The Pink Film Industry that we know today owes a lot of its existence - and notoriety - from three exponents: Crisaldo Pablo for "jumpstarting" it (though this is debatable); Joselito Altarejos who "revolutionized " it (when "Ang Lalaki Sa Parola" became such a money-making success, every indie film maker were green with envy); and Brillante Mendoza who legitimized it ("Masahista", "Pantasya") by winning prestigious awards abroad.
Fortunately for Mendoza, he was able to crossover to the "respectable" genre. Now, he's regarded as a serious filmmaker. While director Joselito Altarejos is clearly a superior craftsman, his works tend to alienate a certain population of the movie-going public as he pushes the boundaries of what's acceptable. Occasionally, he vacillates to the realm of being exploitative which is sad given his talent! And the obvious way out of this predicament is to tackle stories far removed from the genre he is known for. Unless he does this, Altarejos shall be pigeon-holed into Pink Film limbo. And that would be such a waste!
But Altarejos has been making a conscious stride to veer away from this. There were hints of such struggle in "Little Boy, Big Boy", but that was a weak movie hobbled by poor casting. Then there's "Pink Halo Halo" which failed to make it in commercial cinemas. If Altarejos wants to be taken seriously, I'd say he's in the right direction. Unfortunately, this won't make him oddles of money the way "Ang Lalaki sa Parola", "Ang Lihim ni Antonio" or "Ang Laro sa Buhay ni Juan" did! But if it's longevity and legitimacy he's after, the financial truths behind his lofty ideals have to be accepted.
"Laruang Lalake" feels like a homage to Crisaldo Pablo and the Pink Film-generating industry. In fact, Pablo is cast in the film as Eli, and his homme du jour - Arjay Carreon - is uprooted from Pablo's mediocre Queeriosity flicks to star in a more legitimate project worthy of his movie star looks.
If you've seen Cleo Paglinawan's "Indie Boys" shown a few weeks back, then watching "Laruang Lalake" would feel like dejavu. It follows an independent film outfit's making of a gay-oriented movie. The story shifts its point of view from 18 year old Samuel Dionesio (Carreon) who's desperate to become a movie star - to director Wilfredo Ligan (Richard Quan), another desperate soul on the brink of bankruptcy. Samuel joins a casting audition for Wilfredo's make-or-break film, as we bear witness to a general atmosphere of despondency.
There is palpable unease as each wanna-be actor is ushered on stage; the experience couldn't be less demeaning than a consented molestation. Before the audition wraps up, Samuel is cast alongside PJ Miranda (Marco Morales), a charismatic actor who's back from hiatus. The narrative then jumps into vignettes of the actual film making: "macho dancing" scenes with tacky choreography. When the film is finally submitted to the MTRCB for review, the narrative shifts its focus by satirizing the follies of this outdated censors body. Of course, it also serves as an avenue to spotlight what's perceived as cinematic taboos: masturbation, an "aroused genitalia" and sodomy.
When Wilfredo's film eventually gets an X-rating, we see him dejected and flummoxed. After all, his mortgage rests on the public exhibition of his film. But he seems to have forgotten the alternate avenues to make money out of it: i.e. get his film shown in CCP or U.P. Theater where they are pretentiously served up as a "work of art" instead of the trash that they really are! Then there's the lucrative video release! Heck, these are even made available online, through amazon and other websites.
Richard Quan gives "Laruang Lalake" a degree of pertinence, and Arjay Carreon as Samuel finally becomes a "real movie star"! Mark Fabillar plays the production assistant who's sympathetic to Samuel's needs. He registers well on screen though we catch moments of "softness". He would make a great protagonist in future Altarejos films (he did well in "Pink Halo Halo").
There were a few peekaboos that Altarejos had to offer as "gifts" for his pink audience: one from Carreon, another from Morales, and one from an auditionee. These were "bonuses" that reminded us that despite appearances, "Laruang Lalake" is still meant for a select audience.
While Altarejos is in search of a more universal audience - a more mainstream patron, this I'm afraid will elude him if he keeps dispensing feckless "bonuses" for his select crowd of admirers.
Far from Cabanatuan, Samuel (Arjay Carreon) shuttles between exotic dancing and the occasional film work.
Marco Morales is PJ Miranda, a former actor who makes his comeback after several years of hiatus in Macau.