Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tyrone Acierto's The Grave Bandits - Fun Time in Zombie Town

William Seabrook (Robert Nunes), a scientist, hires an ornery band of hooligans headed by the shadowy King (Millard Keung) to locate Maiya (Jill Palencia), the descendant of an ancient tribe believed to possess treasures worth billions of dollars. Upon finding the girl, they acquire a gemstone, a green diamond, believed to have fallen from the skies. On microscopy, a virulent strain of virus is found therein. Chaos ensues as the pirates seize control of the expedition, briskly infecting everyone in the island.  

Meanwhile, 17 year old Romy (Ronald Pacifico) and his friend Peewee (Martin Sandino Sa Juan) earn their keep by digging graves, plundering from the corpse’s possessions: wristwatches, jewelries, and even the occasional gold-plated tooth. After all, “dead people don’t need material things”. Their vocation has taken them outside the big city where they’re notoriously called the grave bandits. While Romy craves for material riches (“cars, a big house, three wives… with no children”), his 12-year old partner just wants to find the mother who abandoned him. But they picked the wrong town for their latest heist. They’ve become earnestly pursued. As a last straw, they hop into a boat, sailing across the sea until they reach a remote, seemingly uninhabited island. What they didn’t realize, the island is filled with ravenous, flesh-eating zombies!  

Ronald Pacifico plays Romy
Martin Sandino San Juan plays Peewee

The world has an ongoing fascination with the undead, along with post apocalyptic fares: Danny Boyle’s28 Days Later” (UK), Murat Emir Erin’sThe Island: Zombie Marriage” (Turkey), even Bangladesh has its own zombie movie. The genre is spreading like wildfire. Last year, Brandon Relucio  and Ivan Zaldarriaga’s Di Ingon Nato” (Not Like Us) was a zombie treat in Visayan dialect.

This year's  worthy addition to the genre is Director Tyrone Acierto’sThe Grave Bandit”, a visually sumptuous nail-biter that, though riddled with clich├ęs characteristic of the genre, is unadulterated cinematic magic! It pulsates with convivial disposition like a shot of adrenaline.

The main protagonists are spirited characters who grow on you. It helps that Pacifico (a fisherman’s son) and San Juan enjoy comfortable banter that allows natural humor to course through the narrative. What’s more amusing is Pacifico’s exchange with Nunes, playing the “mad”, albeit greedy scientist Seabrook: his facility of the English language and his intuition for humor are a bit too advanced for a grave-digging scavenger: “It’s not stealing; it’s recycling;” “So you saved me so I can save you!” Nonetheless, these moments carry a slice of charm, as our poverty-stricken heroes aren’t dumbed down. Besides, in a realm that habituates the silver screen, you sometimes require a leap of faith to fully embrace its entertainment value.

There are valid points appended to contribute to the steadily growing myth of the malevolent population of the undead: like saying that “whoever touches its blood becomes a follower” (though, of course, we’re aware that a “bite” is essential to become one); that alcohol confuses them - and that the stench of urine poured all over the body prevents these creatures from attacking you. Just be careful you don’t get rained on, debah?

Jill Palencia plays Maiya. Her character is feisty and plays a pivotal role in the narrative. The character, I feel, needs a little embellishment to be truly empathetic.

Robert Seabrook plays sinister scientiist William Seabrook who could visualize a virus in a  small microscope. Imagine that! :)

Like most horror films, there are moments of sheer stupidity. When Romy was about to leave the island, he saw the zombies from a distance running towards him. Instead of joining Maiya and Peewee in the boat, he just stood there waiting for them to get to him. If he did the logical thing, it would have cut the running time by 30 minutes, wouldn’t it?

