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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.

Aug 11, 2017

Respeto Movie Review: Very Dark Story Of A Young Man Trapped In A Hellish Place Where There Is No Redemption

RESPETO could have been the story of the usual underdog kid who is befriended and gets trained by an older mentor, just like in the “Karate Kid” movies or, Yoda and Luke Skywalker in "Star Wars", or Sean Connery and Rob Brown in “Finding Forrester”. But no, it chooses to be different and everyone ends up still a loser.

Set in a shantytown in Pandacan that is being threatened with demolition, the story is about a young man, Hendrix (rapper Abra, whose full name is Raymond Abracosa). He was orphaned at an early age and lives with his loser of a sluttish sister and her drug-trafficking partner, Mando, who, in turn, makes Hendrix a drug dealer himself.

Hendrix is a would be rapper who wants to join the underground rap contest in their neighborhood. The first time he joins, he uses the money of Mando from drug dealing and ends up losing when his opponent, a fat woman, scares him so much he ends pissing on his pants, making him the butt of everyone’s jokes.

To pay back Mando, he and his friends try to rob the second hand book store of an old man, Doc (Dido de la Paz), who is being pressured by his cop son (Nor Domingo) to sell their old house. They get caught and the cops force them to help Doc do repairs on his damaged bookshop.

You know at once that this will be the start of the friendship between Hendrix and Doc, a former makata or poet who was tortured by soldiers during martial law, with his wife ruthlessly abused and raped. His wife later killed herself and memories of his brutal experiences would haunt him every now and then.

Hendrix finds Doc’s poems and loves them. He tries to incorporate them into his rapping, but Doc discovers it and reprimands him for lacking originality. There’s an attempt to compare rapping with the local verses in a Balagtasan with local makatas, but it didn’t really go anywhere, just like the jabs on Duterte, Marcos’ burial in the Libingan ng mga Bayani, and the current war on drugs.

If you’d think the film is anything like autobiographical white rapper Eminem’s “8 Mile” or that big Hollywood hit about the real life gangsta rap group of Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, “Straight Outta Compton”, who succeeded in leaving their miserable lives in Compton, California to become rich and famous rappers, you’d have another think coming. The characters here never succeed in escaping from impoverished Pandacan in triumph. Far from being inspirational, it’s actually quite depressing as there is no redemption at all for the characters, with many of them, like Hendrix’ relatives and friends, ending up as corpses, all victims of violence.

There is an attempt to give Hendrix a love interest when he gets enamoured with a slut in a whorehouse, but this, too, ends in disaster when he sees his rival rappers lining up in violating her. But the ending is quite logical, what with all the violence and injustice surrounding him, how else would you expect Hendrix to react? The film is resolved in a very violent scene where you realize that the place where they live is really hell on earth where there is no salvation for the inhabitants who are trapped and lead dead end lives.

If you love films that carry such valid but very dark messages, then “Respeto” is for you. It’s the full length film debut of music video director Alberto “Treb” Monteras and it has good technical credits, particularly the beautifully textured cinematography that captures the grit and sordidness of its dark milieu, plus competent acting from hip-hop artist Abra, Dido de la Paz, and all the supporting players led by Chai Fonacier and Sylvester as Abra’s friends, including the rappers featured who are all the opposite of good looking. This makes Abra stand out as the only rapper who’s fairly handsome. We find “Respeto” quite uneven, but still, it’s much better compared to the other entries in this year’s disappointing harvest in the Cinemalaya (where there are so many directors na hindi marunong magdirek you’d wonder what happened to the screening committee who gave the green light to their projects).