, the relationship between the two main characters brought into sharper focus through mutual experiences with injustice and the cycle of violence. The film never really does get to the expected climactic rap battle where everything he’s learned from Doc comes into play. Instead, the film wails into the void, underlining the tragedy of where we are now, and the necessity for something else.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 6.06.55 PM

The narrative may not completely work out, but the film pulls off its tricky juxtaposition anyway through sheer craft. The whole movie just looks wonderful, and it confidently strings together its scenes regardless of how disparate they might seem at first. Abra can’t fully sell the worthiness of his character, but the movie does come alive through his earnest delivery. But really, the movie belongs to the tremendous Dido de la Paz, whose outward ornery demeanor is quickly offset in moments of quiet menace. The actor lets the pain of his character be visible in every moment, the horrors of martial law never far from the surface.Screen Shot 2017-09-21 at 6.04.39 PMRespeto has its flaws, but it feels vital. It feels downright necessary, given everything that’s going on right now. The film’s ambitions were perhaps too huge to ever really get right in a 100-minute entertainment, but that it tried at all and got so much right is a real feat. The film itself will tell you that making art isn’t quite enough to fight back. But it is still necessary to make art, to craft entertainment that can highlight the ways in which people are hurting, and what must be done to solve it. This is, in the end, a pretty remarkable movie that ought to be seen and talked about.

Philbert Dy
Philbert Ortiz Dy has been reviewing movies professionally since 2007, and has thus dedicated his life to being yelled at by fans of literally everyone. He is currently the Online Editor of Rogue.ph. Yell at him on Twitter at @philbertdy.
tv + film by Patricia Chong

A Quick Chat with Chai Fonacier

The actress on the universe conspiring to put three of her films in cinemas in the same month.

unnamed-1Patrons of the recently-concluded Cinemalaya and Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino film festivals will know her face: Chai Fonacier was in not one, but three films out in cinemas this month, namely Respeto, Pauwi Na, and Patay Na Si Hesus. As she jumps into the Manila scene from Cebu, the actress tells her story and the ones behind each film.chai-fonacier-3How did you get into acting?
I was 12. We wrote our own play in school—this kiddie thing with time travel adventures. A lot of kids want to play the princess, but I wanted to play the witch! I joined a theater guild in high school and again in college, but I didn’t study theater arts because my parents told me “Walang pera diyan.” I said okay, Mass Communications na lang. For a while, I wasn’t acting. I was writing for a magazine and a website, I was in radio, I was in a call center—I was everywhere. And then in 2015, some directors in Cebu were making short films and needed actors. I went, “Me! Me! Me!” It wasn’t as consistent as I would have hoped. In between, I’d have online jobs, then film. Online jobs again, then film. No food to eat, then film. Those were very grueling years.

How do you approach your characters?
First, I look at the story. And then I ask, “What is my character’s space in this story, in this fictional world?” It’s much like understanding other people. The hard part is when you have to agree with that character when you don’t.

I heard that you were supposed to play a different character in Patay Na Si Hesus.
I auditioned for both Jude and Vera, another sibling. I got Vera. A few days later, I was sleeping in, and they called me and said, “Chai, we’ve scrapped Vera. You’re gonna play Jude.” I said, “Okay, no problem,” and went back to sleep. A few moments later, I jumped out of my bed. “[Jude is] a trans man! I must research!” I observed people on the set; lahat ng lalaki, and this one lesbian in our crew whose physicality kind of fit Jude.chai-fonacier-2What was the experience like for Pauwi Na?
Road movies are grueling to shoot. Pre-prod is hell. Production is hell. When I flew in, I didn’t have a place to stay, so I would bunk at friends’ houses in Antipolo, Payatas, Makati, and Malate. I felt that Manila was this huge kaiju, and I was this untrained Power Ranger. At some point, my friend and I were lugging around huge backpacks, coming from separate shoots, and we ended up in Sogo Cubao! We go into the room, and the lights are red! It was crazy. The next day, we were shooting in Montalban. Lead me, Lord, I rode the wrong FX! That was how displaced I was here, doing Pauwi Na. But even if it was hard, it translated into the displacement the family felt riding a pedicab to the province. Sleeping in odd places, not knowing where to eat, not knowing what to do. That’s where the entire Manila experience got channeled.

Are there characters that have really stuck with you?
I get attached to them. All of them. It takes me a while to debrief from a character. A week after Patay Na Si Hesus, I was walking like a guy! My friends would tell me, “Chai, can you cross your legs like this? Put your hands on your lap like this.” “Why?” “Parang kang lalaki! Bayot ka!” The first character that I really got attached to was Lisa in Miss Bulalacao, the second film I did with Ara Chawdhury. And then Betchai!chai-fonacier-1You also wrote Betchai’s Theme for Respeto, right?
Yeah, I did. Treb [Monteras, the director] asked me if I could sing something, and I wrote the song in Cebuano. When we were shooting, the Marawi issue blew up. I’m from Cagayan de Oro originally, so we’re neighbors with them. My family was still living there. There was a lot of anger and frustration while I wrote it, but the challenge there was that I had to write it as Betchai and not as Chai. As an adult, you want to be involved. You want to say something. But if you’re 16 years old, all you really feel is frustration. You say “’Di ako kasali diyan. Kung magigiyera kayo, doon ka sa malayo. Hindi ko ’to kasalanan, tapos sinasali mo ako,” which is what happens to the barkada in Respeto.

And now you’re here in Manila for more films. How are you adjusting?
I freaked out a whole lot. Existential crisis levels. It’s still very overwhelming, but yes, I’m hoping to do more films. I can’t survive in a cubicle. I worked in a call center for five years, and that killed my soul. I tried working in other cubicles, and then I realized they were all the same to me. Other people thrive in those kinds of environments, but I’m just not built for that. I want to keep telling stories, no matter what the form.

Photography by Renzo Mavarro
Styling by Renee Ultado
Hair and makeup by Nix Ceballos
Art direction by Mags Ocampo
Sittings by Jacs Sampayan

Patricia Chong
Patricia Chong was cursed at birth with a common name and now goes around calling herself Pacho. She hides out in her cave with an anime or the Lord of the Rings extended trilogy, and comes out for good food, spontaneous adventures, and (ugh) work.