Production value is above par and could give many mainstream features a run for their money. Cinematography (Marcin Szocinski), for example, is a visual buffet, with crystal quality even in dimly lit scenes. More than that, the placement of cameras are a genius concoction of quasi-Tatami shots and occasional oblique positioning, yet they don’t inspire vertigo as most handhelds. This allows a fresh perspective for the viewer. Moreover, this flurry of techniques imbues a sense of urgency to the constant and frenetic mobility of its characters. However, a bit of care has to be taken for those skewed horizons. Mother Lily’s team (not to mention Vic Sotto and Bong Revilla) of horror-meisters could benefit from Acierto’s creative think tanks. But then, not everyone can afford to go to Columbia or Switzerland. J Then there’s Cecille Baun’s prosthetics. Baun, an iconic figure in her field, delivers some of her most masterful creations here. You suddenly wonder how much the production has for its budget.

Acierto’s “The Grave Bandits” deserves a full commercial run because it can be enjoyed by a mainstream audience. He populates his narrative canvas with fetching characters and a plot that bristles with excitement and pulse-bounding adventure. Now you only have 3 more days to catch this film in Glorietta! Run!


Anonymous said...

Hope I'll have the chance to watch this!

I just noticed, when referring to other Philippine languages, you call them dialects. Would just like to tell you have this is a linguistic misconception, as Cebuano, Ilocano, Bikol, etc. are also languages. A dialect is a variation of a language, such as Batangueno Tagalog and Manila Tagalog (Tagalog being the language), or British English and Australian English (English, being the language from which these dialects are come from).


Cathy Pena said...


Language is the general accepted tongue of a country. But I am aware that calling Visayan, Ilonggo, Chabacano or Bol-anon as “the language of its region” is not wrong. They’re simply not the accepted and unifying tongue of a country. After all, when formal documents require us to supply the language we use as a nation, we say “Filipino”. “Tagalog” was a term referred to as “national language” by President Manuel L. Quezon in 1939. This “common tongue” was renamed “Pilipino” in 1959. The 1973 constitution further refined it and declared it as “Filipino”. Saying that the national language is Tagalog is not accurate.

But to say that “dialect” is a “variation of a language” in the context of regionality (the one you pointed out was Batangueno Tagalog and Manila Tagalog”) or origin (British English or Australian English) is likewise debatable.

The number “three”, for example, is called “tulo” in Cebuano; “tuyo” for the Surigaonons; “atlu” for the Kapampangans; “tallu” for the Ibanags; “tatdo” for the Ivatans; “tatlo” for the Tagalogs.

The term “day” is “aldaw” for the Ilocanos; “aldo” for the Kapampangans; “araw” for the Tagalogs; “adlaw” for most of the different regions in Visayas and Mindanao; “kdaw” for the Tiboli. They are clearly a “variation of language”, i.e. dialect, yet the expanse of these variations cover the different regions of the country – from extreme north to extreme south. They are “languages” AND they are “dialects” as well. There is a variation of term from a base language, yet they hail from the different regions all over the archipelago. The definition of the term should easily negate what’s considered as a “linguistic misconception”. Otherwise, that definition would contradict itself.

Your contention would be based on an article entitled “The Language Planning Situation of the Philippines” written by Andrew Gonzales (2007), published in the “Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development” which states that “Philippine languages are often referred to by Filipinos as dialect partly as a relic of the inaccurate vocabulary used in literature during the American period (1898–1946).” This is exactly where I am coming from.

To “regionalize” the term “language”, I have to use “dialect”. When I travel to, say Palawan or Siquijor, it is more “exacting” to ask them what their “dialect” is, knowing that “language” is a more general term – the “standard spoken tongue”, thus must refer to “Filipino” – and obviously I don’t have to ask that. But to really finish this discussion, it would probably be prudent to just use “vernacular” instead of “dialect”… but then saying “in Visayan vernacular” seems redundant. “Visayan” is a local language. “Vernacular” is the local tongue”. Same same. “Visayan” alone seems awkward because it’s more of a descriptive adjective.

