10/21/2018 – Philippines: ‘Wag Kang Lilingon (2006)
Directed by Quark Henares and Jerry Lopez Sineneng
The cinema of the Philippines is far more extensive than that of the others we’ve looked at this year. Dating back to the silent era, the earlier titles tended to be documentary, educational, and propaganda shorts with features dominated by imported European and later American titles. The first Filipino feature film would be the lost 1919 romance Dalagang bukid while the first sound films would come in 1932 with the monster film Ang Answang and 1933’s Punyal na Guinto (the first completely in sound). The rest of the ’30s would see the production of numerous films, with 1937’s Zamboanga leading to the establishment of the studio Filippine Productions, 1938’s Bituing Marikit the founding of Sampaguita Pictures, and 1939’s Giliw Ko the creation of LVN Pictures. Secreto de confesión would become the first Spanish language film in 1939.
Most of these films however have been lost to time as only four or five (depending on where you look) titles from the Pre-WWII era have survived to the present day. The occupation by the Japanese temporarily shut down the industry, but after the war, the nation would undergo a golden age. Releasing 350 films a year and becoming the second largest Asian producer of films (behind Japan), the of four major studios of Sampaguita Pictures, LVN Pictures, Premiere Productions and Lebran International led the nation to new levels of critical and popular attention. Manuel Condes’s Genghis Khan (1950) and Lamberto V. Avellana’s Child of Sorrow (1956, the first official year of the award and one of eight total submissions) became the nation’s first submissions for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. Genghis Khan would also be the first to compete at an international film festival from the country.
Batalyon trece would become the nation’s first color film in 1949 while 1952’s Ang Sawa Sa Lumang Simboryo would become the first to win the nations equivalent to the Oscar for Best Picture. The 1959 melodrama Biyaya ng lupa would be one of the most acclaimed films of the decade while The Scavengers would be made by blacklisted director John Cromwell. The golden age came to an end in the ’60s as the film industry transitioned to films made to heavily copy Western titles and bomba films (softcore porn). The decade would still produce Huwag mo Akong Limutin, Noli Me Tangere, The Moises Padilla Story (an Oscar submission), El Filibusterismo, and Because of a Flower (another Oscar Submission).
With the takeover of Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, there was an increased level of censorship, yet the era still managed to see a rebound in quality and a second golden age. Lino Brocka’s films are especially noteworthy with him directing the multi award winning Weighed But Found Wanting, Manila in the Claws of Light which is now considered one of the most acclaimed Filipino films), Insiang which became the Philippine film shown at Cannes, and Ang Tatay Kong Nanay. The ’70s also produced Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon (their sole Oscar submission), Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos, and Perfumed Nightmare.
Once again, in the ’80s, the industry boomed as one of the top ten most productive in the world. It would also produce some of their most critically acclaimed including Manila by Night, Bona, Oro, Plata, Mata, Himala, Batch ’81, Moral, Sister Stella L., Of the Flesh, the erotic thriller Scorpio Nights, and This Is My Country. The ’90s would see a major drop off in production from around 300 to 200 films a year as well as a decrease in the number of popular titles. The biopic José Rizal and the mockumentary Bayaning 3rd World would be two exceptions.
The 2000s saw production collapse even further each year (muscled out by American films) even if the quality of the films would apparently increase including Tuhog, Batang West Side, Magnifico, Ebolusyon ng isang pamilyang Pilipino, The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, Serbis (which would be the first Filipino film to compete for the Palme d’Or), and the very divisive Kinatay (Ebert notoriously hated it). Urduja would be the first animated film from the country in 2008. It’s something they’ve continued into this decade with the indie comedy The Woman in the Septic Tank, Graceland (which received a limited US release), The 250-minute long Norte, the End of History, Birdshot, and the Best Actress at Cannes winner Ma’ Rosa.
For once this year, there’s actually a plethora of options when it comes to Filipino horror films. The first horror film the country would produce would be Ang manananggal in 1927 with the aforementioned Ang aswang representing the first sound film. Those two, along with other horror films (and most others in that period) have been lost). The earliest remaining extant horror title is the Filipino-American film Terror is a Man from 1959, directed by Gerardo de Leon and Eddie Romero. That film would establish two common traits among Filipino horror films; American collaborations and Romero.
