RESPETO is one of Cinemalaya 2017’s full-length film entries and have bagged a lot of awards including the competition’s best feature film award. Ok, this film is not for everybody. If you’re looking for a Pinoy Cinderella story a la 8 mile, this is not it. RESPETO is the film that smacks you in the face with something many of us are reluctant to confront: the ugly truth. The movie drags the audience to the dark realms of the country where it is godless, dirty, and immoral. A dog eat dog world where survival is determined by one’s wit, luck and connections. This movie will be a big letdown for moviegoers that are looking for something inspiring and rags to riches story. The story is about Hendrix an arrogant and spunky rapper wannabe who wants to become a big shot in the local rapping den in his neighborhood. Then there’s Doc, a retired poet who owns a 2nd hand bookshop. Their lives intertwined when Hendrix and his friends, Payaso and Betchai, tried to rob the old man to get enough money to enter a local rap competition. After the botched heist, the three were forced to repair the damages they’ve caused on the old man’s bookshop. I love dark and gritty stories. I also don’t mind watching poverty porn films from time to time, but there are things in RESPETO that I find it hard to swallow. Abra, Chai Fonacier and Ybes Bagadiong did a stellar performance portraying their characters. Dido Dela Paz was able to give life to his character Doc. Sure, the movie tried to keep the characters as real people who grew up in the slums, but there are characters that don’t make any sense. One of which is Fuentes, Doc’s youngest son who is one of the antagonists of the movie.
Bad Cop, Bad Characterization
Ok. Nor Domingo’s character: Fuentes is one of the things that don’t make sense in the movie nor feel real. Fuentes is Doc’s youngest son who becomes a cop and what’s weird is that he becomes a corrupt cop pulling the strings and is the main man behind the drug peddling in Hendrix’s town. What’s weird about that? You see Doc was a martial law victim. His wife was gang raped in front of him while he was being tortured. His eldest son was forced to eat pages from his Dad’s manuscript and was later on killed by one of the cops that stormed Doc’s house one night. While Doc’s wife was being raped, she is currently carrying Fuentes in her womb. When Marcos’ reign is over, Doc’s wife committed suicide but before kicking the bucket gave birth to Fuentes. Sooooo, why do Fuentes became a corrupt cop when it was corrupt cops who made his family’s lives a living hell? Fuentes’ mom and older brother must be doing 80 rpm rolls in their graves now that Fuentes is one of Manila’s finest corrupt cops. Why would Fuentes become a corrupt cop? It’s like Bruce Wayne becoming a robber too and kills the parents of other kids, or Peter Parker becoming a robber and shots the innocent uncles of kindhearted teenagers. Ok those are fictional characters but here’s the thing, I have friends who have family members who were victims of martial law but heck, they never become corrupt or be like the persons who caused misery to their martial law victim family members. In fact majority of the people I know who were directly or indirectly victims of Martial Law hates corruption and abuse of power. So why Fuentes would become someone who he should be hating? Shouldn’t Fuentes be like an honest cop? Or a person who supports justice and all?
Another thing I didn’t like was the bling-bling bikes. Oh god! The bling-bling bikes. Seriously, I don’t know if this is based on real life or what. Breezy G and his gang’s mode of transportation are shiny, pimped up bicycles. I find this really ridiculous. It’s like I dunno the American gangs and their expensive muscle cars then we go here in the Philippines and this is our third world version of awesome rides. There was even a scene where Breezy G insults Hendrix for riding a pedicab, wait – is he serious? Dude! You’re both pedaling and ride the same vehicle. Seriously? He is dissing someone who rides a bike and the only difference between his bike and Hendrix’s bike is his bling-blings casted on his bike, but for the love of god nonetheless it’s still an effin’ bike. The scene would have made a lot of sense if Breezy G owns a vehicle that runs on gas.
