Many local films tell stories that are so predictable that you can tell in advance how they will develop—and conclude: Rich boy falls in love with poor girl, nerd yearns for lovely beauty queen who initially thinks he’s the pits, aggrieved protagonists on the righteous vengeance trial, wealthy boss ends up loving his kids’ yaya—you know the desultory drill.
So, when a Filipino film opens in mainstream cinemas that tells an unconventional story, we celebrate it for the sterling exception that it is. Such a “different” movie is Veronica Velasco’s “Tuhog,” about a bus accident that impales three strangers, “barbecue”-style who don’t know one another, but are psychically linked by the dissatisfactions and aspirations they share in their separate lives.
One of the impaled strangers is a newly retired office worker (played by Leo Martinez) who now has the chance to use his retirement bundle to achieve his boyhood dream of becoming—a baker.
The dream is so far removed for his previous interests and concerns that his wife and kids balk at supporting his “crazy” scheme—but, he forges on, just the same.
Another victim, a randy youth portrayed by Enchong Dee, dreams of losing his virginity with his girlfriend (Empress) on their relationship’s first anniversary—but, the accident happens before he can fulfill his cherished erotic and romantic fantasy.
Finally, there’s the female bus conductor, a tough, lonely and unhappy cookie ironically named “Fiesta” (Eugene Domingo). Her monumental dissatisfaction starts with her mother deserting her when she was a child, continues with her father’s alcoholism, and is further compounded by her young boyfriend’s (Jake Cuenca) deceptive ways.
All these low psychic blows conspire to convince Fiesta that she isn’t worth loving, so the weird accident could just possibly be the “best” thing that ever happened to her—or, could it?
The antic plot and its “crazy” mix of protagonists are difficult to keep in creative play, so filmmaker Velasco should be credited for pulling off the risky “juggling” act.
In addition, she enhances her storytelling with some effective “grace notes,” like the scene in which the new baker produces his first batch of burned but tasty pan de sal, and the tough bus conductress’ initial discovery of the orgasmic thrill of sex—and love .
Unfortunately, some of the juggled balls fall to earth now and then, so the film isn’t pitch-perfect. Still, it’s a relatively outstanding achievement, and should be cited more for the things in it that work, and less for its occasional sour notes.
Aside from the filmmaker, Martinez and Domingo should be singled out for their spot-on and insightful portrayals. They stand out because they do more than simply make their assigned characters come believably “alive”—they understand their assigned functions in relation to vivifying the entire movie’s themes.
Other elements we appreciate about “Tuhog” are some of its supporting portrayals, including those turned in by Noel Trinidad as Fiesta’s alcoholic father, and the baker’s card-playing buddies—crusty characters, one and all!