With the ironic lyrics of “My Country, My Philippines” blaring happily in the background, the less than tidy aspects of Manila’s core fill the screen with trash, sewage, drug deals, “non-warranty” cellphone sales and a certified madman’s broken-down piano stylings. A single blossom appears in stark contrast to the grunge surrounding it. Soon it’s placed ever-so carefully in 12-year-old Maxi’s (Nathan Lopez, who charms with every swish and sway) hair. For the rest of the film, the coming-of-age queer serves as the sole voice of reason amongst all of his testosterone charged elders even as they go about their daily business of theft, fencing and payoffs to keep the neighborhood’s peace.
But with the entry of new-cop-on-the-block Victor (JR Valentin) everyone’s world is turned upside down. The rookie law enforcer actually follows the rules and his 300 Peso ATM is living proof that the lure of the bribe hasn’t, yet, found its way into his lifestyle.
“I raised you as a thief not as a damn killer,” rages Pa (Soliman Cruz) to his eldest son, Boy (Neil Ryan Sese) who along with Kuya (Big Brother) Bogs (Ping Medina—a real screen pleaser) keep food on the motherless family’s table through illegal trades of various sorts.
Between fashion shows (the early scene send-up with his young pals at a dress-up party contains the production’s funniest moments), cheesy DVD (pirated, of course) matinées and taunts (some violent) walking through the back alleys, Maxi cooks, cleans and sews for the men. His feminine side is welcomed by the all male household of what-else-could-we-do-to-survive? thieves.
Not surprisingly, Maxi is drawn to the neophyte policeman’s honesty in a heartbeat. Despite their difference in years, it becomes apparent that the girlfriend-less Victor isn’t repulsed by the obvious dotage and affection. Their on-screen chemistry is palpable and never approaches any hint of pedophiliac intentions.
Director Auraeus Solito’s guidance and Michiko Yamamoto’s script soon provide Maxi with the oft-used dilemma of brotherly/family love vs. first head-over-heels (literally here as Lopez is an accomplished dancer and gymnast) infatuation. Who will he choose? What’s a girl to do?
Sadly, the narrative fails in its abruptness. Victor gets pummeled by Maxi’s elders when it appears that one of them might go to the gallows for murdering an “innocent” 16-year-old. No worries, the newly appointed Chief of Police rides into Dodge, appoints Victor (the only clean cop in the precinct) as his special assistant then teaches him the ropes by summarily executing one of the “criminals” without benefit of judge or jury.
Helping the proceedings immeasurably is Pepe Smith’s colourful score featuring all manner of guitars from country twang to intimate acoustic; Nap Jamir’s camera unabashedly paints a far different picture of Manila than the travel brochures.
Yet after all of the muck has been racked, the film’s saving grace is the marvellously compelling naïveté and too-early reality-test of its star. Perhaps if queers were the majority there would be less senseless death and more fashion conscious citizens!
We eagerly await the next installment of the Perils of Maxi. JWR