This post was first written as a draft last October 2013. I’m only publishing now because I had forgotten entirely that I wrote this.
If you haven’t seen Alagwa, SPOILER ALERT! DON’T READ this! This is a post-film reaction.
I had very high expectations from this film because, no.1, it stars my favorite local actor, Jericho Rosales, whom I consider the best actor in my generation (him and JLC), and 2, it has received very good reviews internationally and locally (here and here). In fact, Alagwa recently won the Best Narrative Feature at the Guam International Film Festival, and Jericho Rosales took home acting honors (Achievement in Acting).
After watching this film, I had a “spirited” discussion with my fiance whom I pestered to accompany me. We had different reactions about the film. I loved 4/5 of the film up until the point where one of the character dies. He liked it from the point until the end. Let’s dissect.
As I mentioned, 4/5 of the film focused on the relationship of the father, Robert Lim (Jericho) and his son Brian (Bugoy Carino). Scene after scene, we get to see the father-son relationship evolve in the midst of everyday struggles. The chemistry between Jericho and Bugoy is something truly wonderful to behold. Jericho gives a very powerful performance as a single father struggling to make ends meet, while fated to parent and discipline his child. At the beginning, you kind of hate him for being so hard on his son, and just being cranky throughout, but eventually, you start to mellow down on his character because, you begin to understand that, no. 1, perhaps like many men, tough love is the way he shows his love, and no.2, he is coming from a place of hurt and sadness because he didn’t want to parent alone but he had no choice (wife’s death was alluded during one of their table conversations).
Bugoy, on the other hand, is charming. He plays his character without the hint of forcefulness. One of my pet peeves among child actors in the Philippines is that they don’t sound “real”. They have a way of saying their script in certain tones and intonations which get irritating because it feels so unnatural. With Bugoy’s portrayal, you don’t get that feeling. You genuinely believe that he is just an innocent boy who loves to play and wants to please his dad, and he wasn’t conscious of the camera and all the technicalities of film. He was natural.
This wonderful chemistry between Jericho and Bugoy is one of the highlights of the film. They had scenes where you’d find yourself tearing up because it felt painfully real: Robert was caught up with the responsibility of raising a child to become nothing like him, but he doesn’t know how to do it properly.
The film started to pick up when Brian was kidnapped, and here we see Jericho’s powerful performance at its finest. The desperation by which he portrays his role is so palpable, you can feel just he is ready to explode out of the anguish of losing a son he labored to raise and establish. The heartbreaking reality was that they were on the brink of a breakthrough in their father-son relationship, it had so much promise, and just like that, in one instant, it was gone. Robert goes through extreme means to find Brian, meeting Smokey’s character in the process, and suddenly the film was nearing the end.
I felt like after the massive build-up from the start of the movie, it suddenly went flat – the climax wasn’t enough to sustain the buildup and I felt a bit…emotionally robbed. I don’t know if the director wanted the viewers to “care” or be affected by the death of Smokey’s character, when we weren’t really vested into his character. I wasn’t expecting that that scene was supposed to be the conclusion to the build-up. After that scene, we flash forward to Jericho several years later, but this transition wasn’t emphasized and we only learn later on that the teenager beside him was his second son, and not Bugoy the first son who got kidnapped. Because of this confusion (deliberate, perhaps) I was a bit taken out of the story and I was still trying to reconcile this when the ending suddenly happened. (The ending was heartbreaking).
But I get why critics said this was a powerful film. Because it paints a real picture of the cruelty of human trafficking. Here was this innocent kid, who’s only fault was, perhaps, that we he was born in poverty. Yet his father is the picture of a man who will not allow poverty to dictate what their lives will become. So he disciplines his child and tries his best to instill in him the value of money, of working hard and working for your dreams. The tension in their relationship is natural, even expected, because Robert is constantly battered by the hardships of life. At that point where their relationship started to become better, human trafficking took away all the promise of what they could have been. Brian, we later on find out, lived the next ten years of his life somewhere in Hongkong as a blind beggar, exactly what his father never wanted him to be.