(This was my review of the film when it came out two years ago - The Flipcritic)
I haven't seen Bagong Buwan yet, but I've already heard Cesar Montano's stunning onstage complaint that it should have beat Yamashita for best picture. I thought his tirade was in bad taste, done in a very disrespectful way. Though the manner in which Mr. Montano ranted is something I disapprove of, after seeing Yamashita: The Tiger's Treasure, I understand why. Looking back at the film, I tried to find something, anything, redeemable about it, and could find little. This movie is the Philippines' industry version of Pearl Harbor, only worse (if you can believe that). It is practically, and I say this with careful observation... worthless.
The movie is about an old man named Melo (Armando Goyena) who wishes to lift his financially troubled son out of his legal predicaments. Lolo Melo keeps company with his grandson Jobert (Danilo Barrios) who longs to return to the Philippines where he grew up. Lolo Melo then reveals to Jobert that he was among the Filipino prisoners who were ordered to bury the infamous Yamashita treasure during World War II, and thinks that this may be a way to bring his son out of the hole he's dug himself into.
Then things get awry. Lolo Melo gets kidnapped, his son is killed, and his grandson is left with his wits (which aren't much) on how to find the treasure and his grandfather. Upon returning to Manila, Jobert and his friends are taken against their will by a mysterious treasure expert (Albert Martinez) who works for the government, and has his own reasons for finding the treasure with the help of Lolo Melo's diary. One of Lolo Melo's captors, Naguchi (Vic Diaz), is also in search of the hidden treasure, with the strong-arming tactics of his henchman (Rustom Padilla). This all leads to the finding of the hidden treasure and a totally senseless ending.
I hope I didn't spoil the picture for you, because believe me, my synopsis is substantially more intriguing and exciting than seeing Chito Roño's follow-through on film.
I really tried to like this movie. I kept an open mind from the start, but this movie was relentless in its audacious stupidity. It started well, but kept on going downhill, and then plummets once you get midway. It was agonizing. I was groaning, laughing, and sliding down my seat onto the floor. The film is timed at less than an hour, but if feels as if I was listening to a dissertation (but less interesting) by the time I got through. At one point, I wanted to throw my popcorn at the screen. In fact, for all those sitting about me at the time, I would like to apologize for my behavior. This movie is so so so bad, that if you're unfortunate enough to see it, you should ask for a refund (or at least get back the entertainment tax that you paid for).
Where do I begin?
The writing? It has a few good moments but mostly bad. One distinct example is Lolo Melo's diary, which isn't really a diary, but a really good research paper/speech on Yamashita and Japanese involvement in the Asia Pacific region during World War II. Upon listening to Lolo Melo's diary musings, you think he wrote it for the audience than for himself.
The screenplay? Puh-leeeze. I was hoping against the usual Filipino cliches, but they're all there. E.g. An abundance of speeches instead of real dialogue, the military arriving too late, lots of shouting matches.
The story? Mishandled. There are several subplots and characters that were unnecessary and downright annoying. Consider Jobert and his ex-girlfriend. The director establishes a relationship between the two from the start, and teases us with a hint of young romance, but in the end, it's just cake-mix. Most of the events that unfold have no coherence, no fluidity, leaving the film not so much as confused, but unfocused and lacking any real momentum. It's as if the film were bogged in a quagmire.
Characters? My God. An article in The Inquirer says that three generations of actors were cast for this film. Two would have been enough. The young actors in this picture are one-dimensional, ill equipped, annoying and utterly useless. Mere window-dressing to draw in younger audiences. The two ex-lovers never resolve their issues (heck, they never deal with them). None of the teens ever solve anything. And there is one particular teenager who at first makes a few funny wisecracks, but then becomes so unrelentingly annoying, that you root for the villains to kill him (never a good sign).
Fortunately, one of the rare good things in Yamishita is its special effects. Not great by Hollywood standards, but convincing and ultimately impressive (if you've seen other Filipino films with FX as of late). The Japanese bombing raids and CGI warships are well done (but make-up less than 1% of the movie). But one of the most jaw-droppingly ugly, mistimed, unnecessary, and hilarious scenes in this movie, is caused (I assume not on purpose) by a special effect. It's in a car-chase scene and sticks out like a sore thumb (You can't miss it). When I saw it, my eyes rolled and I asked Claire if I could leave the theatre. I've seen Sesame Street effects more convincing than that one.
