The Bakla Review: The 10 Most Important Filipino Gay Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

I tried to avoid the word “important”, because it’s such a snooty concept. But there was no escaping it. The Pinoy gay film exploded in number and diversity in the last ten years, that it seemed necessary to identify the landmarks — in chronological order, to see how we got from there to here. So this is not a list of the biggest critical darlings (Jay and Selda are not here), nor my personal guilty pleasures (Otherwise, there’ll be Boylets) — though they can be those, too. I simply asked: Can I imagine the decade in Philippine gay culture without these films? Or, Can I imagine moving into the future without having passed through them? Then I chose ten because it’s a neat pretty number. A few crowd favorites have been left off (Ang Lihim Ni Antonio, Daybreak). Your friends or friends of friends will recommend unlikely titles (Wen Timawa Meets Delgado, Last Supper No. 3, or Imburnal, perhaps?) because people have varied tastes, and some films tend to get more appreciated as time goes by. But the following are the few that are must-sees if only because, in the decade that’s closing, they’ve already made the most indelible impact.

Markova: Comfort Gay (2000)
Directed by Gil Portes
Written by Clodualdo Del Mundo, Jr.
RVQ Productions

The 21st century started with much jonesing for history, in the aftermath of the centennial of Philippine independence. Markova put a real-life gay face to our past, turning “comfort gay” into a household name for homosexuals raped by Japanese soldiers in WWII. By following the life of Walter Dempster, Jr., from young sexual awakening to a senior citizen living in a home for the gay aged, the drama traces a path of survival. Too bad it’s the image of the flaming victim that stuck, in no small part due to the film’s own shortcomings. But it boasts the biggest casting stunt in Philippine cinema to date; The title role played by three actors: Dolphy, a comedian always loved for his effem caricatures, and his two sons, Eric Quizon (a former heartthrob pestered by gay rumours) and Jeffrey Quizon, in the performance that jumpstarted his career as an actor’s actor.

Duda (Doubt, 2003)
Written and Directed by Crisaldo Pablo
Grupong Sinehan

Movies have been shot in digital before, but it was Pablo’s low-tech, low-budget model of distribution that was groundbreaking: He lugged around his own video projector to host pockets of screenings, thus birthing the so-called digital revolution we know today. It would have meant nothing if the film itself wasn’t urgent — an ultra-personal account of a tumultuous same-sex relationship in a circle of upwardly mobile friends, a slice of non-stereotypical realism that needed a drastic underground approach to find its audience — picture and audio quality be damned. And found us it did. Thanks also to those first few who willingly shelled money to see something untested, the payoff to the gamble. The pioneering success of Duda directly led to all the independently produced digital releases — gay or not — that made its way into theaters thereafter. If Philippine cinema was believed to have been dying at the time, it took one small gay film to change the game.

Bathhouse (2005)
Written and Directed by Crisaldo Pablo
Grupong Sinehan

If Duda was the punch, Bathhouse was the knockout, proving Pablo’s first venture was no fluke. It also announced something larger: By situating his drama in the darkened, members-only club for men, where “no callboys allowed”, Bathhouse made real the existence of a gay community, away from mainstream eyes. Who knew? This was a place where our young hero (Rayan Dulay) made friends, found love, grew up, and found himself. He even became an asshole, and that’s part of the process. It wasn’t the self-loathing macho dancer bar of our parents’ generation. Bathhouse was so attuned to the times, yet we wonder what took so long to make a film like it.

Masahista (The Masseur, 2005)
Directed by Brillante Mendoza
Written by Boots Agbayani Pastor
Centerstage Productions

Masseurs are the noughties’ new macho dancers — male sex workers that stand in for the general malaise of the Filipino people. (Not to say the macho dancer genre died.) But Masahista deliberately moved away from exploitation territory into oblique and gray — in both look and feel — as it somberly depicted a masseur’s handling of one of his gay clients, and alternately, his father’s funeral. With festival laurels, the movie ushered in a new era of arthouse Filipino films. It will most easily be remembered, however, for introducing us to two talents that would dominate the latter half of the decade: Brillante Mendoza, whose persistent “real time” dogma would culminate in a Cannes Film Festival award for Best Director for Kinatay, and his muse, actor Coco Martin, who would shine in all his gay and gay-friendly roles before becoming a TV soap star even our mothers would love. That their careers are only beginning makes the next decade exciting.

Ang Pagdadalaga Ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005)
Directed by Auraeus Solito
Written by Michiko Yamamoto
UFO Pictures

The freshness shocked the nation out of its torpor: Here was a movie about an adolescent femme boy (why only now?) who lives in poverty with his family of macho crooks, who are totally accepting and loving, until he starts to fall for the honest cop twice his age. And it all slid smoothly down our throats, mainly because the tender, truthful film gave the kid dignity. The runaway hit from the first Cinemalaya Festival, it demonstrated the possibilities of what a local fund aid can achieve and what a film could become: A record number of top awards from major international festivals, the biggest box office earnings for an independent film (later topped by Kimy Dora), and the paradox that a queer movie can be sweet and innocent without shying away from sexuality. Many filmmakers have since been trying to recapture that lightning in a bottle.

ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh (2006)
Directed by Joel Lamangan
Written by Dinno Erece
Regal Films

Easily the decade’s most original and lasting superhero creation was Carlo Vergara’s Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah, first a graphic novel, then a stage musical, about a lonely gay parlorista who swallows a giant rock to transform into a buxom superwoman. The movie adaptation successfully broadened the popularity of the character, bringing it to the family-friendly Metro Manila Film Festival. Though not as emotionally resonant as the comix or the musical, the movie remained faithful to the plot and the campiness, and tried to extend the gender politics, though rather sloppily. But it did have another milestone in actor Rustom Padilla, a former matinee idol, who proves there’s life after coming out as a transsexual. Does that mean the Philippines is progressive? Let’s see if it happens again.

Ang Lalake Sa Parola (The Man in the Lighthouse, 2007)
Directed by Joselito Altarejos
Written by Lex Bonife
Viva Digital/Beyond The Box Productions

The change had already been encroaching, but Ang Lalake Sa Parola made it official: The erotic film of choice had shifted from straight to gay. We’ve stopped making female bold stars, but here, Justin De Leon and especially Harry Laurel became overnight sex idols. That the low-budget digital drama was produced by Viva, a studio that used to make the same but straight, confirms it. The tropes of the genre — a bucolic setting, the repressed desires — have been effortlessly lifted to fit what is basically a romantic story of homosexual awakening. Most of all, the movie put the Penis back onto the silver screen, which prompted an X from the MTRCB (Movie and Television Review and Classification Board), so they cut it out. But before you can snap your testicles, the full frontal became the formula for gay box office draw. Hate it? Or love it, because in the fight for gay rights, visibility matters. Either way, we have Parola to thank.
Review: Ang Lalake Sa Parola

The Thank You Girls (2008)
Written and Directed by Charliebebs Gohetia
Brooklyn Park Pictures

They’re beauty pageant losers traveling the Mindanao countryside for a shot at tiny barrio contests, along the way conversing in Dabawenyo gayspeak, and basically living their lives as one big show, third-world style. They’re walking, sashaying embodiments of the marginalized. At the tail-end of the decade when the newly found freedom of making (and earning from) gay films had resulted in a glut of myopic sameness, this regional ensemble comedy starring real-life transgenders confronts us with a reminder: What other stories of other queer people in other regions of this country are never told, but must?

Sagwan (2009)
Directed by Monti Puno Parungao
Written by Arnold Mendoza and Monti Puno Parungao
Roca Productions

At the end of the noughties, the gay sexual liberation in movies had spawned a full-blown backlash. And every misunderstood genre has its whipping boy. Sagwan — with its nihilistic credo and unabashed, expertly executed eroticism, about tour guide rowers moonlighting in the sex trade — fit the profile at just the right time. Critics have used it as an example of bad, harmful filmmaking — of smut! — to try to extend the jurisdiction of the censors to MTRCB-free venues like the University of the Philippines, where the film had its packed premiere without cuts. Like Live Show in 2001, or Larry Flynt’s Hustler, we may find our right to see what we want, or to say what we want, rests on a silly little underdog — a far-from-perfect, but vital, piece of trashy art.

In My Life (2009)
Directed by Olivia Lamasan
Written by Olivia Lamasan, Raymond Lee, and Senedy Que
Star Cinema

After a lifetime of struggle for gay representation, the most mainstream of movie studios in the country finally made a film with major gay characters played by major stars (John Lloyd Cruz and Luis Manzano). While the sensitive women’s drama — about a mother who comes to New York City to live with her gay son — made no qualms about one of the character’s homosexuality, the other’s is left ambiguous, and the details of their intimacy are kept mostly invisible. Audiences have been divided: On the one hand, isn’t it great not to make an issue of our sexuality? On the other, are we so ashamed that we need to hide it? With no other film as gauge, the widely distributed In My Life stands as the one testament to how mainstream moviemakers — and audiences — view gay people at this point in our history, and the extent to which they can accept them. Will it go any farther in the next decade?


2 comments on “The Bakla Review: The 10 Most Important Filipino Gay Films of the Decade (2000-2009)

  1. hayyy naku walang magandang gay film na ginawa for the last decade…. so far the best filipino film about gay is ” ang lalaki sa buhay ni selya” by carlitos seguion reyna

  2. i like Markova especially the unbeatable performances of Dolphy, Epi and Erik Quiozon. A brillant masterpiece as a gay film.

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