Sunny (Hyeong-Cheol Kang, 2011)March 28, 2013
The Human Race (Paul Hough, 2013)September 30, 2013
In essence a morality tale, Graceland, part of the Fantasia 2012’s retrospective on Filipino cinema, makes a violent case against crooked morals and institutionalized corruption.
In the film, Marlon, a driver for a wealthy politician, has his daughter kidnapped in a botched abduction that also results in the death of the politician’s daughter. Marlon must pretend his boss’s daughter is still alive so the ransom can be paid, and his own daughter released.
Predominantly, what stands out is Graceland’s moral component. Although Marlon initially seems like somewhat of a victim, incapable of paying for the ransom without his deception, frustratingly passive against the relentless tide of events, as the story unfolds we slowly uncover his shady involvement in these events. Within that moral construct, most of the film’s characters seem to suffer these events in retaliation for past sins: Mr. Changho, the politician, for example, is said to have a penchant for young girls; his wife is having an extramarital affair; the police detective assigned to the kidnapping is flagrantly corrupt. This predominance of corruption subverts normal narrative logic and imbues, for example, the ruthless kidnapper with the righteousness of justice, essentially redeeming the traditional bad guy while all other protagonists are destined for punishment.
The director and screenwriter purposely set the movie in rundown locations throughout Manila, echoing the story’s dark emphasis: the kidnapping, for example, happens on a mountain of garbage, a staple of developing countries, also a visual comment on the world we’re about to enter. Every hospital is dirty and menacing; every meeting place feels abandoned and decrepit. It is the developing world at its worst, where pride and community give way to individualism and survival. The only exception is the politician’s house which clashes with the other constructions in its ease and opulence. The colour palette continues to bring home the point of turpitude, leaning towards desaturated earth tones, accentuating the feeling of grime.
Graceland is a dark and dirty moral tale of desperation and revenge, denouncing corruption of all forms. Yet, it isn’t sophisticated enough to deal with the broad subject of corruption and all its ramifications, devolving into melodrama too easily, as young national cinemas are prone to do.