There are other gems in the film. Armando Goyena, who used to be a matinee idol back in the 50s, projects a warmth, and calm center which the film is built upon. Albert Martinez is rock-steady. He's always been a good actor, and displays a solid professionalism. Rustom Padilla is not bad as the evil lackey, and gives more than one could ask for, but he has very little to work with (not to mention has a really silly hairdo - looking like a punk version of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII). But the actor who stands out most is Carlo Muñoz (you may know him from the "Hello Billy" telephone commercials) who plays the young Lolo Melo in World War II flashbacks. His performance is a welcome surprise that conveys the sadness, anger, fear, and hope Melo feels during his war experiences. Sad to say, Danillo Barrios can't act, but he does his best. It's just that his pain and sorrow is reduced to strained moans and shouts of "No!" or "Lolo!" or "Dad!" or "Huwag!" or any other one-word reaction you care to come up with.
When the film started, I asked Claire if she had something I could take notes with because I forgot to bring my notepad for the screening. But twenty minutes into the movie, I'm glad I didn't. I could've run out of ink on inconsistencies, blunders, bad editing, bad writing, stupid comments (see? I'm doing it now!), etc. It's good to know that we're finally catching up with big-budget movies with the advent of cheaper applications for CGI graphics. But it's disheartening when we take big steps backwards in storytelling and screenplay writing.
An article in Malaya says that Yamashita is the most-expensive Filipino movie ever made. Too bad it is a huge failure, as an adventure, as a drama, as a thriller, even as a historical perspective (maybe not as a comedy, but I don't think it got the laughs in the right places). Even in summoning deep down hatred for past Japanese atrocities it fails, because of it's feeble execution. It's such a monumental waste. It has the pieces with a good story-base, and solid actors, but it has almost no passion, no drive, and zero intelligence. One example: According to the movie, General Yamashita plundered gold and treasures from several Asian countries. But gee, I didn't know that those countries printed their names on their gold bars... with sloppy font... in English??? Need I go on?
Why are teenagers portrayed as such dim-witted, whining, spoiled brats in Filipino movies? What do they solve without guns? Why is the only thing on their minds about what they're love interest is thinking of, or about what smart-ass remark they can come up with next (especially when they could die)? Does Jobert help his Lolo Melo in any way at all? How can an African-American be a doctor in the Philippines during World War II when they were discriminated against in the Armed Forces during that period? Why does the cavalry come to the rescue too late? Why are there no people around when a car chase is going on? How does getting all that gold increase the value of our exchange rate by 94%? Why do Filipino films value shortcut solutions and not dealing with problems directly (e.g. Solve Lolo Melo's son's debt with gold)? And most of all, if this movie was so expensive to make... WHY THE HECK IS THE DUBBING AND EDITING SO HORRENDOUS??? I've seen foreign films with better dubbing.
These are just some of the infinite questions you'll ask of this movie if you go see it. I'm not sure if Bagong Buwan is better, but awarding this film the Best Picture, Best Story, Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and Best Cinematography Award in the Metro Manila Film Festival, is nothing short of a travesty. No... a mockery of the Entertainment industry (which is quite difficult because it's already atrocious). Would you call Pearl Harbor the best American film of 2001? It's downright wrong.
Yamashita: The Tiger's Treasure is the most insulting Filipino movie I have seen in a long time. It starts nobly, loses its focus, and goes on half-heartedly. Even its inside jokes at the Philippine hostage crisis near the end seem cruel (except for the Korina Sanchez spoof, which I really enjoyed). And even though Lolo Melo is someone we care about, the movie slowly drains it away that by the end, we're glad it's over (maybe if they blew up the teenagers, there would've been a standing ovation). I think we all know why it won now. But I find Yamashita as valuable as the four-letter word found in its title
No offense to the General.
5 of 6 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?