8/12/2012
It's more fun in (Hollywood's version of) the Philippines

I've lived in Manila all my life, and that disqualifies me from writing a review of The Bourne Legacy.

That film has attracted a hell lot of interest since they shot scenes here early this year. A little under half the film was shot here, in fact. It's impossible not to know this. You had the evening newscasts covering every shooting day like it's an event of national significance. There's footage of every arrival, warnings of possible traffic jams due to the production, and no behind-the-scenes footage whatsoever, because that'll ruin the film for everyone - as if knowing that they managed to clear the usually busy Navotas Fish Port to shoot an action scene isn't enough of a spoiler.

In fact, it's safe to say that the huge interest in the film here is because we all want to see how jeepneys figuring in a high-speed chase scene looks like. How does Manila look like through a Hollywood camera? How do our best actors look like through a Hollywood camera? Will they speak broken English for the sake of art? We're all watching for the experience of seeing Manila differently. To hell with understanding the story. To hell with all those complaints you've heard from those who've already seen it.


So, I won't write a review. (I will, however, say that Jeremy Renner's intensity lends well to the claustrophobic vibe the whole two hours has.) Instead, I will write about all that I noticed while watching the many scenes off The Bourne Legacy that is set in Manila. No, I did not get distracted like most viewers probably did - a declaration of supremacy on my part, I'll admit - but why bother writing a critique when all people want to know is whether Joel Torre did well in his supposedly minor role?

I must warn you, spoilers are ahead. One of them is about Joel Torre: his is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it part, and I only caught him because I keep on remembering Andres in 100 Days to Heaven. Besides, he is listed in the credits as "Citrus Samaritan". Anyway, the chase.

Our policemen don't speak slowly. I know the writers don't have a good grip of the Filipino language, but if they wanted to make things really realistic, they would make our cops hard to understand. They have their own lingo. But I have to give the writers credit: they do say "putang ina" a lot.

Our policemen aren't that organized.

When told that there's a foreign national who's a threat to private interests, the police would devote a lot of resources, if not all resources, to hunt that threat down. How many people exactly went to that Leveriza boarding house to chase down Aaron Cross?

The Philippine National Police (probably) does not have a computerized database of suspects. They definitely cannot tell the CIA that two foreign nationals pretending to be doctors (well, one of them is) are giving chase to authorities. Why do they even know it's the CIA? Isn't this supposed to be secret?

The mayors of Metro Manila do not have the funds to install a lot of security cameras in their cities. We are not yet a surveillance city like London, no matter what the evening newscasts' reliance on CCTV footage suggests. Sure, the MMDA have traffic cameras, but it's not everywhere. It's not even halfway through everywhere.

There are more MMDA traffic enforcers in Manila than the film suggests. Much more. This is why it's impossible for anyone to jump off the pedestrian walkways along the intersection of EDSA and Taft Avenue and land on a bus, a van and a jeepney without being apprehended.

It's impossible for several motorcycles to chase each other along a busy Ramon Magsaysay Boulevard. Filipino drivers are never orderly on the roads. If it's a traffic jam, it's because jeepney drivers and everybody else eat through several lanes just to find the easiest way out. And if there's a traffic jam, jeepney drivers and everybody else eat through several lanes so they can get out as soon as possible. It's impossible for Aaron Cross to drive his bike in a straight line without encountering an impatient driver who wants his wang-wang on as soon as possible.

That jeepney that got hit by a police car? There should be more passengers in it. One of them must be hanging by the door. "Sabit", as we call it.

We do not have many police cars, by the way. We have police vans, most of them open-air, like a jeepney, only simple and clunky.

Our policemen will go after anyone who wrongs them, so it's not right to see them continue going after Aaron Cross when they know that Thai LARX guy is stealing their vehicles.

Similarly, civilians will go after anyone who wrongs them, so it's not right to see them just watch as Aaron Cross straddles the concrete fence near Jones Bridge.

Filipino kids will not just stare at a foreign national: they'll go after them, more so if they just skidded off a motorcycle.

And, perhaps most importantly, it's impossible for a police chase - involving, like, two cars and a bunch of motorcycles - to start from Leveriza, go along Taft Avenue, turn left to EDSA, go all the way to Cubao crossing, turn left along Aurora Boulevard, progress through Binondo, go past Intramuros, slither through the cargo trucks and homeless kids near Smokey Mountain, and end at the Navotas Fish Port (with zero trace of final confrontation) without attracting the attention of the media (where's Gus Abelgas?) and the local politicians (where's Fred Lim?). It's a long chase, and you don't get wall-to-wall coverage? Sacrilege.

Of course I'm nitpicking, bordering on parody. This is a Hollywood blockbuster. My American friends who'll probably watch this film are not supposed to know that the long chase that ended the film actually stretches a good twenty kilometers rather than four - it's the magic of editing, of production design, of filmmaking! And besides, you've got to admit, Manila looks cool through a Hollywood camera. It's surprisingly clean and devoid of used laundry water. And we have slightly more competent policemen, with security cameras and sleek police cars. We still have terrible traffic, but we are patient drivers, car drivers, take note, not motorcycle drivers. And John Arcilla gets a lot of love.

Jeremy Renner, please come back.

And your responses...

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