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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Jun 12, 2013

Dance Of The Steel Bars Movie Review: A Crowdpleasing Prison Movie About The Cebu Dancing Inmates

WE SAW the premiere night of GMA Films’ “Dance of the Steel Bars” at SM Megamall on Monday night and we’re not surprised Directors Cesar Apolinario and Marnie Manicad got lots of congratulatory greetings after the screening as the film is really worth watching. Dingdong Dantes delivers a solid performance as Mando, a dance instructor who gets imprisoned for frustrated homicide after he hits a gay dancer who took a pass on him and the gay hit his head on the wall.

Filmed inside the Cebu detention and rehabilitation center that got famous for the Cebu Dancing Inmates whose dance performances were a big hit on Youtube, the directors were able to weave a pretty engaging drama story about how all the dancing started. The main conflict is provided by the two villains in the movie: Gabe Mercado as the deputy warden who orders the killing of the present warden (Roy Alvarez) and his chief henchman, Thou Reyes. Gabe expects that he’ll be appointed as the new warden but an outsider was the one is tasked to takes over, Ricky Davao.

Ricky wants to institute reforms in the corrupt prison complex and one of them is to give the inmates a physical fitness program through dancing. He appoints a gay inmate to lead this, Joey Paras, who is eventually aided by Dingdong. But the villains try to thwart all his good intentions all the time.

The whole story is told from the point of Frank (Patrick Bergin), a retired fireman from the U.S. who gets married to a Filipina. He’s a basic do gooder but when he tries to help a teenager stabbed by a gang of thugs, he gets accused of murder instead and ends up in prison. He becomes callous and jaded and is no longer interested in helping others.

Eventually, he relents. He finds a lawyer to help free a female prisoner (Kathleen Hermosa), a nurse who’s wrongly imprisoned because she refused giving sexual favors to a doctor in the hospital she used to work for. The film’s valid message is that even if life doesn’t treat you well and some people become mean and cruel, you should continue to do good because there’s Divine Justice that will eventually make things right again.

The whole cast delivers very fine performances: from Mercado and Reyes as the scheming villains, Mon Confiado as the prison doormat who falls in love with Kathleen, Joey Paras as the gay who pretends to his foreigner penpal that he’s really a girl (and gets promptly rejected when they meet face to face), Bergin as the narrator who cannot totally forsake his heart of gold, and of course, Dingdong Dantes who gets a big round of applause in his breakdown scene in the bathroom after he learns that his father died while he is in jail. You can see they filmed it on a limited budget, but still, the direction is generally superior and technical credits are quite above average. They made the film a crowdpleaser, not only with the dance sequences but with the way the bad guys subsequently got the comeuppance that they do deserve.

This is really a prison movie with a lot of heart. Presented with English subtitles, we have no doubt this can easily be marketed abroad. But we think it would have been a bigger come on if they started right away with a production number showing the dancing inmates to open the movie, and then Frank as narrator tells the audience how it originated. Then the movie ends again with another big dance number, since it’s really the dancing of the Cebu inmates that inspired the production of this movie. That would have been the most rousing manner that they could have started and concluded the film.