Saturday, July 21, 2018

Review of JACQUELINE COMES HOME: Puzzling Purpose

July 21, 2018

In July 1997, the nation was shocked by the brutal abduction, rape and murder of sisters Marijoy and Jacqueline Chiong in Cebu City. The sensational case would find its closure in 2004, when Paco Larrañaga and six other men were found guilty of these heinous crimes and sentenced to death by lethal injection. They are still serving life sentences up to now since death penalty had been suspended since 2006. 

In 2011, a documentary film came out entitled "Give Up Tomorrow." It methodically laid down evidence in defense of Paco Larrañaga, how apparently he got the short end of the judicial stick. The case presented by American filmmaker Michael Collins were very convincing, with both documents and eye-witness accounts supporting his bold premise.  This documentary went on to gain critical acclaim and winning awards and citations all over the world. My own review of this documentary is posted HERE.

Recently, "Give Up Tomorrow" is again gaining viral attention on social media. This renewed interest in this documentary was sparked by the curious release of this new film "Jacqueline Comes Home" by newbie director Ysabelle Peach, daughter of Carlo J. Caparas.  Why was this film about the Chiong sisters made at all now, more than 20 years after the crime? Did the Chiong family have something new to reveal to refute the counter-arguments of Collins?

The movie played out pretty much like one of those films made by Caparas père in the 1990s about other sensational crimes like the Vizconde Massacre or the Maggie dela Riva case. The Chiongs were called by their real names, as would be expected in a film based on a true-to-life event. It was remarkable, however, that the rapists were given generic nicknames like Sonny or Jeff, even if they were clearly referring to Paco Larrañaga and his group. The star witness was only called "Nervous One" in the credits.

I think this film did not really aim to be about the sisters case only. The last third of the film actually did not focus on the case anymore. Instead we get a blow-by-blow account of the travails of the mother Mrs. Thelma Chiong unable to move on after the tragedy that befell her family. To deal with her depressive grief, she either prayed all day in church or consulted Spirit Questors; neglecting her duties as a wife and mother along the way. 

Meg Imperial (as Jacqueline) and Donnalyn Bartolome (as Marijoy) were not given better acting opportunities with the shallow way the lines of the sisters were written. Alma Moreno's portrayal of the self-sacrificial mater dolorosa Mrs. Thelma Chiong starkly contrasted with the unsympathetic way Mrs. Chiong was portrayed in "Give Up Tomorrow." Joel Torre had some embarrassing scenes as Mr. Dionisio Chiong, delivering cringy dialog beneath his reputation. Ryan Eigenmann and CJ Caparas' gave one-dimensionally evil performances as gang leaders Sonny and Jeff. AJ Muhlach's portrayal of "Nervous One" was over-the-top hammy. 

Director Ms. Caparas went forward and back in time to tell her story, sometimes making the flow confusing. Her scenes depicting supernatural matters like ghosts, seances and the voice of God (!) do not really inspire compassion towards Mrs. Chiong. The film ended with a contrived conversation of the Chiong couple with their youngest daughter Debbie, whom Mrs. Chiong called as Jacqueline. (Was that scene supposed to explain the title?) The opportunity for the Chiongs to offer cold hard evidence (if any) against their perpetrators was wasted, instead they decided to engage in a fallacious appeal to emotions.  2/10. 

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