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20 July 2013

Veronica B. Velasco's "Tuhog" (Review): “Omne Trium Perfectum?”

“Omne trium perfectum” (Latin) roughly translated as “a set of three is perfect or complete.”  Well, not always but kudos for those who try.

Alert: May Contain Spoilers

Relatively speaking, Veronica Velasco’s “Tuhog” is better than most Filipino films released so far this year.  The film starts with a novel premise, particularly for a local film. A single steel bar skewers three individuals with diverse backgrounds during a vehicular accident. A retired father hoping for a second wind, a middle-aged hapless female bus conductor, and a love struck naïve young romantic: all three forming the film’s troika. As their doctors try to ascertain ways to remove the steel bar without endangering the three protagonists’ lives, the film takes us to a triad of flashbacks.

“Tuhog” is a dark comedy but a shade lighter. Director Veronica Velasco may not be convinced herself or perhaps, she has to buckle down from pressure from producers to dilute the dark humor and make it palatable to some moviegoers.  Certain film devices ruin the film for me.  The doctors’ discussion on the mathematics of death is a novel twist but in the end, the device loses its purpose.

The street child with his makeshift drum is unnecessary and antiquated. This device belongs in the 1950s to 1980s when a supposedly mundane character must represent fate or providence. Apparently, Filipino films have never outgrown its didactic addiction.

Another device that did more harm is the narration at the end of the film. Narration is a film device that should add texture to the story.  If employed inappropriately, it can ruin a story. In some cases, if narration is forced and gratuitous, it usually dilutes the entire film experience. Narration can contribute to the dumbing down of a story.  If you have to tell your audience the lesson of your film, then perhaps the storytelling is deficient.  What is the harm in trusting the intelligence of the audience occasionally?   

Jeffrey Jeturian's "Tuhog" (2001)
Miscasting is another setback. Jake Cuenca showed promise as an actor and if given a perfect acting vehicle, he can actually shed his Bench model persona. The man has potential. Nevertheless, Jake Cuenca as a bus driver is as believable as Kris Aquino as a wet market vendor in Balintawak.  Believe me; I take air-conditioned and ordinary buses daily for more than 20 years, and I have not seen anyone remotely resembling Jake Cuenca.

Still, kudos should be given to Velasco and Jinky Laurel for penning a complex script. Velasco has managed to hold the film together making it entertaining without being too pretentiously artsy.  Considering the death of imagination in local mainstream cinema these days, “Tuhog” is a breath of fresh air. Go watch this.  The film’s heart is at the right place so minor shortcomings can be ignored.  

Bottom line, for me, “Tuhog” can be summed up as one good story sandwiched by two middling ones.  Coincidentally, Jeffrey Jeturian directed a far better dark satire with the same title, “Tuhog.”  Jeturian’s “Tuhog,” however, proved that keeping the comedy dark, flattering the viewers’ intellect and getting the right actors could result in a superior film.   

It is easy to spot a good actor. Just watch the first five minutes that he or she appears in a film.  If the actor has done his homework and successfully created a back-story, the actor looks loaded on screen, figuratively speaking.  By just looking at the actor’s physical appearance, you already have a glimpse of the character’s background.  You sense the baggage that the character carries. 

In this film, Eugene Domingo dominates as expected. The minute her character Fiesta graced the film, we immediately become hooked. Equally good, Noel Trinidad gave excellent support that further highlights Domingo’s performance. Directors should make use of Trinidad’s talents in more films. Unfortunately, in some scenes, Eugene Domingo let go or her character and played “Eugene Domingo, the Comedienne” romancing a “traditionally handsome male.”  We have seen her do this in “Kimmy Dora” and “Mammarazi,” just to name a few.  She was more superb in parodying her comedic persona in “Ang Babae sa Septic Tank,” but certainly, she was working with a better material.  Then again, who am I to nitpick?  Movies need to pull in viewers naturally.  

Note: The video is in English and using robotic voices because I do not have money to hire actors.  I also usually write reviews for Filipino films in Tagalog but blog advertisers often reject my application if I use Tagalog. It seems there is no money in Tagalog. Welcome to the real world. 

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