'Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko' review: Striving for authenticity
Gerardo Calagui’s Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko is a film that hinges on how realistic it portrays the lives of the subculture its three lead characters represent.
The film opens during a busy night in the neon-gleamed street of Burgos where Tuesday (Matt Daclan) is on her way to work.
She passes by her pimp (Mon Confiado), a mostly shrewd but also surprisingly doting man, by his motorcycle, looking conspicuous amidst a sidewalk full of tourists and transwomen walking by. She finally arrives at the massage parlor where she sees her colleague Amanda (Anthony Falcon) training a group of newcomers the ropes of their business.
After getting ready for another night of work, the two women meet up with their pimp to log in and get their nightly reminders before plying the streets. Barbie (Rocky Salumbides), headstrong and a troublemaker, arrives late.
Calagui’s triptych of transgender tales starts with Tuesday who gets picked up by a foreigner who seems oblivious to her being a transwoman. It is followed by Amanda’s story, which has her return to her hometown where she confronts traces of her past as Armando.
The final episode follows Barbie as she is rescued by her pimp from an irate customer before she embarks on a tireless journey into the slums of Manila to deliver illegal drugs.
Authenticity as asset
Authenticity is the film’s greatest asset.
Cinematographer Bradley Liew’s camera navigates Burgos as if it was a long-time dweller of the place, familiar with the nooks and crannies of the area and the secret dealings that happen there. The film has a strong sense of place, of belonging not just to a specific locale but also to the subculture that has become part and parcel of both the luster and infamy of Makati’s red light district.
Given its foray into the dangerous world of transwomen in the sex trade, the temptation for the film to be moribund is immense. Thankfully, Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko is replete with color, bustle and sometimes, humor.
Calagui rightfully foregoes judgment.
Other films have fumbled trying to make moralistic stances on the controversies of either the character’s sexuality or profession. The film is motivated by an endeavor to humanize its characters, to enunciate that slight hope to find a stab at love in their world of payment for erstwhile romantic pleasure, to scrape the pain of being unable to escape a history of being a different person altogether, of exposing the continuing risks of leading a life on the edge.
Curious on the casting
Mga Gabing Kasinghaba ng Hair Ko strives for realism. Most of the time, it works.
It helps that Daclan, Falcon and Salumbides portray their characters with undeniable skill and probity. However, it cannot be helped to wonder how the film would be if the characters were played by real transwomen.
For a film that relies on its closeness to reality, the decision to cast Daclan, Falcon and Salumbides, although covered in thick make-up, seems problematic, especially in terms of look where the actors’ appearances teeter towards masculinity.
Nevertheless, the film still astounds with its commitment to unearth humanity out of the fringes where dirt and make-up collide. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.
Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.