What IS the point of "Twilight Dancers?"
Mel Chionglo's new film seems to be about everything--poverty, urban rot, youthful alienation, marital strife, government corruption, salvaging, unfair labor practices, teenage pregnancy, even the commercialization of school campuses, natch.
But ultimately it is about nothing. Nothing new, that is. Not a single thread of this wispy, shopworn tale about male prostitution in Manila is fresh, insightful or worth a second look.
That's because its themes and preoccupations have been done to death, flogged to within an inch of the bare skins and naked souls that had overflowed in other, better movies of this sort.
For local films that truly lay bare the horror and pathos of the sex trade, Brocka's "White Slavery," Aguiluz's "The Boatman" and Javier Reyes' "Live Show" have pretty much delivered the knockout punch. Of course, no one explored the pathology of destitution more skillfully than Brocka, and in "Macho Dancer," he was his usual impassioned, empathetic self.
Compare the sharp poignancy of that film with the two installments that have followed, both helmed by Chionglo. With "Midnight Dancers," the second entry in this so-called trilogy, and now "Twilight Dancers," the genre has acquired a darker melancholy. It has also progressively devolved into a coarse, didactic and fairly exploitative piece of social-realist hokum.
The best indicator of this is "Twilight Dancers'" dialogue (by Ricky Lee), which is awful. The segment on the striking workers has labor leader Nor Domingo, an actor who has done great work on both stage (PETA's recent "Walang Himala") and film (Mario Cornejo's Cinemalaya entry "Big Time"), delivering a speech--a quiet one, but a speech nonetheless--about the Pinoy's seeming inability to be roused by the harshness of life around him.
"Sa ating mga Pilipino, araw-araw parang fiesta," he laments.
A couple of scenes later somebody shoots him. Cue the lines here about "Katarungan para kay Ka Dencio!"--oh, that's a different movie.
Another scene involves a newly-elected student council president who, on the council's first meeting, dramatically announces that their main agenda is to push for the establishment of malls inside the campus. Yes. Then he goads his officers into chanting, "Go global! Go global!," fists raised in the air.
You see, "Twilight Dancers" is, despite the flesh parade, a Movie With a Message--and don't you dare forget that.
So even as Tyron Perez (a thin presence onscreen, though quite appealing in his youthfulness) must have broken a rib or two from all that grinding, Cherrie Pie Picache goes to town with her flamboyant gun-running schemes, backed, but naturally, by a mayor (Joel Lamangan) who turns out to be not only a ruthless warlord, but also... an occasional transvestite.
If this mish-mash of a film had any real balls, it would find the courage to bask in its sexually-charged atmosphere without apology, without feeling the need to lacquer it with pompous, self-important lectures about The Social Condition. As it is, the fact that the men disrobe nearly all the way while the camera contorts itself to allow Picache not to expose her mammaries during her frenetic sex scene is particularly gutless.
Please, it's not only Isagani "My five sons are all machos" Cruz that deserves to be put to pasture. This genre also does. Let the dancers have their rest.