No Way Out
Walang Kawala

Waterbearer Films

Joel Lamangan

Enrique Ramo

Polo Ravales, Joseph Bitangcol, Emilio Garcia, Jean Garcia, Paolo Rivero, Althea Vega Unrated, 97 minutes



Waterbearer Films,

Ronaldo Bertubin

Joseph Izon, Andres Alexis, Tommy Abuel, Boots Anson-Roa

Unrated, 93 minutes



Waterbearer Films,

Adolfo Alix Jr

Charliebebs Gohetia

Coco Martin,
Paolo Rivero

Unrated, 65 minutes

Orient Express
by Michael D. Klemm
Posted online September, 2010

From the Philippines comes 2008's No Way Out (Walang Kawala). This offbeat film was directed by Joel Lamangan from a screenplay by Enrique Ramos. A watered down Indonesian version of Quentin Tarantino, No Way Out juggles genres to produce an often powerful, though ultimately uneven, crime thriller and gay romance.

The early exposition is very funny. Joaquin (Polo Ravales) makes his living as a fisherman on the coast. We learn that he has been carrying on an affair with a younger man named Waldo (Joseph Bitangcol) while his wife, Cynthia (Althea Vega), has been working overseas for two years. Describing her as being sex starved upon her return would be an understatement. She throws herself at her husband with the intention of getting pregnant as soon as possible. The bored looks on Joaquin's face, as his wife ravishes him, are priceless.

Waldo is furious with the situation and flees to Manila. Joaquin has undoubtedly enjoyed his wife's absence, coming to terms with his homosexuality in the process. He realizes that he loves Waldo and heads to the big city so that he can search for him. Joaquin's quest leads him into Manila's sleazier quarters. At a strip club, Joaquin learns that Waldo was last seen in the company of Rufo (Emilio Garcia), a bisexual cop who traffics in human slaves, selling them "like fish." Can Joaquin find his beloved and save him before it's too late?

There is much in this film to admire but it also, quite frankly, a very schizophrenic movie. It begins as a soft porn screwball comedy. Then it explodes into melodrama. The staging of the violence, when the action moves to Manila, is sometimes a bit clumsy but it also gets pretty ugly - almost unbearably so. Two male rapes at gunpoint are clinically brutal. There are many flashbacks that augment the love story between Joaquin and Waldo. This helps, because too many clashing styles keep the film from gelling into a cohesive whole. Regrettably, the ending is also a mess; methinks the director doesn't believe in Hitchcock's maxim that you have to relieve suspense after spending so much time setting it up.

Why is it that so many Asian films insist on New-Age accoustic guitar and/or piano scores that sound "too Western?" As in many other films from the Orient, the music stops the movie dead in its tracks every time that the wafting strings return. The documentary approach to the ugly events being filmed works better with silence. The love story could have been stronger and the ending better but, flaws and all, No Way Out is a credible and creepy film. The scenes of sexual abuse are raw and devoid of anything remotely resembling eroticism - a far cry from those soft porn beefcake gay crime thrillers and horror films that clutter our cinematic landscape. This is what separates art from exploitation. The villains are amongst the most repulsive I have ever seen on the screen. To its credit, the film is also not "about" homosexuality; the main characters just happen to be queer.

A glance at director Lamangan's credits on reveal quite the prolific filmmaker. During the 70s, Lamangan was incarcerated as a political prisoner and was tortured for his views. He made his mark on Filipino cinema with a string of commercial hits, gaining the clout in the process to make the films that he wants. Give the man credit for avoiding fluffy sex comedies, during the independent phase to his career, in favor of a darker vison.


Also from the Phlipines comes writer/director Ronaldo Bertubin's 2009 Lovebirds. This one is a screwball comedy about culture clashes, language barriers and mistaken identities. Mario and Alexis are international internet lovers. Mario (Joseph Izon) lives in the Philipines while Alexis (Andres Alexis) hails from Spain. The two men have fallen in love online and Alexis has decided to fly to the Philipines so that they can meet in person.

All well and good, except that Mario's family doesn't know that he is gay and they are expecting Alexis to be a woman. Mario's old fashioned (but internet savvy) Mother has prepared a traditional banquet and invited the extended family. Imagine everyone's shock when a car arrives from the airport and out steps a handsome young man. Before our lovers can embrace, Mario's Mother runs between them and hastily announces to everyone that Alexis is ill and cannot be here, and that their "very special guest" is her twin brother, Alex. Needless to say, she couldn't be a more obvious, and desperate, liar if she tried. Goodness gracious, what will the neighbors think?

