Now I never like disclaimers before watching a movie, and usually don’t read reviews beforehand either. But boy, was I thankful director Richard Somes introduced his film by saying (among other things) that this was his homage to the Pinoy action film ala FPJ, Ramon Revilla, Dante Varona. Of course it still wasn’t enough to prepare me, at least not for the gore.
Because if there is one spoiler I will give you before you go and watch Ishmael, it’s that prepare yourself for some blood. Other than that, I think it would do every other Pinoy good to go and watch this movie, if only for two things: one, Ronnie Lazaro, and two, the Pinoy action film redefined.
Granted I would love to see Lazaro doing a movie where he ain’t a bad guy, here at least he was given something else to bite into instead of the standard fare. And so was Pen Medina. And Mark Gil. And as audience, we also had something new to be enthralled by, and yes this is an action flick, and I’m the girl who cannot for the life of her watch a Manny Pacquiao fight with conviction. For Ishmael, what does work though is the fact of it being an indie film, amorphous as the definition for that has become, confused as it currently is. For all intents and purposes the label of “indie” at least to me, allows for expectations to be suspended and surprise to be expected, in the way that new unfamiliar things do.
And here it is this. Lazaro as Ishmael is obviously farthest from being the clean-cut and the always clean action star in Pinoy movies, who will fight the bad guys, throw punches and kicks, without ruining his hair or getting his shirt bloody. Lazaro also doesn’t do death-defying stunts with motorcycles or helicopters, not even with a car. There is too the fact of age, that is, some middle age spread for Lazaro, though still quite the sexy guy walking through the darn town as if he owned it. Let’s not even begin with the tight-fitting shirts and jeans, and those boots.
The music and make-up had a lot to do with how this movie worked. Much of the scenes that established characterizations and were important moments happened to the tune of the music of good ol’ action, the kind that’s old school but so familiar I was bobbing my head to the beat. And goodness, the make-up was fantastic (save for Agnes having some glittery eyeshadow obvious in some of her close-ups), especially for Ishmael’s final wounds.
There were also no fake action sequences, everything was real suntukan, saksakan, mano-mano.
And all of it works. Lazaro as the ex-soldier who’s been toughened up by jail and is pretty much hopeless. Gil the man who the town has seen as saviour, sleazy and scary in equal turns. Medina as the blind man who traversed the line between friendship and religiosity, a history with one man and the truth of survival with another. Ria Garcia as the young girl Agnes who is symbol for ultimate oppression and abuse, the one that needs to be saved (and who I pray will not be enticed by commercial acting jobs because I tell you it will ruin the bright eyed acting she did so well in this movie).
But Ishmael ain’t just about its unconventional actors, it’s also about a lot of the new and modern and the now in the action genre. Yes, even when direk Somes insists that there was nothing here but “may pinatay, may naghiganti, ganon lang yon!”
I say, not at all. In this story of Ishmael, it’s clear that many things in the storytelling come into play, things which the Pinoy action film of old didn’t have. There’s the fact of space being important, the removed island that was setting the reason for such an absurd religious cult to be all-powerful, and the reason for escape to be almost impossible. There’s the truth of tragedy and any community’s contingent need for saviours and heroes, no matter that all they have is the gift of words and speech. There’s the fact of forgiveness and the dire lack of it in any Pinoy space, for those who have paid their dues in jail, but will never be forgiven by society.
Here is where the story of one guy Ishmael is delivered to us in medias res, because much of his life is over and done with, as the line about what’s done being done is repeated. Given his personal history, Ishmael is ready to die and therefore is the perfect character to be given a reason to live. Any other action bida would take heroism by the horns, but Ishmael resists it and in fact refuses it until the end.
Or maybe outdoes it to its surprising end.
Suffice it to say that there is nothing in this movie that is quite expected. Halfway through, I thought the movie was over. Yet when it continued I thought, how great that it did, and without clear redemption or forgiveness or life through to its end, though with a tinge of love and possibility, I thought it was the most beautiful Pinoy action movie I’ve seen in forever. Yes, the blood and gore notwithstanding.
Ishmael is one of seven films competing in the 6th Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival 2010 at the Cineplex of Shangrila EDSA. The festival runs until the 16th. Tickets are at P150, and for Ishmael it is SO worth it.
Ishmael screening schedule as of November 11, 8AM:
Thursday — Nov 11 — 12 nn
Friday — Nov 12 — 4 pm
Saturday — Nov 13 — 3:30 pm
Monday — Nov 15 — 9 pm
Tuesday — Nov 16 — 8 pm
Tagged: 6th cinema one originals digital film festival, Cinema One Originals 2010, independent cinema, independent films, indie cinema, Ishmael by Richard Somes, Ishmael the movie, Mark Gil, Pen Medina, philippine indie, review of Ishmael, Ria Garcia, Ronnie Lazaro, Ronnie Lazaro as action star, Ronnie Lazaro as Ishmael