Monday, June 2, 2008

Feng Shui: Slick Discourse on Destiny and Avarice

Feng Shui: Slick Discourse on Destiny and Avarice

Eileen Legaspi-Ramirez

No apologies are forthcoming for the palpably haphazard fusing of exoticized Chinese iconography and streetfolk superstition that frames Chito Roño’s ghoulish sub-urban tale, Feng Shui. In this filmic take on fate and greed set against the spectra of the mystic and the banal, Roño presumably resorts to hybridization to underscore the fact that no one paradigm governs how agency and subjectification come to tentative resolutions.

The screenplay by Roño and Mano Po writer Roy Iglesias places the bag-ua or bagwa squarely in the center of a series of givings and takings to drive home the notion that both crises and windfalls are mere realignments of power and resource. By employing this literally reflective device alongside Chinese lunar calendar icons to propel its storyline, Feng Shui’s creators pointedly implicate the voyeuristic gaze in the working out of personal plight. One looks and one accounts for looking. And since there is the matter of imposing chronology to the requisite morbidity this genre serves up, that is where filmic character birthdates come into play.

Feng Shui’s bagwa showers material and non-material come-uppance on its owner much like a genie-in-a-bottle affords three wishes to its clichéd master-finder. In this case, the battle-worn bagwa comes with its own caveats and this expectedly involves its owner’s belated but requisite taking stock of accompanying cataclysms. As text, the film’s premise interestingly brings forth nagging questions: of why the bagwa only kills reflected entities, thus effectively sparing the oblivious or passive who are implicitly rendered innocent; of how possession hedges against adversity; and how staking territorial limits paradoxically courts intrusion.

In the film, a young couple (Kris Aquino and Jay Manalo) begin living the Filipino middle-class dream--of moving into their own (usually sacrificially mortgaged) single-detached (ergo non-row) house in a gated, metropolitan suburb away from the panoptic sphere of overbearing in-laws and uber-congested city sensibilities. It is to this heavy-handedly production-designed suburbian paradise that Joy Ramirez (Aquino) comes home to after finding a bagwa tucked between the seats of a passenger bus. With this passing on of fortunes from one unwitting sojourner to another, Feng Shui sets up its narrative, hinting at how fate takes a meandering course across thought-to-be guarded, private biographies and imagined personalized space.

Like other tomes imbibed with the push and pull of power fetishes (Lord of the Rings, Spiderman, and a whole slew of animated productions based on personally tormented hero-centric stories), Feng Shui plays up the idea that acquisition comes twin-billed with corruption, a gnawing away of one’s soul and insensitivity toward reality outside the self; where personal gain comes with the loss of others; where economies are intricately woven through by relationships; and wealth is reallocated through dramatized flourishes and liquidations.

In the case of Feng Shui, the film unequivocally rides upon the fusion of two currently en vogue cinematic trends: that is, technically polished macabre serials perfunctorily given an Asian/orientalist-metaphysical spin. And while it is this filmic dalliance with chinoiserie punctuated by episodic accounts of self-inflicted tragedy that immediately invites charges of creative plundering of box-office wonders Ringu and The Sixth Sense, among others, we submit that other pertinent issues warrant discourse.

Briefly, we point to Feng Shui’s take on the dynamics of fate independent of knowledge. Perhaps inadvertently but decidedly nonetheless, the film posits an unproblematized, patently reactionary strain upholding the idea of personal redemption devoid of struggle. For even as Feng Shui attempts to locate the familial quest for an easier life within the real--pinched dual-income households, multilevel marketing schemes feeding-off quiet acts of desperation, the palatability of cure-alls and palliatives--the film still much too readily slips into escapist, fatalistic accountings of success. In the end, Feng Shui still comes across as a woven narrative of quick fixes, where flippant references to ”asenso” and “malas” are lightly tossed around and where the great Filipino dream remains a caricaturized Batangas resthouse or a mansion in Alabang—all considerations for macro socio-economic real politik and collective reckoning nothwithstanding.

Despite Feng Shui’s unarguable technical accomplishments (pulled off by Albert Idioma for sound engineering, Vito Cajili for editing and Neil Daza for photography), the film delivers backhanded jokes to its audiences: over and above the predictably comically morose performances delivered by its leads, Feng Shui’s noontime-gameshow rhetoric plays up chance and happenstance as the only viable avenues for financial and emotional respite. To the weary, overworked, stereotypically victimized Filipino, this film continues to serve up such continually perpetuated myths: that on this side of cinema paradiso the cards are always fairly dealt, and the divine always trumps the trite.


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