Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (Mike De Leon)

The fumbles of the Yakuza. The desperate awkwardness of Chinese determination. The insidious depiction of Catholic nuns and priests. I think it's a great decision for Mike De Leon, one of the Philippines' greatest filmmakers, to put a film prioritizing such themes in a not-so-serious environment where anyone at anytime (although especially in the climax) can break into production numbers. In spirit, "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" is, like "The Rocky Horror Picture Show", an unexpectedly bizarre adventure into the illegal and the unknown for two uninitiated couples, or at least, love birds. But in its entirety as a film, it is a sharp satire about how these underworld dwellers seem to have all the fun in the world, forming sinister plans, dancing their way into drug production and superficially praising God's daily bread.

And with a sense of bumbling lack of control, the film has expressed these mindless chases for grotesque pleasures and taboo in a happy, energetic and strangely harmonious light that we question its unusual tone. But I believe De Leon and screenwriters Doy Del Mundo and Racquel Villavicencio knew more. That 'question' makes the film. It evaluates our response to its display of romanticized moral disregard. With quirkiness, music and a slip-in psychedelia on the side.

The film's MacGuffin is unique enough: a cassette tape cum opium container. It was unwittingly put into one of our protagonists' (played by Christopher De Leon) jacket by the Yakuza errand man Omota, one-dimensionally played by APO's Boboy Garovillo (although may be the exact intent). Through that performance, it transforms foreign smuggling into a Wile Coyote-like affair, with occasional busts and foils treated as nothing but episodic humor and successes immediately countered by funny miscalculations. In an early scene, the film even pokes fun to the fatal culture of the said Japanese crime syndicate when failure hits the fan through cutting of fingers, shown in a flat screen television sticking out from a Shoji screen. The film's tongue was really that immersed on the cheek.

The lovebirds mentioned earlier were played by Christopher De Leon, Jay Ilagan, Charo Santos and Sandy Andolong. Their performances were quite enjoyable, but that's where the script shows its contrivance. At certain points, they ride into dialogues not by means of natural flow but through conversational timings that were obviously rehearsed and coordinated. At least they could have applied some of Bunuel's passively comic treatments to satiric characters that were always proven to be very effective. But still, I have to praise Mike De Leon and company for creating such a different film in our local industry that seems to live and die on melodrama.

By the standards of our movies, "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" is utterly subversive, with radical attacks ranging from gangsterism to the Catholic church's hypocrisy, while it also brought forth a notion that musical can quite fit as a narrative crescendo to such a wide-tackling satire. But maybe it's also an easy way to visually portray what they really wanted to: The crazy, megalomania-inspired higher ones' intent to control people through the, symbolically, 'opiate of the masses' that is mainstream religion, as coined by Karl Marx (furthered by how Pinoy Master (Johnny Delgado) wants to produce mass wafers mixed with opium to be given to church-goers). So, after all, there's some ounces of critical inputs in the film, too.

I must admit, I did not like "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" that much compared to Mike De Leon's masterpiece "Kisapmata", arguably the best Filipino film ever made, and "Batch '81". But I love the way the film has ended. Dancing nuns. A singing drug kingpin. A samurai duel. With a unique approach to the final wedding scene, the film embraced some sort of a Jodorowskian afterthought.

After a two hour run of exhilarating imagery and peculiar performances, a crew, holding a clapper, suddenly shouts "Cut!" and the camera zooms out from above, exposing the band playing the musical score to only be a few feet away from the actual scene. It fully echoes Alejandro Jodorowsky's "Holy Mountain" and its most memorable character, the Alchemist's immortal line: "Real life awaits us". Well, let's break the illusion then, shall we?


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