Gerardo de Leon would go on to direct such titles as Blood is the Color of Night (the first color horror film which made in 1964) and Blood of the Vampires, while Romero’s horror career would include such titles as Mad Doctor of Blood Island, Brides of Blood, Beast of Blood, and Filipino-American titles such as Beast of the Yellow Night, Beyond Atlantis, and The Twilight People . The Philippines also turned more acclaimed titles than those low budget pieces of schlock such as the dramatic Itim and Kisapmata which is one of the most beloved Filipino films of any genre. We even had multiple films covered this year shot in the country with The Velvet Vampire and Superbeast.
The Philippines have their own long-running anthology series in the Shake, Rattle, & Roll series which is currently up to fifteen, the most recent in 2014 as well as films like 1988’s Tiyanak and 1995’s Patayin sa sindak si Barbara. There’s the successful critically and commercially films Feng Shui (from 2004), Sigaw (from 2005 and was made in to the 2008 American film The Echo), Sukob (from 2006), and the action-horror remake Aswang from Jerrold Tang (from 2011). The one I zeroed in on, however, was the one with the best combination of accessibility and ratings, even if it isn’t the most prominent.
‘Wag Kang Lilingon (Don’t Look Back) is a supernatural horror film split into two sections; “Uyayi” (Lullaby) directed by Quark Henares and “Salamin” (Mirror) directed by Jerry Lopez Sineneng. “Uyayi” sets itself in a hospital where male patients keep dying. The first shown is a man laid up in bed who while haunted by a spirit (which just appears to be another man covered in something and jumping on his bed) slams on the morphine (or whatever) button repeatedly. Another patient is sitting up and his TV turns on and despite being unplugged, it starts playing some creepy images including a guy glitching about and screaming. It’s very reminiscent of Ringu and every other modern J-horror movie.
One of the nurses, Melissa, suspects a loner doctor who frequently yells at nurses and her boyfriend fakes an illness to go undercover to investigate. Yet through all this, she starts to be haunted by visions of her own. A bloody hand grabbing her as she seems to doze off. The lights flickering (the movie LOVES that effect). A creature that attacks her. Blood dripping from the ceiling. The more she grows suspicious of others, the more her mental state breaks down and the film blends in psychological elements.
“Salamin” on the other hand goes for the haunted house approach to supernatural horror. A woman moves into an old house (it doesn’t even have working electricity) with her two daughters, one much younger than the other. The mother smells something off about the house however. In the basement, the three find a mirror and based on a superstition the older daughter tells that if you look into a mirror and wish on a full moon with a candle (a rather convoluted confluence of events), you can see who you will marry one day. Unsurprisingly this fails because it is ridiculous (maybe they needed a lantern instead), but they do manage to find a bunch of dead rotting cats the next day outside.
Like the first story, the supernatural events escalate with the younger girl seeing a ghost and blood starts spurting everywhere. They bring in a psychic who senses restless spirits and rumbling noises and sounds that seem to center from the mirror SPOILERS1
The film looks and sounds like a TV production, full of dramatic pans, stock horror music, and an overall visual aesthetic that seems pulled from a made-for-TV movie. There are some genuinely good-looking shots including an extended one in “Uyayi” that sees the camera chase her through a hall. Perhaps no scene better expressed the dichotomy of the quality of the low budget effects than one scene which has both the bed shaking meekly and hilariously and yet at the same time there’s a cool blood on the wall shooting through it effect.
The two stories share the fact that they are SPOILERS2
Of the two stories, “Salamin” is the one I found myself preferring SPOILERS3. I’ll admit that a lot of that came down to my feelings about the lead character of the first and while there are some very silly elements of the longer second part, I do think it is ultimately more effective. Neither segment is anything special, but they both work fine for what they are and the film as a whole ties up nicely.
Next up: We move into my lifetime with the 1990s and David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ, the natural male enhancement product.