A movie for every day of the year – a good one
Beginning of the Philippine Revolution, 1896
On this day in 1896, the Cry of Pugad Lawin, or Balintawak, took place. It marked the opening phase of the revolution in the Philippines against Spanish colonial rule, and refers to the skirmish between the Katipunan secret society – under Andres Bonifacio – and the Civil Guard loyal to the colonising power. The actual date of the “Cry” is disputed; it used to be officially marked on 26 August but since 1963 has been officially remembered on this day, when Katipuneros gathered in the Kalookan area and tore up their tax certificate, a “no taxation without representation” moment, to the accompaniment of patriotic cries to revolt. The “cry” itself (“grito” in Spanish) refers to the act of declaration – whether it is vocal, written or even psychological – and marks the “enough is enough” Rubicon that separates a law-abiding citizen from one who is determined to act against their oppressor. By 1898, Spanish military rule had officially ended in the Philippines. By 1902, the Philippines had fought and lost a war against the USA and had fallen under a new colonial power.
I Come with the Rain (2009, dir: Tran Anh Hung)
This is a recommendation for a very messy film, but one packed with such tantalising ingredients that it’s really worth a look. Or feasting your eyes on, because it’s that sort of film too. And it stars Hollywood’s own Josh Hartnett – who after the romantic comedy 40 Days and Nights in 2002 seemed to decide that he’d go off and plough a lonelier furrow than the one Hollywood had in mind. Well, here it is – long, deep and windy and very lonely, a thriller by the arthouse Vietnamese director Tran Anh Hung, shot largely in the Philippines but set largely in Hong Kong, and starring Hartnett – one of the few Western faces – as a detective heading to Hong Kong to find an heir to a Big Pharma corporation. When he gets there he learns that the son has become a faith healer who is literally taking on the diseases of all who attend his mobbed clinic, and is breaking out in stigmatic bleeding as he does so. Can the detective find him or will a local gangster (Lee Byung-hun) looking for his beautiful drug-addict girlfriend (Tran Nu Yen Khe) get there first?
The hunt for a charismatic leader who has built a new society with himself installed as a kind of Christ, this sounds like Apocalypse Now, to a degree, and Tran goes along with the notion, throwing in Elias Koteas as a babbling madman, explaining, excusing, mythologising, muddying the plot as a serial killer anchored in Los Angeles, which surely means he has no real connection to the rest of the film. The film also is like that, deliberately messing with space, logic and timelines in an attempt to lock-step with the messianic supernatural side of things.
Don’t expect to always understand what’s going on, in other words, and you’re also going to have to roll over and accept the massive and repeated use of sheer coincidence as a plot device. But some things are abundantly clear. We have no problem knowing who the bad guys are, for instance. We also cannot fail to be impressed with the visual beauty of the film, which astonishes at every turn, almost every shot composed in terms of colour, composition, light/shade and camera movement with a meticulousness which must have been maddening for anyone other than Tran. Some of the violence is bravura stuff that has already made its way into other more mainstream films. The scene where a victim is encouraged to get into a body bag, before he is beaten to death with a hammer while zipped inside. Neat and tidy brutality, that’s the way to do it, and with a metaphysical ironic joke for fun. Then there’s the car chase – the director of the achingly lambent Scent of Green Papaya showing he’s not just a pretty scenarist with a high speed chase in reverse. The scene where a bad guy shoots someone’s dog then uses it as a cudgel to beat its owner (yes, that’s the same ironic idea as the body bag, but let’s award marks for variety).
It’s a weird film, a beautiful one and, ladies and bents, Mr Hartnett takes his shirt off a lot to add a further layer of entertainment that Tran’s camera or the Radiohead soundtrack haven’t already provided.
I’d gone into this film having heard it was lousy and was shocked at how good it is. Not perfect but messy, as I say, or “a baroque action film” as Tran describes it. Most cop movies are about the imposition of order on chaos. Tran’s not sure it’s that simple.
- Hartnett on the road less travelled
- The cinematography of Juan Ruiz Anchía
- Gustavo Santaolalla’s soundtrack (with Radiohead assists)
- Koteas’s mad Taxi Driver-meets-Marlon Brando performance
© Steve Morrissey 2014