Tuesday, May 29, 2012

YBCA: NEW FILIPINO CINEMA—REMINGTON & THE CURSE OF THE ZOMBADINGS

Just in time for San Francisco's June Pride festivities, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA) includes Jade Castro's Zombadings 1: Patayin sa Shokot si Remington (Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings, 2011) in their "New Filipino Cinema" program. As Joel Shepard synopsizes in his program note: "Bading is Filipino slang for 'gay,' referring specifically to flamboyant, effeminate homosexuals. A Zombading is the undead version, which the titular character has to deal with as he tries to lift a curse that is gradually turning him into a bading. This exuberant film satirizes the very idea of homophobia as it literally turns homosexuality into something to be feared. Blending the tropes of horror comedy, this film is a deliciously subversive piece of pop art."

At this juncture, it's fairly well-known that the iconic zombie can be a blank canvas on which any measure of social marginalization or political disenfranchisement can be painted in broad brushstrokes. Especially in the horror-comedy hybrid, the internationally popular zombie can likewise achieve satiric force through specific national and/or regional references, let alone subcultural ones. The laughs earned by a film like Juan of the Dead, for example, has as much to do with how it knowingly pokes fun at Cuban culture as it does with the fact that its generic tropes communicate to international audiences.

Zombadings is not the first gay zombie movie—Bruce LaBruce has already had controversial fun with Otto: Or Up With Dead People (2008) and L.A. Zombie (2010)—but it's quite possibly the first Filipino gay zombie movie. It's fascinating not only for its pop bravado, but also for its cultural affects, which remind me how comic timing and pacing differ from country to country, requiring a certain amount of spectatorial patience and accommodation. In other words, I have no doubt that a Filipino audience would be more privy to Zombading's in-jokes than an American one, yet the film still translates interestingly enough through its generic zombie tropes and its "gayspeak", which at the beginning of the 21st century has become almost as universal a language as English. Quite cleverly, if inconsistently, the "gayspeak" in Zombadings is telegraphed through yellow subtitling, perhaps to better indicate how its cute straight protagonist Remington (Mart Escudero) is resisting a curse placed upon him by an offended gay guy (Roderick Paulate) that has Remington gradually turning gay against his will.

This coming-out curse has proven especially dangerous because gays are being murdered one by one in Remington's small town by a nefarious homophobe and, as you have no doubt already guessed, it is all these dead gays that come back to life to wreak havoc and take vengeance; but, from the moment the first hand bursts up from the grave clutching a high heel shoe to a seance lit atmospherically with pink candles, you know that the mayhem is going to be more stereotypically mirthful than usual.

One of the main reasons I enjoy turning to my Philippine colleagues Oggs Cruz and Dodo Dayao to contextualize insight is that they have a working command of how Filipino films situate themselves within the history of their own national cinema. "If there's one thing a filmmaker needs to know about profitable filmmaking in the Philippines," Cruz writes at Lessons From the School of Inattention, "it is to acknowledge that the only kind of filmmaking that actually earns money is genre filmmaking. If the film is not horror, comedy, romance, or laden with homosexual themes and titillation, it would probably not arouse enough interest to earn enough box-office rewards to at least break even."

"Despite having a story where crazy-looking gaydars, rollerblading widows, vengeful drag queens, homophobic serial killers and the titular gay zombies miraculously cohere," Cruz continues, "Zombadings is actually very intelligently and carefully conceived and crafted. Castro directs the film like a maverick conductor, leading an orchestra composed of traditionally jarring instruments but eventually coming up with a symphony that is not so hard to enjoy and adore."

Cruz also praises the film's ingenious casting as an element of its popularity with Philippine audiences, emphasizing the credence granted Zombadings by veteran Filipino performers Roderick Paulate ("instrumental in creating the sub-genre of drag queen slapsticks"), and former macho stars John Regala, Daniel Fernando, and Leandro Baldemor to add muscle to the film's pointed equation of "homophobia as machismo." This sly critique of gender performativity is further extended into a predominantly female police force, where feisty deputy Mimi (Miles Canapi) made me laugh out loud more than any other character in the ensemble.

At Piling Piling Pelikula, Dodo Dayao concurs with Cruz: "Paulate is stunt-casting that's both preordained and genius. The queer act he's made his metier should've by rights gone stale after all this time but somehow it's even gained nuance and range. It's a shtick, sure, but it's a shtick that never ever gets old."

As for never getting old, Dayao points out Zombadings' reliance on "that old and old-fashioned Frank Capra trope—the comeuppance and enlightenment that comes from walking in the shoes of what you abhor, and more than anything, it's really subverting the very stereotypes it only seems to condone, much as it's hard to tell sometimes from the breathless velocity of the gags and the caricaturical swish and swagger of gay argot and affectation it relies on to make it fly."

Cruz concludes that Zombadings "becomes even more rewarding if enjoyed within the context of what it was made for, as a document of empowerment, a testament to the right of choice, and a blow against intolerance. It is packaged in a way that its freedoms and excesses should not be taken literally or too seriously, yet its jabs at still-existing constipated perceptions and opinions against homosexuality are too potent to be left unnoticed."

At Manila Bulletin, straight teenage hearthrobs Mart Escudero and Kerbie Zamora (who plays Escudero's sidekick Jigs) express their (to-be-expected?) jitters about the film's gay love scene, and at Inquirer Lifestyle several of the remaining cast members speak up about their roles while waiting to be made up as zombies.

Remington and the Curse of the Zombadings will screen Saturday, June 9, 9:30PM. Jade Castro has been invited but not yet confirmed. Ticket info is here.

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