RESPETO, in some perspective, is 8 mile meets Karate Kid. The problem is, there is zero confrontation. Many people love underdog stories and the epic moment when the scrawny loser beats the arrogant villain but that does not happen here. So if you’re thinking Hendrix will trample over Breezy G in a final epic rap battle, don’t get your hopes up. I was so frustrated at this particular detail. Yup, there is no redemption for Hendrix, he just lets Breezy G step all over him again and again. For me, it is kinda weird for a movie where a wise old mentor teaches a thing or two to his mentee but the mentee never gets the chance to use it. It’s like Daniel Larusso practicing hour after hour of “wax on, wax off” shit then when the moment of truth finally comes, the fight is effin’ cancelled. WTF. It’s like masturbating but you never came. Add to the insult is that Hendrix got a lot of material to come up with an ass kicking rap rebuttal, from Breezy G’s real lousy name to the fact that Breezy G technically raped his girl. What troubles me is there was a scene where Breezy G humiliated Hendrix by rubbing in Hendrix’ face the fact that Breezy G and his gang raped Candy. Oh yeah, what’s worst? Candy witnessed everything. Hendrix just walked away never bothered to spit out a verse to defend Candy. So it makes you think: was Hendrix’s love for Candy real or he just wants to fuck Candy but unfortunately Breezy G gets to screw her first. I love the part where Doc took Hendrix and his friends to an open bar balagtasan. It’s like when a Kung fu Master brings his student to a secret lair of Kung Fu masters to learn a forbidden or secret technique. While watching Hendrix and his friends enjoying the Balagtasan, I was already thinking: “Yeah, boy. Use that shit! Make something out of Pinoy Balagtasan and develop an awesome rap to knock Breezy G’s ugly teeth in. Oh my god! Hendrix’s comeback is gonna be Legen—wait for it—“ And I waited and waited and nope. There’s no legendary rap battle and glorious win for the underdog Hendrix. Ok, you’re probably thinking I’m acting like a kid who didn’t get what he wanted and in this case a redemption for the underdog or a closure to who has the superior mad rapping skills between good and evil or the epic culmination of mentor-mentee bond. I was disappointed because for a movie entitled: Respeto, it never bothered to fight for respect or show that respect is worth fighting for. Candy or Hendrix’s love interest is a prostitute but she still deserves respect because she is a woman nonetheless and Breezy G and friends gang raping her is an all-time low dick mode. Seriously, if Breezy G wanted to have a piece of her pie, he could have paid for it but noooooo he wanted a free nookie just to shove Hendrix’s face in the mud again and humiliate him for the nth time. So much for defending your girl’s honor! To let your girl/crush or whatever get humiliated without spitting a word in her defense? You lost my respect there, Hendrix.
Two Sides of the Story
One of the things that made the movie controversial is showing today’s ugly scenarios: the rampant extra judicial killings and the proliferating of selling drugs. Yes, extra judicial killings are inhumane but sometimes we forget the selling of drugs screw other people’s lives too. I just wish the movie showed more about the horrible repercussions of drugs. There were a lot of scenes where Hendrix, Payaso and Betchai talked about the victims of extra judicial killings but never talked about the lives drugs fucked up. Well, there was one scene that showed how selling drugs would eventually haunt Hendrix. Hendrix is a courier for Mando’s drugs and delivers them to Mando’s costumers like it was nothing but eventually it will bite him in the ass. After delivering a drug supply to Breezy G, Breezy G laced one of the cocktails with drugs and gave it to Candy, Hendrix’s love interest. Candy got roofied and was gang banged by Breezy G and his friends. What’s worse, Hendrix witnessed the horrible ordeal. However, I can’t shake the notion the movie left me after watching it, it’s like it is ok to sell drugs as long as you are poor as rat. I just wished that the movie showed more horrifying aftermaths of drug selling and how it ruin people’s lives. I also find it quite biased to show cops in bad way and not show that they are some honest ones too. I wished the movie did not just stereotyped the police as the bad guys. Sure the image of the country’s police force is tarnished because of some bad cops but come on, not all ‘em are bad. For a movie that wants to show something real, it should have showed both sides of the story not just from one’s single perspective.
All of the characters in the movie yearn for respect. Doc longs for the respect of his son, Hendrix thirst for the respect of the local rapping community are some of the examples. However, the hunger for respect was never satiated in the movie. In fact, the whole movie revolves around the lack of respect in our society nowadays, no respect for elders, no respect for women, no respect for the law, no respect for authority. Everything is a depiction of what is happening right now. The movie’s ending where Hendrix kills Fuentes is a grim prediction of what might happen in our country when the poor can no longer take the oppressing and persecution of those who are in authority.
I love the movie’s cinematography and love the actors but this is the kind of movie that I would not watch again. I don’t hate it nor like it. For me watching movies is an escape, RESPETO is a good movie but it didn’t give me what I want. It wanted to show us what is happening now in our country but I think I rather watch the news on TV for that.
[written by: Christian Mark Vidallo]