There are images of a true-to-life lockdown as the film unfolds.
There are references to the pandemic ayuda, how it ends up with the wrong people, and how guards manning the quarantine checkpoints make life difficult for ordinary people.
Danny Asuncion (Paolo Gumabao) is a Filipino OFW who returns home after his source of employment closed down with the spread of COVID-19.
He comes home and cannot imagine himself being quarantined for another 14 days, as he worries about the fate of his family. He escapes the quarantine routine, and heads for home to find his family in a dire situation.
His father has stopped driving due to illness, and the cost of medication stares him in the face.
The opening scenes show Danny as a concerned son taking care of an ailing father. But his medical needs can’t wait any longer.
Then he turns to the unthinkable.
Although he initially turns down the idea, he slowly grapples with the situation, only to realize he has to decide fast to save an ailing member of the family.
The turning point is when he is reunited with his school chum Lito (Paul Jake Paule), and briefly relives the old times.
The film has tight focus and goes right into images of lockdown as it happens to a desperate son determined to help his family. Initially, he tries other jobs, but the pandemic has rendered employment non-existent. Many factories closed shop, with small and big business unable to cope.
This is where viewers come face-to-face with the realm of the senses
In the end, the poor OFW turns to the lower depths, and this is where viewers come face-to-face with the realm of the senses.
He meets someone who manages a cybersex station, and with the prospects of good pay, he throws caution to the winds and gets the best of what the job has to offer.
This is the life of young macho dancers lured into cybersex. They cater to the whims of the depraved, and here, director Lamangan turns Lockdown into a virtual journey to hell.
What the performers go through and why they have to go through degradation is the meat of worldly existence as it happens during the pandemic, which wiped out sources of decent jobs.
It can’t be helped that the film had to unveil a harsh reality so jarring, the live preview audience was shocked into silence.
As the film unwinds, there is no doubt that Lockdown has given birth to a sensitive actor in the person of Gumabao as the returning OFW.
He carves a sensitive portrait of a good son who would try anything to save his family. Gumabao manages the transition from good, loving son to cybersex worker, down to the last squirmy detail. It is a razor-sharp delineation, a finely crafted portrayal and a well-focused one. He is Everyman in the time of pandemic, and the remaining pillar of hope of a desperate family.
To be sure, other actors stand out. Jim Pebanco as the maintainer of the cybersex station is a virtual portrait of fake kindness and evil, and his sleazy connection with the military says a lot about corruption in this country.
Alan Paule as the police coronel is a two-faced character as protector and closet pervert. The actor pulls off the obvious contrast with great, if subtle, acting dispatch. The other members of a tight acting ensemble include Ruby Ruiz and Angellie Nicholle Sanoy.
On the whole, the latest Lamangan film is by turns poignantly moving and shocking. It can’t be helped that it is a quiet indictment of people who are supposed to look after the underprivileged.
It helps a lot that the script is tight and taut, and the director has the imagination to make something of the shocking narrative.
The nude scenes didn’t faze him. To him, it was just work
It is the quiet moments of the OFW on the breakwater contemplating his life that give the film moments of fine introspection.
Lockdown is one of the best of Joel Lamangan, and certainly a standout film in this time of pandemic. It is by turns depressing and shocking, but it is the truth. Whether we like it or not, the film is about lowlifes during the era of COVID-19.
Paolo Gumabao isn’t an instant looker, as he blends perfectly with people around him.
I saw him initially in the teleserye Huwag Kang Mangamba, where he played the sidekick of a fake healer and a corrupt mayor.
“Are you the same Gumabao in that teleserye?” I asked him.
“Yes,” he replied.
The actor said he was moved by the character he played when he first read the script. He found his part real and worthy of a big challenge.
The nude scenes didn’t faze him. To him, it was just work, and he went through them without hesitation. “Direk Joel (Lamangan) made it clear that the film isn’t the kind that comes often. He didn’t even make me act during the audition. He gave me this look, and I guess he decided out of pure instinct that I could do justice to the part.”
It has been no easy life for the young actor. Born in Taiwan, he grew up in Catanduanes before moving to Quezon City. He didn’t know about his biological father (the actor and former congressman Dennis Roldan, a.k.a, Mitchell Yap Gumabao) until he was 14. He grew up with a Chinese stepfather who remained close to him even after his parents’ separation. When he decided he was ready to see his father, things didn’t work out; by then, his father was in jail.
Now 23, Gumabao has led an eventful life, enough to teach him not to judge people. “When I was preparing for my role, I knew the character had very little choice. It was then that I realized you cannot just judge people, especially those you don’t know. You cannot judge cybersex performers just because they ended up in that job. Many things are happening to people during the pandemic that we don’t know about. It’s not fair to judge them. The film mirrors sordid reality, and we have no right to judge them for what they are going through.”
Paolo Gumabao: ‘Many things are happening to people during the pandemic that we don’t know about. It’s not fair to judge them’
Thus far, Gumabao has been in a total of seven movies, which include Lockdown, HorrorScope, Mga Batang Poz, I Love You to Death, and Haunted Mansion.
Director Lamangan, 68, has been directing since 1992, but has also been a stage, film actor and director.
He said: “The good thing about this new medium is that we are not subject to censorship, as films are not shown in regular venues. Hence, we can do anything to make the story realistic. This allows us to tell the stories as they are, and closer to the truth.”
Lamangan is no stranger to films depicting exploitation of the poor. In Bhoy Intsik, he dealt with a milieu of drugs and selling internal organs to survive.
Of course, how can one forget his film The Flor Contemplacion Story, about another OFW who met her untimely death in Singapore?
“When we get through all these hard times,” he said, “I’d like to do a political film showing the kind of leaders we ended up with through the years. It is going to be difficult, but I would like to do this project to wrap up my film career.”