Friday, September 21, 2007

Ang Lalake Sa Parola (The Man in the Lighthouse)

Justin De Leon and Harry Chua

It begs to be asked: When was the last time we saw an erect penis in a Filipino movie? In commercial theatres or legitimate video?

With the release of the R-rated Ang Lalake Sa Parola -- sans the erection and a variety of other sexual images that were the reason for its previous X-rating by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) -- we really should be wondering aloud: What's wrong with dick? Is our conservative taste in cinema a reality or merely imagined? And, most importantly, could our backward cinematic culture be directly related to the absence of acceptable phallus?

I have not seen the notorious X-rated (and therefore practically banned) version, but I imagine it to be a superior film to the one I saw. In the R-rated Parola, I sensed an underlying spirit of bravery and bravura. Images of complete nakedness and overt sexuality would have certainly made sense. My plea: Unleash the original cut.

For the most part, Parola plays out like something old and useless: a country hunk (Harry Chua) is visited by a city hunk (Justin De Leon), and country hunk "comes of age" -- which, in a gay film like this, means he gets it on with another guy and "discovers himself". His girlfriend (Jennifer Lee) is consequentially waylaid. It's Brokeback Mountain by way of standard Pinoy boldie. Sex scenes appear as key turning points of the story. Mateo has sex with his girlfriend, then Mateo has sex with Jerome, then Mateo doesn't have sex with his girlfriend but continues to have sex with Jerome. In the "bold" genre, plot can easily be understood just by outlining the sex scenes. Scenes and dialogue can sometimes seem nicked straight from ordinary online erotica. The steamiest scene, involving unzipped trousers, is a great work of tease.

But something unexpected happens towards the end, where the movie achieves a kind of mindfuck. STOP READING NOW IF YOU WISH TO AVOID SPOILERS.

In the city, Mateo has dinner with his now-boyfriend Jerome and friends. In the middle of bilingual, educated but trivial chatter, he finds himself lost and unable to relate. If the movie hadn't been an effective romance up to that point, and not even an effective psychological study of a man, it's at least a movie with a big central idea. It invites us to pry into the nature of identity.

In a succeeding scene, the nextdoor maid asks Mateo if he's the new boyfriend, which he instinctively denies. A kitchen argument between the lovers ensues, in which Jerome forces Mateo to admit he's gay, but poor Mateo can't. I was rooting for Mateo not to answer. The movie asks: Could the label of homosexuality be largely an intellectual construct? As Mateo gradually rejects his taste for women, the film presents to us a slippery notion of gender. Although that final shot of Mateo framed by a painting of a woman's figure is telling of the filmmakers' position (they seem to say Mateo is, afterall, gay), I'd like to think it's not as closed. What I admire most is the depth and importance of the discourse.

There's a running narration about some silly folklore about a diwata (fairy) who seduces men. It intercuts with the main narrative, and it drove me nuts. It suggests the case of Mateo is not an isolated one but is the general plight of many men through time -- how straight men can turn gay or whatever. At some moments, I was reminded of Sa Paraiso Ni Efren, that classic Pinoy film in which a man who's primarily a woman-fucker goes into a relationship of love with a gay man. There's also a fairy symbol there, that signifies both a missing parental figure and also an elusive sexual identity waiting to be grasped. Anton Bernardo, that film's star, is similar to Harry Chua, too. Both embody the conflicting forces of man and child, starting with their physiques: a delicious balance of bulging muscle and baby fat.

Harry Chua is truly remarkable. He was perfect as a boy who was not necessarily inexperienced nor ignorant, but still in a way innocent. Clothed or undressed, fornicating or not, he was a joy to watch. My favorite scene was of him doing housework in just his whities. In that scene and others where the actors similarly expose or perform more than what conventional flicks would deem tasteful, Parola is elevated from a mere "story" into a filmmaking that approaches -- dare I say it -- Art. As the film coaxes the viewers to be voyeurs, it also implicates us in the ongoing exploitation: of one man's devolution (or evolution) as an object-slave. Too bad the truly baring incidents were wasted on the cutting room floor. I still maintain: A more explicit version of this movie could have been something powerful, as it moves farther from standard sex narrative into a reflexive provocation, in which our reaction to the image matters as much as the image itself. And besides, it would have been an even hotter film. Right now, in the sanitized cut, what we have is an incredibly steamy film that's not quite good, but close.


Related Links:
Forum on the movie at PinoyPride
synopsis and stills at FilipinoQueer
Parola Gets X-Rating
Parola Gets X-Rating 2


Tony said...

