24 Dec Ice Cream Hallucinations and Cannibalism
An Informal Comparative Analysis of the Two Temptation Island Films
By Ivan Khalil L. Descartin
In the same year that the cult classic “The Blue Lagoon” and the pseudo-snuff film “Cannibal Holocaust”, two films that also deal with being cast away from civilization (though the latter is definitely way more than that), were released, “Temptation Island” has also made its way into movie theaters with a kind of scenario that pits a group of socialites against each other in a Darwinian struggle for survival. Like Luis Bunuel’s “The Exterminating Angel” but with an infinitely higher degree of camp, “Temptation Island”, the 1980 version that is, proves just how playful Filipino films during that time can be in terms of dialogue, character development, and unexpected profundity. Case in point: the gay character named Joshua, the passive-aggressive nuisance-turned-rubbery lunch, and his one-liners, complete with Jonas Sebastian’s (the actor who portrayed him) effectively deadpan delivery.
On the surface, the film, what with its sudden detours into dialogues that seem too flowery and unreal to be taken seriously, may seem overwrought. “That’s not how real people talk,” a two-cent smartass may butt in. “Even characters in novels don’t talk in long sentences like that,” another one may add. On the contrary, the film’s screenplay, written by Toto Belano, is something that we can be proud of in terms of what our ever-mercurial local cinema can offer. After all, films are not necessarily meant to mirror reality, and if ever situations call for that, there will always be Lino Brocka and Brillante Mendoza’s films for that particular diet of truth. In the meantime, though, we will focus on “Temptation Island”, a film that I do not necessarily love or even like that much, but nonetheless has a special place in my heart. Why? Simply because it’s a film, as far as Philippine cinema is concerned, that has challenged thematic conventions in a time where pedestrian melodramas are on full swing. Well, there’s Ishmael Bernal’s playfully-written “Salawahan”, a film that, like “Temptation Island”, was also given the remake treatment just recently in the form of Chris Martinez’s ‘”Status: It’s Complicated”, but there’s little to no doubt that this film has pushed campiness to new heights in a manner that’s very new to the eyes of the Filipino public during the time, has proven that social satires can also be fun, and that sometimes, films are just meant to be done only once. With its satirical mood, very ’80s dialogue, and sly sense of humor, the film just cannot be easily replicated. And in that regard, the 2011 “Temptation Island” remake failed in the same way Gus Van Sant’s 1998 version of Hitchcock’s “Psycho” did. Sure, in many ways, both remakes have been pretty faithful to the original films, but both have also committed a cardinal sin of retelling them with little to no change both in execution and in the script, which just furthers the fact that remakes are just as unnecessary as our body’s appendix. And isn’t it quite a funny fact that Chris Martinez was also the one who helmed “Temptation Island”? Clue: He did better with the “Salawahan” remake.
Now, performance-wise, the remake relatively fares better in terms of energy, as it has a more talented cast that was able to take on the film’s comic vibe more effortlessly compared to the original. Marian Rivera, for example, seems to be very at ease with her comic turn, which is not a surprise, mind you, as she has been dubbed as this generation’s Maricel Soriano for quite a number of times already.
John Lapus, taking over the reins from Jonas Sebastian as Joshua, is not in any way a revelation in this film but still was able to steal every scene he’s in. Even Aljur Abrenica, whose favorite actress may just be Kristen Stewart and has an acting range of a rocking chair, has no choice but to join in on the rest of the cast’s oozing energy. In short, all of them are so into cracking one-liners and what have you that “Temptation Island”, the remake that is, seems to be less about the weighty deadpan humor that made the original so appealing and one-of-a-kind and more about the noisy yet empty comedy of today. It also doesn’t help that the actresses that were cast in this remake (Marian Rivera, Lovi Poe, Solenn Heussaff and Heart Evangelista) have not been part of any beauty contest, unlike in the 1980 film where the majority of the actresses used were former beauty queens (Azenith Briones, Jennifer Cortez, Bambi Arambulo, and Dina Bonnevie). This fact has of course helped the original big time because the cast, even without the director’s guide, are already on the proper mindset, as the film is about these bitter beauty pageant rivals and how their indefinite stay on an island has magnified this bitterness even more. And is it just me, or is Rufa Mae Quinto, playing the ‘alalay’ character initially portrayed by Deborah Sun in the original, could have easily played either one of the main characters? There’s a part of me which thinks that Ms. Quinto is somehow 5 to 6 years too late for this film, as she is quite miscast in her role. Pokwang would have been a better fit.
I have mentioned in my blog before about how the remake’s dream/hallucination sequence, which sees all the main characters hugging and semi-gyrating a bunch of big-ass Styrofoam ice creams and roasted chickens obviously because they’re hungry as pork, has highlighted Marian Rivera and company’s modeling prowess and nothing more, which has watered-down the utter bizarreness of the scene that has made the one in the original relatively unforgettable. Indeed, perhaps we’re looking at an infinitely more glamorous version, because the scene’s attempt for humor is heavily reliant not on the strangeness of the situation but on the poses and the funny faces that the actresses make. I’m not saying that the original “Temptation Island” is very deep in its humor or anything, but the remake seems to have favored superficial humor so much that the underlying social commentary of the material was nowhere to be seen or felt. This island that I used to know is just not the same anymore, I guess.
In addition, there also seems to be little to no shock factor on how Joshua was reduced into a finely-roasted delicacy in the remake, perhaps because the film is just so loud in its humor all throughout that having something as ‘out of left field’ as cannibalism is not much anymore a surprise but more of a flimsy punchline.
On the other hand, the original was established so ambivalently, genre-wise, that finally seeing a bunch of once-handsome men and women chomping on their former friend near the end of the film will really send chills down your spine quite a bit, but will still leave a deliciously awkward grin on your face. I hope I can say the same for this remake, which has executed the scene in a way that may just elicit cheap laughs among the viewers in much the same way a debater may use ad hominem arguments to shut down his/her opponent, but I just can’t. And making the characters eat Joshua to the tune of “Habang May Buhay” is just too gimmicky, to say the least. But then again, who am I to judge Chris Martinez’s creative decisions? He is, after all, quite initiated already with the art of satirizing beauty pungents, err, pageants, with Jeffrey Jeturian’s film “Bikini Open”, which he has written, as withstanding proof.
But needless to say, the remake is still quite unnecessary because Joey Gosiengfiao, the director of the original, has already nailed it the first time around. The 1980 film is in no way a serious work of art, but still, would you try and repaint Mona Lisa in the hopes of actually topping Da Vinci’s artistic precision? The only thing that the remake has done, I think, was to put a very Dadaist mustache to La Gioconda’s upper lip.