Reel Asian 2016: Our Review of ‘Apocalypse Child’

Posted in Reel Asian 2016 by - November 15, 2016
Reel Asian 2016: Our Review of ‘Apocalypse Child’

At first, Mario Cornejo’s film Apocalypse Child shows its characters simply as bodies without baggage or context. It’s a celebration of brown on brown skin. Love, comedy, food, the beach. The relationship between characters reflect its setting, Baler, Philippines. A sleepy small town where everybody knows your name. It’s a snapshot of the country at the eve of the administration of the staunchly anti-drug president Rodrigo Duterte. We see rampant drug use on screen, or at least occasional joint circles comprised of dysfunctional adults. And of course, the film doesn’t confuse correlation with causation.

But then we remember the film’s prelude where it explains the three legends associated with Baler. Two about things that happened there when it was under the Spanish Empire. The last one might ring a bell for film lovers. Because Francis Ford Coppola and crew filmed Apocalypse Now in the small town. His crew reportedly left a surfboard there that five boys shared, starting a local surfing culture. One of the people who end up being part of that culture is our protagonist, Ford (Sid Lucero). He’s a surfing instructor in Baler. His beach bum aura charms enough of his female students like Fiona (Annicka Dolorious) to end up in his place.

This film is about characters dissenting from blind worship. Or at least it’s about people who understand the weight of these legends and how it makes people rot. Ford’s doting mother Chona (Ana-Abad Santos) hints and whispers about her and Ford’s connection to Coppola. It’s a thing that he resents because it makes his Fiona realize how old he is. He claims that he wasn’t the only lovechild that came after that film production. But he has darker reasons for shying away from the subject.

As we see, Ford isn’t the only character carrying the burden of living up to his ‘father’. His friend Rich (RK Bagatsing) also has his father to reckon with. Rivalries freshen with Rich’s return, who the district recently elect as its congressman. He also has family members who own most of Baler’s profitable resorts and businesses. Rich’s white collar demeanor starkly contrasts Ford’s looseness. Lucero and Bagatsing highlight their characters’ differences and similarities in their great performances.

Rich has his own fiancee Selena (Gwen Zamora). She discovers these men’s lives and histories and the intricacies of those things with us. But she has her own baggage and desires, aspects of herself that the film deliberately unfolds for us. She drops her own bombshells with Ford, who becomes her surfing instructor. One particular bombshell shows her in a similar light with Chona – both women became pregnant at the same young age. Both women, however, end up on different paths.

The film gives a new shine to the country’s soapy narratives. The further the film goes, the more it reminds me of stuff I used to watch. There’s the ‘tunay na anak’ narrative, where a working class person discovers his real lineage to a richer man. There’s the conflict between rich and poor characters. I am grateful with Cornejo’s incarnation of these devices. He shows the civility between rivaling characters while raising the tension between them as needed.

Of course, a movie about a beach bum will galvanize itself to make its protagonist facing his own immaturity. But he won’t be confronting these issues alone, as the people around Ford have their own demons to shake out. The characters physical energies and their closeness turn from love to anger. Naturalistic conversation turns into anger, an emotion expressed seemingly out of nowhere. Conversations become more about the revelation of secrets. But those heavy clouds won’t make us forget the magical anecdotes peppered during the film’s beginning.

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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you're working.
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