At the scene that you mentioned when Mateo was lost in the conversation with Jerome's friends I caught myself thinking. Jerome you inconsiderate man....why didn't you try to explain to Mateo beforehand that could possibly happen. I felt a tinge of sadness there as I could more or less relate since Mave and I come from different cultural background and we do find ourselves in such situations.
As for him trying to force Mateo to admit his sexuality...that was also something I thought a lover would not do. Jerome obviously didn't try to understand Mateo (while Mateo himself was doing some soul searching as well) and that I thought was sad.

Reyville of Simply Manila said...

I hope the DVD version will feature the uncute version. Was it boring to watch?

Reyville of Simply Manila said...

..."uncut" version.

thebaklareview said...

boring to watch?

not at all. :-)

joelmcvie said...

I have to agree with you on two things: [1] the inter-cutting between the diwata narration and the main story drove me nuts as well; [2] Harry Chua is remarkable to watch. However, I have to say that his speech pattern at times drove me close to nuts. I know it's not a put-on accent, but it was distracting to me nonetheless. Justin's fey acting in the apartment scenes was fun to watch.

pat said...

what really drove me nuts were the scenes where nuts were almost shown but weren't. and i hoped too that they didn't give away the idea that mateo is truly, truly gay so that we'd be left with the feeling that the movie is more than just some guy's sexuality revelatory drama.

Anonymous said...

please, let the dvd be d uncut version,or insert the deleted scenes as bonus! paging producers and video outfit!

cynic123 said...

i was able to download and watch the movie through torrents. I'm thinking this is the dvd version. the movie was edited quite well and the story had a very simple plot.

Suffice to say that my eyes feasted on erections, softies, balls, and a peep at justin's head. There's also a scene where he is jacking off and it seems quite realistic as you can almost see everything.

i have to agree that the constant shift from the diwata story and the current story was quite confusing. at one point, i was thinking that harry's character was the son of one of the diwata's victims. (but then, that may just be my hyperactive imagination)

I give commendations to justin for better acting and i wish harry would take some acting lessons as he is, obviously, a neophyte.

i agree with Tony with what he felt when he called jerome an inconsiderate man. The simple act of consideration, sensitivity, and selflessness in that scene would have turned the entire movie around. But then, that would have been a totally different movie now, wouldn't it?

overall, i would recommend the movie to anyone looking for an okay movie. i will not recommend it to people who have ADHD, however

Anonymous said...

harry laurel was perfect for the role. he was simply adorable. i love mateo!

Straycat260 said...

@lycos.comPangit umarte si Harry laurel (Hindi Harry Chua..) sa ilang parte ng istorya pero dahil bago pa lang, mauunawaan mo. Sabi nga nila bukod sa tapang na maghubad wala ng mas malalim na mahuhugot sa kanya.

Galing nung baklang nagbebenta ng kalamay. Nasa kanya ang pinakamabibigat na linya.

Sa kabuuan maganda ang pelikula kasi hindi nilikha para maging malaswa, may kwentong gustong ipahatid. Yung pagtatalo sa kalooban ni Mateo. Tama ang pananaw ng manunulat at direktor. Maiintindihan mo ang kwento pag nakarelate ka sa tunay na buhay, minsan nung nag-uumpisa ka pa lang pumasok sa pagiging homosekswal. Sobrang A ang grado ko dito.

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen the movie yet, but from what i heard from my friends it's a must-see. Does anyone know how and where to download this movie? Thank you..

caturse14 said...

I have seen this movie.

I like the sex scenes. It is a brave move especially during the scene where they ravished each other in bed. That was awesome!

However, I couldn't quite grasp the entire story. I'm confused about the inclusion of diwata story though I suppose it has something to do with the coming out of the main character.

Overall, I give the movie 7 out of 10.

Brett said...


I found the fairy story annnoying, true. However, I think it was explaining the situation where men used the "fairy" story as an excuse for a gay affair or indescression. Mateo and the man in the cemetary could not admit they were gay, so use the fairy as a reason for shagging another man.

By the way, I have the uncut DVD with erect penis. Yeah it is full on for an Asian gay film.. I think one of the most adventurous to date.

Also, the scene Mateo was feeling lost in, with Jerome and his friends leaving him out of the conversation. I have been in that situation with my ex-bf from Taiwan. It was a lonely experience. It was why I left him too LOL. Art imitates life.

I think the ending is good as Mateo stands juxtaposed with the fairy painting, suggesting he has recognised his gayness. Also it is open as to what will happen on his future.

Anonymous said...

When i was 17 had a a philipino lover he was so cute and sexy i still miss A.J i am a blonde blue eyed guy and Ijust loved his dark body on top of me in bed this movie makes me want A.J BACK

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