It’s a bit hard writing your thoughts about a movie when you’ve met the film’s director and screenwriter, especially when they were gracious and nice to you. But since I’m not The Bakla Reviewer, nor a professional movie critic, I don’t think it will be a great loss if people think my “movie review” is biased. That said, I will try my best to give an honest opinion on the latest Altarejos-Bonife film Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan, which opened last Wednesday in various Robinsons Movieworld cinemas. I also briefly blogged about this film back in August.
I was able to attend the special screening of this film at Mogwai at the Cubao Shoe Expo the other Wednesday, October 14, thanks to Lex Bonife, the movie’s screenwriter. There, I met him and director Joselito Altarejos and they each told me that they enjoyed reading my blog. Joselito recounted how he just came from having the movie approved by the MTRCB that day and how it was a learning experience to be in charge of producing the movie from start to finish—Ang Laro is the first movie to be produced under Joselito’s BeyondtheBox production.
The special screening was also graced by some of the film’s actors like Ray An Dulay, May-i Fabros, Tony Lapena, Mark Xander Fabillar and newcomer Ace Ricaforte. I’ve had a crush on Ray An ever since I’ve seen him in Moreno and he looks even more attractive in person. He may not be as muscular or as ripped as other actors or models, but I like him a lot. As for Ace, who has been the focus of the movie’s promotional efforts, he’s quite cute in person as well as being very nice.
Going back to the movie, I would have to say that it isn’t my most favorite Altarejos-Bonife film. The best for me is still Ang Lihim ni Antonio and Kambyo is next. That said, the movie wasn’t bad at all. It’s far from being crap unlike other films I’ve seen and I’m not saying that just to be nice to Jose and Lex. The movie’s plot is quite simple and there’s really no overarching conflict. What you read about the plot in the promotional material is basically it: Juan (known to others as Erwin) decides to go back to the province, leaving his poor neighborhood and his lover behind; he engages in one last live-sex performance in an underground gay club called Inner Sanctum and the place gets raided by the authorities. (What happens after? Watch to find out!)
The film runs smack into two very common Pinoy gay indie movie clichés: sex workers and nitty-gritty poverty. But Ang Laro manages to give a pretty fresh take into these concepts. I also liked how they added some social commentary into the movie but kept it subtle and in the background (and in one scene, quite literally). The acting is pretty good, with commendable performances by Ray An Dulay, Nico Antonio, who played Juan’s lover, and Angeli Bayani as the poverty-stricken mother. In addition, the film’s sole song (written by Lex) that framed the boundary between the movie’s two acts is quite good. (Lex, pahingi ng kopya! )
What amazed me most about Joselito’s direction is the really, really long take in the first half of the film. Unless I blinked, there’s a 20-minute-long scene in the first half of the film that had no cuts at all. While this makes for a very shaky camera-work, I find it hard not to marvel at the effort needed to coordinate everything so that the long take goes off as planned. I forgot to ask Joselito if and how many takes they did to make that scene.
As for the much-touted live-sex performance scene? Don’t expect much. If you want to see this film just to get a glimpse of Ace’s privates, then skip the theater and just search for those frontal nudity screenshots that were posted at RDDantes’ blog (but were later taken down). Little Boy Big Boy, Lex and Jose’s previous film, is more erotic, and that’s considering that it was already censored when I saw it.
Speaking of Little Boy Big Boy, I suspected and Lex confirmed that the O party scene in that movie was inspired by Sanctum. Well, Ang Laro is greatly inspired by Sanctum as well since it featured a fictitious gay club called Inner Sanctum that was unabashedly patterned after the real Sanctum. I had fun comparing and contrasting Inner Sanctum with the real Sanctum, since I’ve been to the latter a few times. The raid in the film was also obviously taken from the real Sanctum raid. If you haven’t done so, you should read my three-part series about the raid to get some extensive background.
Ang Laro ng Buhay ni Juan is a decent film to watch and would recommend you see it. Just don’t expect a lot of skin (though there’s enough but not too much to be exploitative).
Here are some other substantive links about the movie elsewhere if you want to get more perspectives: