Monday, September 6, 2010

The Leaving (2010, Ian Loreños)

If you're a regular Facebook denizen, then you've probably experienced having your name removed from a friend's list of contacts. It hurts badly, especially if you haven't an inkling why you were obliterated from the list.

The emotional pain pales in comparison with the terrible anguish of a Chinoy young man named Martin. He also gets dumped without any explanation. The dumper in this case is his girlfriend! He wanders around Chinatown in his troubled state. He wants to confront her but something deters him and that is the fear of the truth. He knows she is no longer interested in him.

The Leaving deals with the fears of Chinese-Filipinos in Binondo. Director Ian Loreños laments the fading traditions and changing landscape in his neighborhood. There are fewer speakers of Chinese language among the youth. Dilapidated houses are torn down to make way for condominiums and malls. Scores of families leave for better places. This diaspora brings out some fears and anxieties in young Chinoys.

Loreños brilliantly frames their stories within the horror genre. He is quite successful in bringing out the screams although a bit too much reliance on Asian horror imagery (eg. Sigaw's empty corridors and the fiends of Japanese horror films). He fails to maximize the Chinese Ghost Month setting of the movie. A Singaporean movie The Maid starring Alessandra de Rossi was more effective in scaring viewers with Ghost Month tales and traditions. The Kelvin Tong film features memorable spooky vignettes such as the reason behind vacant seats at performances and the punishment for people who've done bad things during the seventh month of the Lunar Calendar. Singapore was shown as hell for Pinay domestic helpers.

LJ Reyes won an acting award for her role as the martyr wife Grace in The Leaving. Her student year/s at St. Stephen High School gave her the tools to portray a Chinese-speaking character. Just like the betrothed lass of Limbunan, Grace gets bamboozled by an elder with the positive aspects of arranged marriages. The gist of her mother's advice is that as long as she (Grace) gets to eat three meals a day then the marriage is fine. I'm sure young Chinese women will raise hell with this pathetic advice. Incidentally, the Singaporean movie The Maid has a vivid hellish view of an arranged marriage.

Unfriended? Dumped? Betrayed?
The Leaving asks you to retreat, pray, move. Moving on is not enough. Martin goes from place to place but ends up distraught at the end of the day. Grace keeps on living her uneventful daily life the same way over and over again. Both characters eventually see the light and reexamine their lives and priorities. They pray for guidance and discernment. They move forward and leave the ghosts of the past.

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