Apr 27, 2014

[Movies] Burlesk King (1999)

I do try to make it a point to watch Filipino movies when I can, if only to round out my movie references and to give a little more love to the local film industry. A few friends always criticize me for pretty much avoiding local movies for the most part, but I don't think people can really blame me given the tropes that many of these movies seem to celebrate year after year.

It gets worse when we look at a lot of the "indie" movies, which are often synonymous with LGBT movies when you stop and take a look at things. When we look at these movies that try to tackle aspects of the local LGBT scene, we end up realizing just how much further we need to go in terms of educating folks about the nuances of sexual identity.

Burlesk King is quite a straight-out "gay movie" as it were, but to claim that this is simply a "straight movie" would also be inaccurate. It's part of a series of movies that opted to focus on local macho dancers, who are more often than not sex workers willing to cater to men and women alike. And in that regard that's really where things get a little gray in terms of terms of overall sexual identity.

While I'm sure there's some truth to how parts of the macho dancer culture were represented in this movie, also think there's still quite the opportunity to improve the overall quality of writing.

And it goes without saying that this is not a family-friendly movie. You have been warned.

Synopsis: Burlesk King is a 1999 Filipino drama focused on the lives of "macho dancers", who are essentially male strippers and very often also sex workers. The movie was directed by Mel Chinglo with a screenplay by Ricky Lee, and is often tagged as being a part of a trilogy of movies that focused on this subject, although the movies were all handled by different creative teams. It's almost like associating the Star Trek movies and the Star Wars movies just because they all tackle science fiction type stories or something.

At the center of the movie is Harry (Rodel Velayo), a young man with quite the chip on his shoulder because of the abuses he and his mother once suffered at the hands of his American father. Now he continues to hate dealing with Ameicans. One thing leads to another and he needs to leave his home province in order to avoid trouble with the law - thus he and his friend James (Leonardo Litton) decide to move to Metro Manila and see what happens to them there.

Through various friends and connections, James lands both of them jobs at some local gay bar to work as macho dancers. At first Harry is pretty reluctant to perform on stage and limits himself to merely entertaining guests as a host of sorts. During these times, he meets a gay writer named Mario (Raymond Bagatsing), and the two eventually become friends. But in time, Harry does eventually take to the stage and falls deeper and deeper into the life of a macho dancer. He also gets into a relationship with Brenda (Nini Jacinto), a local hooker, and the two have their shares of ups and downs.

The official synopsis of the movie claims the focus of the movie is Harry's pledge to track down his American father an exact revenge for how he and his mother had suffered. And while this plot point was actually addressed in the course of the movie, I hardly found this to be the actual focus on things. Like many other exploitation movies of the era, the goal was to use the whole macho dancing subject as an excuse to feature a lot of weird, non-explicit sex scenes and drawn-out macho dancing performances. And believe me, macho dancing is nothing like the entertainment numbers presented in US movies like Magic Mike.

What we have instead is this dark, often depressing story broken up by strange stage performances and little sex romps involving Harry and his girlfriend Nini. And let's take a moment to take that in - Harry is a hooker with a hooker girlfriend, a hooker best friend and is also the son of a prostitute. Man, that's laying it on a little thick, don't you think? I'm not sure where the whole American abuse angle came from and why it was necessary to the rest of the movie other than a forced attempt to make things somehow more serious - and that was as just about as effective as dialog in porn.

Then there's the whole sub-plot involving Mario the writer and his estranged boyfriend. This in no way moved the plot forward but instead we had to repeatedly return to it in order to see how things would turn out. And seriously, would you really decide to bring along your stripper friend with you when you go to confront your ex-boyfriend and plead to get back together?

The movie is only daring because of its efforts to depict both heterosexual and homosexual sexual relations on-screen, but that's about it. And thus you suffer through this plodding 109 minute movie and wonder what the writer was smoking when he came up with this "story".

Burlesk King is not the sort of movie that will bolster your support for local movies. It's both pretentious and shallow with no viable plot and some pretty cheesy acting. It might have sold more if it just embraced it's softcore porn nature and ran with it. Thus the movie only gets 1 on-stage shower scene performance out of a possible 5.

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