Review: Chito Roño's BOY GOLDEN Is A Bizarre Actioner That Bursts With Charm And Identity

Chito Roño's Boy Golden, the third of actor-turned-politician Jeorge "E.R. Ejercito" Estregan's yearly vanity projects, is a surprisingly offbeat actioner. A fictionalized take on the life of 1960's gang leader Arturo Porcuna, the film transforms Manila into a stage where upscale criminals dance to Elvis Presley's hits while gunning down rivals. The city, reeking of the country's infatuation with anything and everything American, has streets lined with the popping neon signs of various diners, hotels, and burlesque clubs that hide the stench of many opium dens, gambling halls, and bordellos that serve as cash cows for the metropolis' many gangs.

Estregan's Arturo Porcuna is sleek and sophisticated. Although driven to bloodlust by the need to avenge the rape and murder of his sister, he does not neglect style when committing his many murders. In the film's opening, he performs a boogie right before he massacres an entire bar full of tuxedoed thugs. He is not without a sense of humor, cracking jokes while torturing his prisoner for answers or sending his muscle-bound lackeys to sing Presley's "Hound Dog" barbershop style in front of battle-ready police officers. Much like the glitzy Manila that Roño meticulously recreated from a mixture of history and high imagination, his criminals, headlined by Porcuna, hide their illicit activities with glamour and high fashion.

Porcuna's morality is thankfully not an issue. Roño, and screenwriters Guelan Luarca and Catherine Camarillo, has crafted a world of organized lowlifes whose only redeeming factor is honor and loyalty. Even Razon (John Estrada), who controls much of Manila's criminal world and has masterminded the rape and murder of Porcuna's sister, is bound by honor, repaying the turncoats who betrayed Porcuna in favor of him with death instead of the promised monetary rewards. Boy Golden, like the dynamic Hong Kong triad films it borrows from, is shrouded in lawlessness and violence, humanized by a persisting acknowledgment of the virtues of dignity and fealty.

Freed from unnecessarily being depicted as a valorous hero, as opposed to Asiong Salonga of Tikoy Aguiluz's Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (2011) or Emilio Aguinaldo of Mark Meily's El Presidente (2012), all of whom are shady characters from history forced to suspicious heroism for Estregan's political aspirations, Porcuna is depicted without the burden of being anything other than what he is, a common criminal. He talks of carnapping without regard to the law, tortures without flinching, and kills without remorse. Estregan inhabits the role with still a ton of vanity but at least absent the self-seriousness and self-importance that plagued his recent performances. Alongside KC Concepcion, who portrays Porcuna's vengeful love interest Marla D., with an astounding physicality and apt histrionics, Estregan rounds up the charismatic grotesquerie that makes Boy Golden such an enthralling spectacle.

Boy Golden is unabashed in its blatant pageantry. From Datu Putla (Baron Geisler), Razon's powder-faced sergeant, to Mr. Ho (Leo Martinez), a Chinese briber who predictably speaks in broken English while garbed in a traditional Chinese outfit, the film's characters, borne from a wild marriage between actual ingenuity and reprehensible stereotype, are but bizarre facades of the corruption they feed from. Draped in otherworldly reds, yellows, purples, and blues by cinematographer Carlo Mendoza, the film has a feel of being set in an alternate universe where commonplace logic is replaceable with mood and energy. Boy Golden may not be the most coherent film, but it is bursting with charm and identity, a feat that justly deserves recognition especially today when most action films are unfortunately made with less verve and just more starpower.

(Cross-published in Lessons from the School of Inattention.)
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