Social realism and slow-burn suspense combine to create solid if rather familiar results in "Amok."

Social realism and slow-burn suspense combine to create solid if rather familiar results in “Amok.” A multistrand criss-crosser about strangers connected by an act of violence on a sweltering day, this drama by Filipino helmer Lawrence Fajardo creates vivid snapshots of Manila street life but loses impact with unsubtle speechmaking in the tragedy’s aftermath. A decent addition to the steady stream of Filipino low-budget pics dealing with harsh urban reality, pic should enjoy a respectable fest life and stake some claims as a specialty smallscreen item. Local release details are pending.

Edsa-Pasay Rotonda, a massive intersection on the outskirts of Manila with crowded sidewalks, pedestrian bridges and an elevated railway track, is instantly fascinating. One of the city’s busiest hubs, it comes alive as a kind of tentacled creature playing host to shifting masses of humanity.

The pic intros a multitude of characters with short and snappy sketches. First seen is Belen (Patricia Ismael), a food vendor who keeps one eye on her grilled meats and the other on young daughter Mai-Mai (Akira Sapla). Waiting for a bus is Manuel (Nonie Buencamino), father of Samuel (Xavi Hemady), a young pro basketball hopeful. Stuck in traffic is impatient driver Tinoy (Archi Adamos), brother of rich lady Melinda (Lui Manansala). One of the few interior locations is the rundown apartment of Rogelio (Mark Gil), an aging actor whose transaction with hooker Claire (Ivy Rivera) has ended in a furious argument.

John Bedia’s tightly constructed screenplay imparts just enough information about each character before moving on to the next. Result is an intriguing mosaic of ordinary people simply trying to get through the day, and others with much darker agendas. Among those are Sarge (Efren Reyes Jr.), a goon working for shady property developers who has paid elderly woman Lola (Ermie Concepcion) to set fire to a squatter settlement. Most menacing is Edwin (Garry Lim), a mohawk-sporting, short-tempered pool-hustler whose confrontation with market-stall holder Dido (Dido Dela Paz) triggers the sudden explosion of violence.

The carefully arranged and convincingly performed multilayered scenario is absorbing, but the film’s climactic moment doesn’t quite deliver the cathartic payoff it promises. Auds surely will be affected, but the overall impact is undercut by some poorly staged TV news footage in which characters’ reactions sound more like press releases about social injustice than the voices of those deeply hurt.

Lenser Louie Quirino’s steady camera and striking compositions are a refreshing change from the faux-docu shaky-cam technique that’s become such a visual cliche in stories such as this. Production values and technical work are impressive on a lean budget.

Amok

Philippines

Production

A Cinemalaya, Pelikulaw presentation of a Pelikulaw production. (International sales: Pelikulaw, Quezon City, Philippines.) Produced by Tessa Aquino, Lawrence Fajardo. Executive producer, Krisma M. Fajardo. Co-producers, Josabeth Alonso, Maria Suzette Ranillo. Directed, edited by Lawrence Fajardo. Screenplay, John Bedia.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Louie Quirino; music, Von de Guzman; production designer, Fajardo; sound (stereo), Mike Idioma, Addis B. Tabong; assistant director, Jobin Ballesteros; second unit camera, Maisa Demetillo. Reviewed at Busan Film Festival (A Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 12, 2011. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Mark Gil, Dido Dela Paz, Garry Lim, Archi Adamos, Lui Manansala, Efren Reyes Jr., Patricia Ismael, Acey Aguilar, Nonie Buencamino, Ermie Concepcion, Akira Sapla, Xavi Hemady. (Tagalog, English dialogue)

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