Inspired by an urban legend about kidnappers targeting children to be turned into beggars, Ian Lorenos' Alagwa
) tells the story of Robert (Jericho Rosales) and Brian (Bugoy Carino), his son. The film opens with Robert and Brian shopping inside a mall. Brian wanders off, attracted by the various toys being peddled. Seeing that his son is missing, Robert searches the mall, seeing Brian playing with the toys. He pulls away his son from the toys and scolds him, warning him of the syndicates that kidnap children to use them as beggars.
The relationship between Robert and Brian is one that is far from ideal. Robert works as a salesman, struggling to survive within the normally wealthy Filipino-Chinese community with only the meager commissions he earns. Brian reaps the effects of his father's position in their community's pecking order. Constantly bullied in his school because of his paltry lot in life, he performs very poorly and is often disciplined for fighting his schoolmates. There seems to be a quiet understanding between them. Although seldom expressed, gestures are shown, signalling affectations both of them hesitate to openly give to each other.
Lorenos does not hide the tragedy that will befall both father and son. In between moments that subtly express the preciousness of their relationship amidst the struggles, Lorenos fast-forwards, showing scenes where Robert is seen searching the streets of Hong Kong for his missing son. The inevitability of separation is absolutely heart-breaking. The film cleverly builds up the tension, juxtaposing sequences of desperation, frustration and loneliness with ones that are bursting with the wonderful chaos of togetherness.
Midway, the film suddenly transforms from a quaint and deliberate portrait of a relationship that is doomed to woe into an unhinged descent down Manila's secret sinful underbellies, complete with an apartment building populated with drug addicts, lowlifes, and children waiting to be exported to Hong Kong. The kidnapping happens, turning Robert's cynical father into an impromptu action hero who, within a few nights, crosses paths with abusive pedophiles, inutile cops, and penitent pimps. The unexpected deviation, more an exploration of a father's desperation than an inability for Lorenos to contain his imagination, only foreshadows the impeccable emotional impact of the film's ending.
The ending is in fact the film's starkest contrivance. It is also its crowning glory. With a prolonged embrace, sobs, tears, and an indelible look on Robert's face that reflects a flurry of heightened emotions ranging from relief to sadness, Alagwa
ends without regard to subtlety, and rightfully so. There are moments that deserve silence. The film however deserves such an impassioned bow, one that would drown all the noise and doubts with unstoppable bursts of very well-earned tears.
(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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