Movie Review: Fun, Trashy Sin Island Just Wants to Get Your Blood Pumping

TL;DR: Sin Island may be dumb & ridiculous, but that’s only part of what makes this sexy, trashy erotic thriller so much fun.

It’s still shocking to think that Star Cinema would release Sin Island as their Valentines’ Day offering. Instead of a lighthearted romantic comedy, they decided to bankroll on something darker & sexier; it’s their first sexually charged movie since Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (The Man in Selya’s Life) released in 1997. While we could only theorize the reasons behind this move as either influenced by the success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, an act of commendable risk-taking, losing out on a bad bet, or something else entirely, this is a laudable effort that doesn’t prepare you to how trashy it’s going to be.

David (Xian Lim) is a passionate photographer who found success shooting magazine covers & weddings. He’s married to a flight attendant named Kanika (Colleen Garcia), & both of them have a loving, passionate marriage. But when he’s forced to close his business due to his assistant’s mistake, he spirals toward despondency & loses his self-esteem that goes on for two years. Meanwhile, Kanika is becoming more attracted to Stephen (TJ Trinidad), one of the pilots she’s working with. It’s obvious that Stephen feels the same way, but it’s only physical & she never crosses the line; even if her best friend goads her about it. David figures this out & they have a huge fight. At the request of his friend, he decides to go on an exclusive resort on Sinilaban Island; or Sin Island as it’s also called. That’s where he meets Tasha (Natalie Hart), a broken-hearted swimsuit designer who decided to take a break when her husband cheated on her. Both of them had an awkward start, but once they slowly get to know each other, it sets off a series of events that will endanger his current marriage, & their lives.

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Let’s circle back to the inciting incident that caused David to ruin his life. His assistant carelessly put a bag containing all of their SD cards they used for the wedding beside the fountain, which was subsequently kicked by a kid into the water while the assistant was taking a picture. They couldn’t recover any of the images in the SD cards. The client sued them for ₱ 10 million. His brother, who’s also a lawyer, tells him he has no choice but to take the deal. The incident caused him to lose all of his clients, compelling him to close his business.

The movie asks us to believe that a man like David, who runs a successful wedding photography service, did not have any emergency contingencies just in case something like this would happen. It also asks us to believe that his supposedly skilled brother couldn’t find a way to retaliate against the couple or lessen its impact on the business. Finally, it also thinks that this sole incident will cause David to lose his clients. This is just a taste of how unbelievably stupid this whole movie is going to be. It has lots of moments where people are acting like incompetent idiots so the movie can reach its next plot point, or the supporting characters encouraging the leads’ bad behavior & castigating them for following their advice to create conflict without probing the reasons behind it. It also embraces toxic monogamy culture in the way it explores a spouse’s attraction to people who aren’t their partners & the jealousy that results from it without examining the behavior nor its effects on a relationship.

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That’s fine, since it’s the furthest thing from the movie’s mind; & the only thing it has on its mind is a pulsating id. Star Cinema & director Gino M. Santos made a melodrama focused on infidelity with flashes of camp that turns into a trashy erotic thriller, that feeds on our insatiable desire to watch conventionally attractive people with gorgeously toned bodies to fight & fuck each other out of love – often in ridiculous ways – with the high production values that’s expected from the studio. It’s a very racy film oozing with sex, violence & style, presenting it without any shame, & maximized to titillate audiences without going over the R-16 rating; which include the torrid sex scenes that spreads the pleasure & objectification to both sexes & a “cheat day” discussion with Stephen that ends with him eating a mussel while Kanika & him exchange sordid looks as David realizes what is happening. While it focuses solely on the internal struggles of David & Kanika’s marriage without blaming it on their sex life, it’s not above embracing the tropes of the genre; which are often problematic & clichéd. That’s only part of the charm, since the movie dives headfirst into it with gleeful relish.

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You can even see it from everyone in the cast. Xian Lim may be lackluster when he deals with David’s downward spiral, but he works best when he’s embracing the movie’s sleazy tone. Colleen Garcia reveals the depth of Kanika’s sadness & disappointment to David, & she gets a chance to join in the movie’s shenanigans too. But the center of the movie’s jagged, seedy heart is, well, Nathalie Hart. She is funny, charismatic, & sexy, using her charm to hide her cunning, nutty self. She will try her best to hide it, but once the facade drops, she will snarl, seduce, or strike anyone if it will help her get what she wants.

