Category Archives: Crime fiction and film from the Philippines

MIFF 2013 progress report #1: Manila in the Claws of Light & Monsoon Shootout

ManilaA couple of weeks ago I posted on the films I was planning to check out as part of the Melbourne International Festival. Yesterday I ticked off my first two choices, the Indian noir Monsoon Shootout and Manila in the Claws of Light.

First up, Manila in the Claws of Light (or as it is otherwise known as, The Nail of Brightness). This 1975 film is considered one of the classics of Philippines cinema. I’d heard a lot about and I wasn’t disappointed.

Julio (Bembol Rocco) is a young man who leaves his idyllic life in a small rural fishing town and travels to Manila to find his childhood sweetheart, Ligaya (Hilda Koronel), who has been trafficked into the city’s sex trade. Finding himself flat broke after he is mugged and all his money is stolen, he has no choice but to take a job working on a high-rise construction site.

The conditions are brutal, he sleeps in a wooden shack next to the half finished building, and workplace deaths are common. He also has to deal with the foreman, who regularly rips the workers off for a portion of their wages and sacks anyone who complains.

He eventually loses that job and ends up homeless on Manila’s streets, where he skirmishes with criminal gangs and meets a male prostitute who tries to induct him into the world of sex work.… Read more

Emperor of the North

A couple of months ago I stumbled across the existence of Melbourne-based independent movie distribution company, Bounty Films. The movie that introduced me to them was their release of the hard to get 1955 heist film, Violent Saturday.

Following on from that, Ben Hellwig, Bounty’s Acquisition Manager, was good enough to send me a few of the choice selections from their rapidly expanding catalogue, including a film I’ve been wanting to see for ages called Emperor of the North (or Emperor of the North Pole as its otherwise know).

Made in 1973, Emperor of the North has three big things going for it.

First, Robert Aldrich, who did The Dirty Dozen and one of my all time favourite film noirs, Kiss Me Deadly, directed it.

Second, it stars one of my cinematic icons, Lee Marvin.

Third, it has steam trains. Lots of them.

Emperor of the North takes place in the Pacific Northwest of the United States at the height of the great depression. Economic chaos has created an army of drifters and hoboes who roam the countryside hopping trains when they can.

Except for the number 19, watched over by a sadistic train guard known as Shack (played with eye popping intensity by Ernest Borgnine). With the aid of the large hammer he carries in his belt, Shack ensures that no one rides the number 19 for free.… Read more

Asia hands

In the early-nineties, I lived for several years in Vientiane, the sun bleached, run down capital of one of the more remote countries in Asia, Laos. One of my acquaintances in the small expatriate community was a man who’d fled Australia after being accused of embezzling money from several companies.

He spent most nights drinking with a pack of other Australians and their mostly Lao girlfriends at a bar that circled a large fountain in the city’s centre. Drunk he exhibited an air of menace; otherwise he could be entertaining company. He knew a lot about Laos. Obviously, he also had contacts in government that enabled him to stay despite being wanted back in Australia.

He was the first, but by no means last, person I met in the six years I spent in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand who could be given the title ‘Asia hand’.

The Asia hand has usually been a minor character Western crime films set in Asia, the drunken Westerner propping up the bar in some seedy hotel or proffering false information or documents. Two films that explore in more detail the themes embodied in the persona of the Asia hand are Peter Bogdanovich’s 1979 Saint Jack, based on the Paul Theroux novel of the same name, and the little known 1982 Australian thriller, Far East.… Read more