Talk about purging your demons through art. Felbert P. Go wrote, directed, and starred in this true story from his own life, about a man who falls in love with a young tricycle driver (Adrian Landicho) whom he discovers is actually a hustler for gay tricks. As his own lead actor, the director gets to have untrammeled sex with a bunch of trade-y men on screen, in what is becoming a microtrend in participative filmmaking, after Monti Parungao's controversial dalliances in his film Sagwan. But Hikbi works because it's confessional. It may be self-serving, but it's also brave.
Go has clearly borrowed from the aesthetics of maestro filmmaker Lav Diaz (who contributes to the music and makes a cameo as a troubadour): The movie is long -- nearly three hours -- and scenes are mounted in extended long takes with all the dry pauses and runarounds, so we may better observe the percolating anguish in the mode of John Cassavetes. When it's good, it's great. The scenes between Go and Landicho mutate into passive-aggressive fits, and I love it especially when the word "callboy" is repeatedly hurled like a dagger slur, because it's true and because it hurts to say it. In one potent scene in a motel room, the two taunt each other endlessly, knowing they also torment themselves, like sick preparation for the conjoining that follows. The sex between them in this movie is all-out, urgent, commited, and by the looks of it, real.
But the movie just as often falters. Go can be a miserable actor. His attempts at natural speech often come off as flubbing, and it seems to be contagious; The people around him get afflicted with the same sleepy non-commital drawl. The movie is ghastliest when he's supposedly so consumed by suffering that he explodes into grand gestures of loserness, tripping while chasing a trike or wailing to himself in the shower. The problem is not his pathetic situation, which is great drama, but Go's impersonation of it. He's a big baby who's stuck at outward woe-is-me, not enough of the fire from inside.
I rather wish the ending wasn't given away at the beginning of the film, but that trick accomplishes a masking effect: By anticipating the happy outcome, maybe we won't notice that a crucial bridge in the story is rickety. How exactly did Felbert begin to come to his senses? I also think what happens to him is kind of a sellout. He finds religion, talks down to his friend (who betrayed him) in a righteous manner, and accepts his role as a provider for a family that isn't his own. Was he really redeemed or did he simply move into another form of bondage? Maybe it all depends on peace of mind. Though I wish the film offered a better argument, at least it was a trainwreck that was continually interesting, sometimes amazing.