Anonymous said...

sad, as this simple labeling further demotes the status of Philippine languages, making local speakers look at their own language as inferior because they are portrayed as just dialects, when science itself (linguistics, Ethnologue, Summer Institute of Linguistics) has

That Filipino is the language, and Tagalog, Kapampangan, etc. are dialects is a political move, the way China does with it Zhonghua Minzu agenda to elevate the status of Mandarin as a national language. Linguisticall speaking, Filipino and Tagalog are the same, Filipino in fact being a dialect of Tagalog. Hence, for example, you won't see a separate Tagalog category from the Filipino category of the Palanca Awards, when there are Iluko, Hiligaynon, and Sinugbuanong Binisaya categories, because, well, Filipino and Tagalog are the same languages.

We ask writers and whoever we can convince to refer to our languages as languages. Some of us have successfully swayed, for example, Cinemalaya and Cinemanila, to revise the provision on "the use of "Filipino, or any Philippine dialect". Now, they are using "Filipino or any Philippine language."

But still, it is your prerogative, whether to stick with the political definition or the scientific definition, as it is your freedome to choose. Just laying out the situation.


Anonymous said...

PS: similarities in the various tongues spoken in the Philippines is not a surprise, since all our languages, save for the Creole ones, are Austronesian. You'll be surprised to find very similar words from as far as Indonesia and even Eastern Madagascar, because they are all Austronesian languages.

It is the same for the Indo-European languages. There are hundreds of words from, example, the English language, which you can connect with those from Spanish, German, French, and Portuguese -- but they are languages because of the lack of this thing called mutual intelligibility.

There is the mutual intelligibility test to see if a tongue is a language or a dialect.

If Speaker of Language A vocally communicates with Speaker of Language B (both having no past knowledge of each other's tongue), and they do not understand each other, then they are speaking two different languages.

Hence, if an Ilocano-speaker communicates with, say, a Waray speaker, they won't understand each other, because they are speaking two different languages.

If a so-called "Filipino" speaker communicates with a speaker of Quezon Tagalog, they will still understand each other in spite of not getting a few words here and there, and in spite of having different expressions and intonation. Hence, they are speaking two different dialects of the same language.

If an Ilonggo speaker (who was never taught Filipino/Tagalog) communicates with a Filipino/Tagalog speaker, they two speakers won't understand each other, because they are speaking two different languages.


Cathy Pena said...

Language is, in fact, politically determined. This isn't an act of arrogant supremacy as this is done in many historical accounts worldwide, but a mere act of finding a unifying language.

The national language issue has been debated far and wide in the last century, and has therefore been settled accordingly. A segment of the society may deem it politicizing, but what is so wrong with finding a common ground where spoken tongue is concerned? We all can’t speak Hiligaynon or Binisaya or Ilocano, but a great majority speaks Tagalog because “Tagalog” per se, constitutes most of the form of the “national language” called Filipino, the lengua franca.

When I travel outside the country, I speak, like most, what’s considered “universal” – the English language. This has never made me feel like my “vernacular” is an inferior language simply because I do not use it to speak to the French when I am in Paris.

I had an Argentine friend who spoke not a single English, but when he travels every year, he carries a “pocket translator” and an English dictionary. I am pointing this out to underline the need of a unifying language without necessarily looking down on the vernacular or, for my friend, the Argentine Spanish which has minor differences from the Espanol spoken by the nationals of Spain or Mexico and a big chunk of the Latino nations.

People from Nice, France, for example, employ their traditional Nicard, yet I very well doubt they feel inferior about it. My lola grew up in the Visayas yet we share a common language of expression. We never debate which is the more superior – or inferior - tongue because doing so is preposterous.

While I understand the implication in this discussion: that all languages should be referred as “languages” because the term dialect (as per my usage) is “inaccurate” or even a bit pejorative, I see nothing wrong with trying to point out the fact that “Binisaya” (“Di Ingon Nato”) or “Ilonggo” (“Salvi”) is a regional language, thus a “dialect” in comparison to “Filipino” used by perhaps 98% of all the cinematic output of the country. After all, pages from this blog, as well as other English-language blogs, are being read by other people from countries other than the Philippines. Besides, there is nothing wrong with “labeling” if all we’re after is specificity.