Swelter, Sizzle, Boom
by Jansen Musico
D: Lawrence Fajardo
S: Mark Gil, Nonie Buencamino, Gary Lim, Dido Delapaz
There is a popular Pinoy novelty rhyme that would best sum up the Amok experience: “Shit! Sobrang init! Abot singit! (Shit! It’s so hot! It’s reaching my crotch!)” Lawrence Fajardo’s Cinemalaya entry generates enough heat to make his audience’s balls sweat. The opening sequence places the viewers in the middle of Pasay Rotonda on what I assume is a hectic Baclaran Wednesday. The streets are heavily congested, the traffic is suffocating, the sun is merciless (evidenced by the copious amounts of sweat drenching the characters’ armpits), and the blaring noises all around are unbearable. Every little detail put together is enough to make anyone’s blood boil. It’s the perfect setting for anyone to run amok.
The film makes use of a multi-character narrative, with distinct mini stories ricocheting off one another. There is a father and son eagerly waiting to go to the province, workers killing time playing pool, a barbecue vendor nagging her little girl, and other small, interesting story arcs with bit players waiting for that one incident that would tie them all up together—a wild shooting spree care of a vengeful gunman.
The fact that this kind of film was ever shot in a place that would imaginably be a producer’s worst nightmare is a feat. It takes guts to create something so complex in a location that’s so volatile. Perhaps this is why Amok worked well as a finished piece. Aside from all the colorful figures plucked out from Pasay’s thoroughfare, the locale itself became the most important character; the filmmakers made sure to weave it in. This shouldn’t take away any merit from the actors, though. Some gave very impressive performances.
One of the most noteworthy appearances is that of Mark Gil’s. Fajardo and Gil have a director-actor relationship that just clicks every time they work together, and that is carried over here. Gil goes all-out as a washed-up two-bit action star stuck in his short-lived glory days. His arc was very brief, but still insanely hilarious. It’s a welcome break, painting some light in this dark and suspenseful comedy-drama.
Unlike those of many films in the same genre, Amok’s suspense isn’t so reliant on the element of surprise. It is the careful pacing which makes it so effective. As if a kettle of water placed on a stove, the movie is made to heat, steam, and boil into a loud whistle. Amok starts off slow with a stretched drag and then gradually picks up its pace until the audience is finally treated to a flurry of intertwined events. This is the film’s greatest strength, but it’s also its weakness. Since movies, in general, are basically split in three acts—beginning, middle, and end—the conclusions of all the little stories, which were all so meticulously fleshed out during the first act, felt so rushed. Some of which even seemed they lacked a finality that would place a period on their running tales. Whether it was the filmmakers’ intention to leave some things open-ended, I cannot truly say. Maybe it was? The film treats its audience like voyeurs eavesdropping on private conversations. We, the audience, get involved, and that’s what makes it engaging. But just like eavesdropping, we get cut off without warning, and we’re left to meander with the ideas we gathered.
Technically, the film was good, but for a person aware of the setting’s geography, mentally placing each of the characters in the environment was a tad bit confusing. The strong, crisp visuals, and the witty play of on-screen elements made up for any negligible faults. Though the film is about running amok, everything played out with such precision. It’s organized chaos, a good counterpoint for the film’s subject matter.