Saturday, October 12, 2013

Review of ALAGWA: A Visceral Punch

October 12, 2013

"Alagwa" is a word I have never heard of before and I do not know what it means. I had no idea what this Filipino indie film is all about when I went in. However its reputation already precedes it as a winner in various award-giving bodies before, both here and abroad, both as Best Picture and Best Actor for star Jericho Rosales. This then is a must-watch film.

Robert Lim is a financially-strapped, harassed single dad to his spirited young son Brian. When Brian apparently gets kidnapped in a mall one day, Robert's world stopped in its tracks.  He never stopped looking for him, even if this quest led him straight to the dark sinister underbelly of Chinatown, into the lair of a child-smuggling syndicate, or the streets of Hong Kong. Will father ever get reunited with his son?

Jericho Rosales really acts up a storm in this film as the exasperated and desperate father. As a father myself to a boys of Brian's age, I really felt everything he is feeling and definitely hit no false notes in his flawless performance. You can really feel an emotional connection with his character. It did not matter that he does not look a bit like a Chinese guy or mestizo as his family name would suggest.

Bugoy Carino is really a very charming and natural actor as the mischievous Brian. His chemistry with his screen father Jericho was so effortless. This really made his disappearance midway in the film more painful for the audience to watch. 

Leo Martinez plays a police chief whose assistance may have done more harm that good. Smokey Manaloto plays a pimp who was Robert's entry ticket into the underworld. It was good to see the beautiful Singaporean actress Ms. Carmen Soo as the daughter of Robert's boss and Brian's godmother sympathetic to Robert's plight.

The director Ian Lorenos used some pretty innovative techniques in his story telling.  The seemingly meaningless scenes showing Robert roaming the streets of Hong Kong which interrupt the main story being told will gain its significance later in the film. The frightfully chilling view this film gives us from inside that disgusting child trafficking syndicate was the visceral punch of the film, and Jericho's reaction in that hellhole is our reaction.

However, I thought the script was marred by too many convenient and contrived coincidences to be a truly realistic drama.  Some scenarios set up to push the story forward, like the mall rest room, the sleazy Chinese gay guy or the dropped cell phone, strains credulity.  The ending sequence suffered a bit from the poor choice and performance of supporting actors.  I am not really sure how the choice of title (either the local, or its international name "Breakaway") fits into the story.

Overall though, this movie is all about Jericho Rosales's performance. His acting definitely definitely rose above the limitations of the script. He is clearly the best part of this film. 7/10.

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