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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Leaving

There is always a constant transcience in this world. This is the premise of “THE LEAVING (離別)”, sets in a neo-Chinatown in Manila where the “Tsinoys” (Filipino-Chinese) struggle with the diminishing of their morals and culture. We follow three intertwining stories (MARTIN, The LOVERS, WIFE) that leave elements on the other stories such that they are all connected.


MARTIN is living independently when he suddenly got laid off from his job, he’s  now caught up in a situation of uncertainty. MARTIN later decides to leave the country and work abroad.  He tries to visit the places as he collects memories of his past to find answers.   But the sudden strange encounters during the CHINESE HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL(中元節) gives him something more than what he’s asking for.


A TSINOY businessman, WILLIAM is already married but finds his happiness with JOAN, a charming, nomadic bachelorette office worker. But the uncertainty in their relationship causes JOAN to decide to leave the country to start a new life on her own. But as JOAN is about to leave, her departure is halted and results in an unexpected event.


A typical conservative Filipina-Chinese housewife, GRACE moves in the apartment building with her husband in same building where MARTIN lives. Neglected and unappreciated, GRACE finds comfort through his neighbor MARTIN but their relationship is fenced by their present circumstances. GRACE finds out her husband is cheating on her…then a sudden haunting later on unravels a horrifying secret.

All beings exist to find permanence in this world. But it seems to be the most grounded are the ones do not really exist at all…

I caught the last day for this year's Cinemalaya, I guess work hindered me from liberally going to the film festival anytime I want but that's okay, this is real life now and I don't have the luxury of time to freely do what I want. What mattered the most was that I got the chance to watch a couple of films last Saturday July 17 before Cinemalaya 2010 ended.

The first film I viewed is "The Leaving" by the Filipino-Chinese director Ian Dean Lorenos, boy CCP's main theater was packed for this film, I found the topic interesting because it tackles the Chinese living here in the Philippines and the upcoming "Hungry Ghost Festival" (in August).

I felt uneasy reading the synopsis from, I cannot wrap my mind around the three part synopsis but after watching the film then have I fully understood why it was written as such.

Narrative structure wise, it was unique that the film was shot at different points of view. It was experimental if I could label it because we could see how the same solid facts can have different interpretations for various characters; I guess this is what people mean when they say there are two sides to a coin.

Joan dismayed when William doesn't show up

Story wise, some parts are unrealistic- given Chinatown's chismis culture, it's almost impossible to go out with your mistress without the whole town knowing about it. Also, I find it hard to believe that people who kill their mistress, chopped her body into pieces and placed it in a sack could easily dump the rotting body on the sidewalk in broad daylight; the garbage collector picks up the sack without noticing the peculiar stench. 

Grace hurt by William
LJ Reyes was named the Best Supporting Actress for Cinemalaya 2010 but I can't see any fleshing out of her character; all throughout the film she was simply a flat character- she's just Grace the martyr wife and the dutiful Chinese daughter who always complies to her family's decision for her life. I saw a glimpse of roundness peeking from her character when she displayed some complexities of a normal human when she lifted a knife and pointed it against William while he's asleep. Acting wise, LJ has improved and for me as the viewer, I can already feel the message she conveys even if there's just a subtle twitch on her face- it already tells me a thousand words; Ian Lorenos should have given LJ longer screen time and more important role as a wife. 

Mystery unravels when the sun sets in Chinatown area

I was very much interested in the topic "Hungry Ghost Festival" because I've been seeing ghosts in the office since I had my first overtime there and the office is located in Chinatown. My family does observe the "Hungry Ghost Festival" and we offer food to the hungry ghosts here at home but I guess I learned more about the culture after watching the film, according to the stories I've heard, the "Hungry Ghost Festival" is a time of the year when the gates dividing earth and hell open so hungry ghosts could ask for food from the living- but I guess it's not always food they're hungry for; in "The Leaving", restless souls with unsettled business come back to haunt those who are in debt and often times they come to collect someone's life. 

There are shots in the rough cut trailer showing some of the horror scenes but I opted not to include them because it really sticks to my mind and I will have a hard time sleeping plus it doesn't help when the ghosts at the office started to make themselves heard.

Grace off to look for her husband

I am very satisfied with the insight on the Hungry Ghost Festival but the film left a sour and bitter taste on my taste buds because I found the film too patriarchal by showing women who gets married transforms into a duster clad housewife who is locked in the house in solitude, when her husband comes home she should have prepared his meal already. Another issue is that contrary to the idea shown in the film, pre-arranged marriage is not popular anymore, is it? I have encountered couples who are from pre-arranged marriages but they are quite old already and I have not encountered younger generation couples who are pre-arranged or kai siaw.

 Also, most Chinese women I know now would leave a marriage when they learned that their husbands are cheating and they won't endure such marriage just to be able to eat her meal three times a day, this is contrary as to what Grace's mother said "you should just tolerate your cheating husband, he provides you well with a house and you eat three times a day" I really wanted to curse and punch Ian Lorenos on the face and tell him "What an effin' point of view! Are women simply pets you just feed and provid shelter to and we promise never to leave the house?' but perhaps that was what he wanted to trigger in us- to let us see older Chinese women's point of view and how they don't see it as an oppression because they are provided with food and shelter. 

Martin and Grace in a temple

Another thing I don't like about the film is that it mystifies Chinatown- instead of demystifying how Filipinos view Chinese, I felt that the film just built a barricade between the two cultures but of course there are always two sides to a coin so this is just my interpretation; I have yet to hear how a Filipino audience viewed the film.

I found it funny and sad at the same time when some of the talents are Chinese but they can't speak the Fookien dialogue well; Fookien is the primary language spoken here in the Philippines next to Mandarin and the least spoken is Cantonese. Kuddos to LJ Reyes who spoke Fookien fluently. 

Joan and William in a love scene

Overall, the film was interesting but I just clenched my fist a few times when there are traditional ideologies oppressing women as portrayed in the film. 

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