Monday, February 6, 2012

Suntok sa Buwan - Fight of the Broken

Al (Joem Bascon) is a prized pugilist. He is young, strong, focused and willful. He supports a younger sibling and a capricious father Dante (Noni Buencamino) who keeps getting into trouble. In fact, Al has to save Dante from impending harm – by paying off his debts from a blustering loan shark (Roldan Aquino) who has began to terrorize Dante.

Lauro (Daniel Fernando) is an over-the-hill boxer at the twilight of his career. He has overstayed where others his age should have decamped and retired. Sporting a pot belly, a brittle resolve, and the stamina that’s seen better days, Lauro is desperate for a win. It’s his last grasp at glory – and employment, what with his piling debts and a rent that’s three months due. The two boxers gear up for the fight of their lives.

A few days before the match, Lauro encounters personal tragedy, while Al hurts his fist after once again redeeming his father from impending doom. How will this stir what could have been an uneven match? Who will come out victorious?

The narrative catch in directors Bianca Catbagan and Jose Antonio de Rivera’s Suntok sa Buwan” gradually unravels as we follow the opponent’s days leading to the match. The buildup is deliberate and strings us to the necessary empathy. After all, we can’t be an unconcerned audience. We are tasked to somehow take a side which becomes an arduous dilemma after witnessing each of the fighter’s domestic conflicts.

Suntok sa Buwan’s” structure is initially imprudent. You inadvertently notice Buencamino’s flawed character from the start and realize that he would tip the uneven balance between the fighters. He provides a nugget of inevitable tragedy. In fact, when Al hands him a wad of cash for the monthly amortization of his tricycle, Dante instead said: “Itatabi ko sa ibang bayarin!” (I’ll save it up for other expenses.) Al should have emphatically reminded him that it was intended for the tricycle. In some scenes, you notice the lines somehow adlibbed by the veteran performers, falling into incongruence with some situation in the story.

Some film making choices feel hackneyed obviously designed to provoke emotion. When coins from a piggy bank (well, a tin box) fall down the floor, the scene lingers longer than necessary to create a mood of despondency for Lauro who’s on his last few centavos. The very same tack is noticed when Lauro learns that his dog has died. Yes, we get it. He is riding the unlucky streak, and this could be a foreshadowing for his boxing match. These scenes could have been cogent had they not irreverently “milked” these moments, instead of briskly plunging into vestiges of melodrama. “Gusto mo ibili kita ng bagong tuta,” offers Maricel (Jacinta Remulla) who plays Lauro’s young wife. You can’t even pay rent of three months, honey.

There are sparks of inspiration too. When Al learns of his father’s vices, he shouts: “Paano ako aangat kung palagi kayong pabigat.” And I wanted to stand up for a well deserved ovation. But just when I was ready to brush the film off, it shifts gears and perks up as the boxing match begins. In the harrowing stage of the desperate, we get glimpses of emotions that remind us of ourselves; of specific moments in our lives when we feel we have to give it all we got. That we might lose, but we fight and persevere anyway. And with deft charisma and emotional investment, Joem Bascon and Daniel Fernando maneuver a thespic match that gives this film the punch that eventually won us over.

Joem Bascon as hardworking Al

Joem Bascon

Daniel Fernando, playing aging boxer Lauro, essays an almost broken spirit.

Jacinta Remulla plays Maricel, miscast as Lauro's wife.

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