But what elevates this to something special are the stylish visuals shot by Mycko David & the spot-on production design by Aimi Geraldine R. Gamboa. The sets switch from extravagant to intimate without toning down the movie’s excesses. Mycko David spruces it up with low-key cinematography that relies on fewer light sources that often cast shadows on the actors’ faces, or backlighting the actors to turn them into silhouettes, creating a sense of mystery & danger that boils under the surface until it explodes in the third act. He also captures every knowing look, sensuous touch & deep moan within the constraints of its movie rating. It just emphasizes how much of the movie’s pleasure are skin-deep, which is fitting for a movie filled with naked bodies. While there are trashier movies out there, that doesn’t make this any less fun. It’s completely upfront to what it is & executes it with such style, it’s hard to resent it. It only wants to please your primal instincts, & if you give it a chance, there’s a chance you couldn’t resist its charms.

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Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: AWOL is a Humdrum Actioner with a Rotten Core

 

TL;DR: AWOL filters Duterte’s Drug War into a tale of state-sponsored vigilantism that’s not only morally irresponsible, but boring.

Lt. Abel Ibarra (Gerald Anderson) is the leader of an elite sniper squad, highly respected & easily befriended by his peers. He takes one final mission – hunting down a terrorist leader – before he settles in the city to teach in military school, so he can be closer to his family. They succeed, but it has bigger ramifications than they thought when a bomb snuck inside a lechon (roast pig) kills of his teammates & their families. Abel & his family are taken into a protection program, while the police investigates the crime. However, Abel thinks the investigation isn’t proceeding quickly as he wanted to, so he decides to ignore his superior’s orders & undergo an absence without leave, hunting down the people who are trying to kill him & his family.


Men, and it’s almost always a man, out to deliver justice on their own due to the failures of a flawed criminal justice system are a common trope in action movies. AWOL goes into familiar territory, with Abel picking off his enemies one by one with efficiency. What makes it different is it cribs details from the current War on Drugs launched by President Rodrigo Duterte, and tweaking it to suit its own needs. Abel fights back as a vigilante in order to keep his family safe. His final mission involves a terrorist who has ties to a powerful man whose son is a drug-addled convicted rapist; because of course he is. His superior is initially hesitant to support him, but after Abel convinces him by underlining the danger his family is in, he not only hides Abel’s actions from the police, but gives gives him intel on his assailants.

It would be fine if the movie examines Abel’s actions & its roots, but the movie is more focused on delivering the thrills. Make no mistake: this is an escapist fantasy, where one man serves out justice to his enemies by killing them, sometimes slowly, since the government is mired with incompetence & red tape to do its job effectively. It’s not interested in probing Abel’s impulses nor the military’s complicity in supporting Abel, since the movie doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his actions; even if at one point he tortures one of the people who attempted to kill him when that man is so badly injured he couldn’t fight back.  Despite Abel’s horrifying actions, it distills a morally complex tale to a simple, glorified revenge tale.


This aspect even seeps its way on the action sequences. In the movie’s point of view, Lt. Abel Ibarra is a skilled “good” guy, while the rest are fodder for his bullets; his name is Abel Ibarra for crying out loud. We know because he’s the movie’s moral center & he can barrel through enemies with few struggles. The movie’s utter belief on its lead & his morals sucks any tension inherent in the premise.

This could’ve been a minor issue if the action scenes are enjoyable, but it also fails on that front. While the movie is buoyed with great production values & crisp night lighting, the action scenes are a bland, point & shoot affair. There’s nothing slick nor inventive about the action. It takes the shaky-cam approach, but without the imagination to make it work.

The cast couldn’t even make the characters seem more like cardboard cutouts, but that’s mostly the failure of a limp script. Gerald Anderson does his impression of a scorned vigilante & it never feels authentic. He’s better when he’s bonding with his wife & child, but that part is barely in the movie. The rest of the cast barely make an impression, doing their best to make their roles more substantial but failing to do so.

However, the best thing about the movie is its brief runtime. If you’re going to spend less time with this movie, the better. There’s always been an authoritarian bent to vengeance films, but by cherry-picking the grim realities of the Philippines’ current drug war & reflecting it back at us for our entertainment, it ignores its own political context & simplifies an ongoing problem in the Philippines & Duterte’s response to it in until nothing substantial is left. It’s irresponsible, & it’s done in service of an action movie that doesn’t deliver on the cheap thrills.