The film is about a group of 5 boys from Tadano High School who initially joined the swimming team—along with other boys—because of their beautiful new coach. When the coach pitched the idea of putting together a synchronized swimming team, only the 5 boys were left with the interest to join the team. The eager coach entered them in the festival but took a leave of absence when she found out that she was eight months pregnant. This left the 5 boys, led by Suzuki, in panic and confusion. Thus began their struggle to come up with a routine.
The novelty of the premise of the film was enough to draw appeal and expectations of heightened levels of fun. However, as the film moved along, it dragged and relied heavily on comedy resulting from funny-slapstick scenes instead of funny-sweet moments. The problem originated from poor characterization and absence of a central theme which resulted to unclear and weak motives of the characters and mediocre performance from the actors. The 5 boys went through the movie with the aim of performing in the festival and chose to solicit from stores and drag queens for financing and seek the help of a dolphin instructor for synchronized swimming moves to attain this goal. But the most important thing that was unclear in the film was “why” do the characters want to perform in the festival. This lack of strong motives from the characters affected the pace of the story and ultimately failed to generate empathy from and sustain the interest of the audience. Shinobu Yaguchi, writer-director, could have played on gender issues anchored to the struggles of adolescence considering that synchronized swimming is a sport participated in by women and the milieu is an all-boys school. The opening sequence would have effectively set the stage for this should plot development went in that direction.
Overall, if the intention of the director is just to entertain and elicit laughter, it succeeded with Yaguchi’s anime-inspired intercut tight shots in slow motion of the boys’ initial trials to execute certain moves, the presence of the gay character who we initially thought as infatuated with Suzuki but later we find out that his feelings were for Sato (who’s the best character in the movie), them being featured on the news, the scientific approach of the nerdy character in perfecting the execution of formations, and of course the highlight of the movie—the performance in the festival (special mention to the extreme long shot of the big circle-to-five small circles transition). But if Yaguchi intended for the film to be inspirational and make the audience route for the characters, the film is a failure in this aspect since it undermined the potential impact of the ending, making the film simply “just about the boys’ performance in the festival” and not about how the characters achieved personal change because of it.
The film is about Katsuhiro, a closet homosexual who incidentally crosses paths with Naoya, an openly gay man, both of whom develop a relationship and ended up living together. When Asako, a woman with a history of promiscuity and abortions, enters their lives and proposes for Katsuhiro to give her a child, Katsuhiro and Naoya’s relationship is tested to the core.
Ryosuke Hashiguchi did an excellent job in mounting this well-written story with good characterization and plot development which produced fine performances from the actors. The film was about needs and wants. Hashiguchi fleshed this out with gritty dialogue and gradual exposition. The dynamics of how the main and secondary characters explore each of their own set of true and perceived needs and wants pushes the story forward, revealing internal conflicts along the way, hindering each other from achieving what they want, but ultimately helping them discover for themselves what they really need. With regard to scene presentation, Hashiguchi should be commended on the treatment of Katsuhiro and Naoya’s relationship. It gave the audience a front seat to what happens behind closed doors in a same-sex relationship—that it is not all about sex; that just like any other relationship, there are arguments, the potentials of sleeping outside the kulambo, swooning over your loved one, wooing them to forgive you, and the profound silences. The film delivers the most memorable scenes where credit is given to the efficient use of the element of exposition: the cuddling scene of Katsuhiro and Naoya after their argument was very endearing, the scene where Naoya introduced Asako to his gay friend and Asako was the only woman in the gay bar, the goodbye scene of Asako where she delivered a controlled, heart-wrenching monologue, the long, purposeful sequence of Katsuhiro seeking spiritual guidance, and the stationary full shot of the confrontation scene. The movie sometimes goes melodramatic with some “soap opera” scenes but it becomes an integral part of the story that we as an audience let it slide, especially the ending where I felt was too much like the film, “Junior” to me and we are not sure if Katsuhiro has attained peace of mind by the end of the movie. But given the organic growth of the story, we laugh with the characters in the end for we know that they are going to be all right. Even when the movie ended, the characters and their struggles and semi-triumphs still resonate in our minds and compel us to look into ourselves, our own set of needs and wants, and what we have done to achieve it.
FENG SHUI (Philippines)
I understand why the film was appealing with the presence of universal elements like the middle class housewife trying to build a family in a newly-bought house in a partially developed subdivision. The premise of the movie was scary enough since it talks about a very familiar Chinese artifact, the bagua, which a number of homes now have and it plays on the Filipinos fascination and belief in superstition. The movie opened with what seems to be a shot from inside the bagua looking out into the world which was very effective in establishing an eeriness that the movie aimed to generate. Cut to the bus scene, where the man leaves a bagua, which the main character takes home with her. This reinforced the opening by creating mystery. Then it all went downhill from there. The film failed in building a manic crescendo because the script lacked the escalation it needed There was poor characterization and the film relied heavily on “spelling things out” instead of characters revealing a part of themselves and the story through their actions and reactions to circumstances. The mystery and eeriness which Chito Rono created in the opening sequence disintegrated because of the characters’ overwhelming knowledge of Chinese literature where the audience is always given a lecture (I always felt that anytime in the movie a powerpoint slide will pop up to give the audience bulleted information). Also, the fact that everything is spelled out instead of gradually revealed, the audience resulted to waiting for the bulaga moments. The weakness of the script was the under-utilization of the main character to be the focal point of the story where the audience can empathize and be with her for the ride. The writer seemed to have forgotten about the unraveling of the mystery of the bagua which could have encouraged the audience to take interest in the main character’s dilemma. Instead, it focused on creating scenes that would “wittily” correlate the order of death to the year you are born in relation to the Chinese calendar. Hence, the original owner of the bagua died from being run over by a Phil. Rabbit bus because he is born on the Year of the Rabbit. How did I know that? The main character, and even the Ilonah Jean character, is very proficient and knowledgeable enough to throw us information just like pulling a rabbit (pun intended) out of the hat. If Rono’s intention was to disturb the audience with the Chinese calendar references, then he miserably failed because the audience were either laughing or are shouting in disgust because they are insulted, particularly on the Lotlot character’s death scene. But Rono should be given recognition for the technical aspects of the film, specifically the usage of extremely tight close ups and the bird’s eye view shot. Although, there are some scenes which could have been shot five seconds longer to put the audience on the edge of their seat.
I think one of the failures of the movie was Rono’s intention to break away from the conventional dark horror movie, hence the use of bright colors in the house and shooting in extremely bright light. The attempt to be different by juxtaposing color and evil was brave but it failed because it is impossible to execute due to the weak script and extremely bad performances from the actors (except for Joonee Gamboa and Nonie Buencamino who make memorable short appearances in the film). Ultimately, the movie failed because it was reduced to being an ordinary haunted house film and got sidetracked from the original, more fear-inducing, and interest-grabbing premise of solving of the mystery of the bagua. As for whether the ending was good or not, it depends on who watched the film. For me, it did not make me shriek in horror since it has been done before and it did not matter anymore since the logical flow of the script has been so distorted at this point, rendering the ending more of “for shock value only” and less of relevance. (Oh…and as a final note, the product placement of the Chunkee Corned Beef was done in bad taste)