Similar to the widely exported “Macho Dancer” and other tsk-tsking studies of Manila’s more lurid side, helmer-scenarist Jose Javier Reyes’ “Toro” treats its sex worker theme with a heavy-handed seriousness while simultaneously milking exploitable aspects to the max. Though controversial on home turf (director’s cut screened at S.F. Asian Fest is banned from Philippines commercial venues), familiar, eventually monotonous mix of titillation and moralizing is unlikely to travel far abroad.
Title refs private live sex shows on which hunksome protag Rollie (Paolo Rivero) earns his daily bread in addition to club stripping and gay/straight hustling. Less degrading jobs are hard to come by, and his prostie mom is dying of cancer. Subplots include one co-worker’s yearning to reunite with the son she surrendered for adoption, a young couple forced back into hooking, and various others’ mostly vain efforts to emigrate out of impoverished slum circumstances. Rollie’s repetitious direct camera statements of no hope resignation create a dirgelike mood, making incident-packed narrative seem episodic and plodding. Nudity is plentiful; “toro” scenes are sometimes unintentionally funny in their team sex acrobatics, with actors invariably sporting oh-the-shame looks midboff. Beyond a couple of shrill exceptions, perfs are decent, lensing crisp.