Cris Pablo gives us another thoughtful foray into the lives of "show people"
SHOWBOYZ (2009), directed by the prolific indie auteur Crisaldo Pablo, chronicles the lives of transvestite performers, male striptease dancers ("macho dancers" in Filipino lingo) and the people they meet.
Toffee Calma sorts of anchors the film, playing Jemenai, a beauteous (I never thought I'd use this adjective to describe a male person!) transvestite performer
Kristoffer King plays his/her erstwhile boyfriend, a washed-up male stripper who encounters two things in his life that are totally extremes in a man's existence. (1) He suffers, or seemingly suffers, from an ED problem (erectile dysfunction), despite the amorous advances of the flamboyant Jemenai. (2) He falls in love with the new boy in the bar (part janitor, part housekeeper, part everything else you could think of), played by Topher Barretto. King's character is named "Krys," Barretto's character is named "Topher;" either you think Pablo had ran out of names for his screenplay, or he was going for "Method" here by blurring the lines between actor and real persona. Either way, these actors don't have much name recall except for avid film buffs, so the moviegoers are compelled to listen to the whole tale at face value -- hook line and sinker.
Throw in for good measure other cross-dressing performers (Archie de Calma, Lex Bonife) and a slew of nubile hunks gyrating on-stage (Seff Posadas, Tammy Ballesteros, John Miller, Chito Gapas, etc.) and you have a mixed bag of melodrama (not so well-staged), striptease scenes (admittedly well-staged), catfights (colorfully staged) and love scenes (voyeuristically staged). All the world's a stage, and more so, the world of "showboyz."
Calma, who has been a competent and handsome actor in several sexy movies since the 1990s, has come out, with lesser publicity and fanfare, like BB Gandanghari. But where Gandanghari was a lackluster macho actor before coming out to audiences and completely prettifying herself, Calma, oddly, goes the opposite route. He was natural in his movies before as a man, now he mugs his way through as a woman, or, to be exact, as a drag queen. In his crying scenes where he bemoans Khrys's betrayal, nothing rings or feels true. How can it be, that I'm more convinced (and affected) by his love scenes with a costar - woman or man - than when he interacts with them, dolled up like a Brazilian samba dancer? Interestingly, his character's name, Jemenai (a play on Gemini, the zodiac sign with dual nature), serves as a stark metaphor for the conflict within a person - what he appears to be, and what he really is, or what he desires to have (but can't have), and what he has to accept.
Kristoffer King (a "fellow prince of indie movies" as Coco Martin, but failing to make it big into mainstream, unlike the latter) can do this role by now, asleep. Barretto is still raw, but under Pablo you could glimpse the makings of a good actor. The supporting cast enhance the movie well.
Jeyow Evangelista lends evocative cinematographic magic, intercutting scenes of vivid stage color against the dizzying and uncertain darkness of dim disco lighting, scenes of daylight, nature and happiness against nighttime, artifice and deception.
"Ginising mo lahat sa akin," (You've awaked everything in me), intones Khrys to Topher during an intimate scene. Indeed, this film (which I found more compelling than others of its ilk) awakens the moviegoer to a whole new (really, not so new) world of men, she-men, and the paths they take. The film eschews gratuitous nude scenes but instead imbues every scene with depth and pathos, as only Pablo can. In the hands of a lesser filmmaker, the directorial vision would be hazy or painted in too broad strokes, the acting horrible, and the love scenes/strip scenes uncomfortably campy. The love triangle (between the transvestite performer Jemenai, her estranged boyfriend Khrys and the guy they both find themselves smitten with) can also be a metaphor for the triangular states we find ourselves in: in love, out of love, and the grey shades in between.
I expect more sensible fare from Queeriosity Video Project, the company that produced this. Beneath the low budget veneer lies a gem of a film.
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