Some early dialogue establishes that she is hardly a card carrying member of PFLAG. Boots Anson-Roa, a very respected Filipino actress, manages to make the Mother hateful while still providing comic relief. She can be a tad over the top at times but it is sublime slapstick when she keeps showing up every time the lovers are alone. "Not in my house!" she screams at them. When she finds them in the garden, she yells "Not on my property!"

As easy as it is to point fingers at Mother, this whole Shakesperean comedy of errors is really all Mario's fault. He chose not to tell his family that Alexis was a man. He also allowed his more experienced best friend, who types faster and knows Spanish, to do his online chats for him. Thus, Mario doesn't even know everything he typed to Alexis, causing even more embarassment. Meanwhile, Alexi has been a very good sport about all this but there's only so much a man can take. Can the lovebirds' romance bloom despite all the strikes against them?

Well, this is a romantic comedy so we know that things have to turn out well in the end. The conclusion was too much like a sitcom for my tastes but I still melted and said "awwww" anyway. For the most part, Lovebirds is an enjoyable farce. While not always laugh out loud funny, it amuses. The lovers are sweet together when they are allowed a few minutes alone. The audience is teased for a longer time than is usual for a gay film but, for those viewers who insist on it, gratuitous sex comes in the form of Mario's best friend and his lover. A waterfall is the setting for some idyllic male nudes. There is a terrific, and very real, confrontation scene between the lovebirds that resonates on both dramatic and comedic levels..

Some of the humor comes from the language. Most of the film is in Tagalog with a bit of Spanish and a fair amount of English. All of it, no matter the language, is subtitled in English - which actually makes a few scenes funnier. Several characters, especially Mother, will speak Tagalog but throw in an English phrase - and get the wording wrong.

Positive gay themed films from the Philipines are no longer the rarity they once were, so there's nothing really new or groundbreaking about Lovebirds. It's a cute movie though and perfect for snuggling with your date.

Last but not least is 2008's Daybreak. They say that good things come in small packages and this 65 minute film, directed by Adolfo Alix Jr. from a script by Charliebebs Gohetia, is a cinematic short story that packs a lot of emotion. Daybreak documents the end of an affair. The clandestine lovers are two Filipino men on the down low. William (Paolo Rivero) is a married doctor on a business trip. JP (Coco Martin) works as boatman and sightseeing guide. The two men met when William and his wife took a boat tour to see the Taal Volcano. They have been having a secret affair for about a year.

William and JP haven't seen each other in a couple of months. They are spending the night at William's opulent family vacation home in Tagaytay City. The volcano can be seen from their windows. Their relationship is a bit difficult to unravel. William is married. JP seems to have no lack of girlfriends, all of them fulfilling until a better one comes along. Despite seeming otherwise terminally straight, these two guys are hot for each other. Each, unfortunately has different ideas regarding their relationship. JP, despite all the women, sees them as a couple. William loves his wife and considers JP to be a fuck buddy - albeit one whom he cares for deeply. To complicate matters, William has to tell JP that he is going to be relocating, with his wife, for a new job.

That's basically the film in a nutshell. They talk, they fight, they fuck. It's a slice of life, both lyrical and realistic.

Not much happens. We don't know a lot about the two men; only a few hints about what makes them tick can be gleamed from their conversations. But, because Daybreak is as short as it is, fully developed characters aren't a prerequisite. The director is looking to capture a moment and he does, quite splendidly. Leading up to that moment are many others that ring with truth. JP looks annoyed when William receives a cellphone call from his wife, just in time to spoil the reverie they were enjoying. Most striking is a forced kiss that is ferociously rejected and then surrendered to.

Repeated viewings reveal riches. The cinematography is often quite beautiful. There is atmosphere aplenty; a fog shrouded pool, the rising sun climbing up the bedroom wall, the feet of two lovers pushing aside a pile of clothes on the floor, a hugged pillow filling the frame that belonged to an absent lover. Many images will stay with the viewer. Daybreak is also a very sexy film. If, like me, you enjoy long kissing scenes, this one is for you. There are two beautifully filmed love scenes that percolate with passion. Eroticism extends to much of the other imagery as well; even a shot of hands fanning spaghetti into a pot is very sensual.

A soundtrack that is often just atonal chimes is unobtrusive, lovely in its subtlety and quietly effective. Finally, no New Age guitar or piano in an Asian film, what a concept! Both actors do a nice job, which is good because there is no one else in the movie. Daybreak is a very unusual work that thinks outside the box. (The credits appear at the film's midpoint during a lengthy one-take shot in which they eat dinner in silence.) Smart and sweet, Daybreak doesn't overstay its welcome.