Words by Richmond Uy
As a kid I used to be completely turned off from watching filipino movies, as they were mainly made up of cheesy romantic comedies that have very low budgets, and absurd storyline and conflicts that borderline on soap operas. Of course there was the exceptions of well made horror movies (or the majority of bad ones that were just as corny as the romantic comedies), but these were the majority of films that I were exposed to me and a lot of other filipinos in my generation. Nowadays, there has been a reinvigoration of filipino movies in recent years to pursue and explore more substantive themes and topics in movies such as Norte The End of History exploring morality and justice, and Dark Is The Night which displays the intense political climate of Duterte’s war on drugs. Now we have 2017's Respeto, a film about the underground rap music scene in The Philippines.
Respeto stars Abra as Hendrix, a young kid who just wants to build his reputation as a notable rapper and gain respect amongst the greats in an underground rap ring. During the film, the rapper and his friends, Betchai played by Chai Fonacier and Payaso played by Silvester Bagadiong, get into trouble when they rob a library owned by Doc played by Dido De La Paz. In order to pay back Doc for the damages, the group has to help clean up and repair the shop. Along the way, the main character learns about Doc’s life as a veteran poet during the Marcos regime, and a lot of the similar issues they face. Respeto uses the underground rap scene in the Philippines as a background to explore a coming of age story that deals with issues such as police brutality, sexual assault and generational trauma.
Ultimately, the film explores this theme of cycles of violence, powerlessness in the face of great injustice, and the struggle for respect and who we should accept it from. This is deeply explored through Hendrix’s relationship with Doc. In this relationship, he learns to find value in introspective poems that explore his place as a young person in the Philippines. In the beginning, he never really explored these themes. Initially, he was just rapping about arbitrary and low brow insults, but after meeting Doc and experiencing police brutality up front, his rhymes change. His change is punctuated after the major events in the movies, where a voiceover of him is showcased, where he’s speaking about his feelings of what has happened in the form of a poem. This really helps the audience get into the psychology of the main character as it develops throughout the movie. In a crucial point of the movie Hendrix talks about the frustration of feeling powerless when he saw a person he valued was being taken advantage of. Doc tries to speak on his experience when he shares a similar instance of how a similar event had happened to his family while he was restricted by government soldiers. Without spoiling the movie, the ends of both Doc and Hendrix’s stories end in brutal outcomes which represent this cycle of violence. It’s a very subversive relationship that is emotionally potent and has draws interesting parallels which help emphasize the poor conditions that each have experienced due to the systems that have caused them trauma.
Filmmaking wise, this movie is pretty great. For a while, I used to really not like how the Philippines was filmed, because it usually felt dishonest. Being in the Philippines, I would think about how different Philippines is portrayed differently in films, missing a lot of the noise, abundance of people, and the grimy aspects of the areas (mainly because they were filmed on set or in rich neighbourhoods), even the warmth of the location. However in this movie, I felt as if this was all accurately depicted, from their choice of colour grading, opting for a warmer orange tint, and showing every aspect of the Philippines, especially with how the community is, like how the kids act and how family act. There’s also some intense sound design choices and beautiful cinematography that get reincorporated in appropriate places of the film, rarely non-diegetic noises, and only using it when they are highlighting emotionally intense moments. The film decides to use certain visual techniques like slow motion and surrealistic imagery in moments that are appropriate, but never shies away from filming the realistic conditions that our characters are to live in. Not only visually does the movie look great, but so does the soundtrack and the rhymes used in the movie. This movie really displayed how amazing filipino rapping is, and more importantly how beautiful filipino poetry is.
This film does a great job at addressing the relationship and similarities of the older and younger generation’s struggle. It is a refreshing piece of filipino cinema that needs to be talked about, and iRESPETO ang pelikula ito (this movie deserves respect).
I give it a light 8 to decent 9