Midnight Dancers

(Philippines melodrama)

Toronto Film Fest l994–Macho dancers and call boys, prostitutes and pimps, flamboyant queens and closeted homosexuals populate Mel Chionglo's Midnight Dancers, a compassionate portrait of Manila's gay subculture and its relation with mainstream society.

Tale's specific setting and handsome lead characters will obviously make it a likable experience for gay viewers, though depiction of broader family issues might extend pic's appeal beyond its primary target audience.

Story centers on three brothers from Cebu as they function in Manila's gay world as “macho dancers” or “sibak” (a gay slang for male prostitutes). The youngest and most naive brother, Sonny, provides the film's emotional focus and point of view. Manila's gay world is presented from his perspective, as he slowly assimilates into its culture to the point of taking a transvestite lover.

The oldest sibling, Joel, who's only 23 but has a 7-year-job experience, attempts to balance his relationships with a wife and a gay lover. Tougher brother Dennis represents yet a different type, favoring the edgy excitement of the streets over intimate family life.

Chionglo's liberal, almost too-good-to-be-true, philosophy is informed by the notion that love can not be constricted by gender or sexual orientation. To this extent, he depicts an intimate, closely-knit family life in which every member knows the “hard facts” and fully accepts them. The boys' mother, who's the family's expressive center, holding it together, is aware of how her sons make a living, but she also knows the city's harsh economic realities.

Writer Lee and director Chionglo stress Manila's depressed economy, showing how a depraved job market often necessitates and conditions male prostitution–and even moral deprivation. To illustrate their serio thesis, the filmmakers opt for a docu-drama style, one that observes all members of the family, male and female, as they go about their daily existence.

Nonetheless, in the last reel, melodramatic events come fast and furious–police arrests, brutal killings, scandalous adultery, family feuds, emotional reconciliations–and subsequently pic loses its balanced tone–and to some extent its humor.

Another major problem is helmer's inability to decide how much sexual titillation and voyeurism the story should encourage. This is particularly evident in the bar scenes (which occupy half of the movie), during “macho” dancing and interaction between dancers and customers, when pic is on the verge of overemphasizing its more sensationalistic elements just for the sake of making the tale more commercially appealing.

The actors who play the three brothers are newcomers, but they all acquit themselves with natural, most relaxing performances. Though the shows' choreography is unimpressive, the camera seems to caress the handsome boys and their almost nude bodies. Pic's erotic charge is undeniably its major selling point, particularly for the audiences for which it was made.

Credits

A Tangent Films production. Executive producer, Richard Wong Tang. Directed by Mel Chionglo. Screenplay, Ricardo Lee. Camera (color), George Tutanes; editor, Jess Navarro; music, Nonong Buenoamino; production design, Edgar Martin Littaua; sound, Ramon Reyes. Running time: 100 min.

Cast:

Alex Del Rosario, Grandong Cervantes, Lawrence David, Luis Cortez, Richard Cassity, Danny Ramos, Perla Bautista.

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