Comedy with more meaning
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - July 16, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Tuhog takes on a serious and perhaps, frightening, subject matter... with humor. Based on the official trailer, viewers will be treated to a thought game as it explores various shades of love, family and fate told in the intertwining lives of three strangers who find themselves on a bus and in a situation where one of the toughest “what-if” questions hangs in the air: “What if your time is up?”  

Tuhog means many things in Filipino (it was even used as a title for a sexy film) but its Cinemalaya award-winning director Veronica Velasco said that for viewers to better understand their definition of tuhog, they will have to watch the film, the idea of which, she nurtured since the early ’90s after reading a tabloid report about a freak bus accident that killed five people.

Eugene Domingo is a “40-year-old virgin” (her words) and bus barker named Fiesta ironically (because she feels that every waking hour is nothing to be happy about), guarded and toughened up by a life spent taking care of an ailing father who doesn’t fail to articulate her imperfections and how doomed she is to a life of spinsterhood. Leo Martinez is Tonio, a long retired family man who feels he isn’t done yet, gambling his hard-earned pension to put up a bakery. Enchong Dee is Caloy, a student who preserves his virginity for a long-distance girlfriend, only to be surrounded by temptations and peers with raging hormones.

Just when their lives are about to take a turn — Fiesta meeting a younger man (Jake Cuenca) and opening her heart; Tonio making his lifelong dream come true; and Caloy, trying to mend things with his girlfriend (Empress), they meet an accident that connects them literally and figuratively.

The film has positioned itself as a dark comedy, something new and different from the mainstream comedic fare that Pinoys are used to — more nuanced, no laugh-out-loud, physical comedy and with the attempt at more meaning clearly there. “From the start, it was a challenge to pitch, to produce and to write this movie. If you think about it, it’s about a bus accident, so what is it? Horror? But no. It’s a daring drama but funny. It makes you think, but you will enjoy. It’s heavy, but you’ll laugh. You’ll come out of the cinemas with a lot of hope,” said direk Veronica, who co-wrote the film with Jinky Laurel.

Talking further about its genre, Eugene added, “In reality, we are trying our best on how to really encourage people to understand black comedy. (You might ask,) what the hell is black comedy?”

For regular folks, it might be hard for them to grasp black comedy, Eugene said, and that they might rather “see me falling off the stairs or playing twins (referring to her Kimmy Dora), ang hirap di ba? But then again, with direk Veronica and with her dream and the way she attacked the film, we’re hoping people to appreciate the film. We’re not asking for P400M at the box-office. We’re fine with P399M (laughs). What we are asking is a little hope and trust in this new fare we’re offering as we are trying our best to match the best of Asian cinema.”

 The film also presented acting firsts for its cast. Jake said, “When the script was offered to me I really thought it was (all-out) comedy, because you have Eugene Domingo and Leo Martinez. And I’m not comfortable with comedy. But when we came to the set, sincerity was what direk wanted. At the end of the day, you transformed into your character and your character becomes real. The characters in this film are very real.”

For Empress, the challenge came from scenes she has “never done in my life and even in my career,” while Enchong was asked for a new acting approach, “so it was hard. I told direk sagarin na natin (to push the limits) so there are scenes here that you have to do privately only (wholesome but vulgar) but we did it to make things as real as possible.”

These were apart from the physical challenges — the bruises and scrapes they got while doing the bus scenes, which had to be shot in the busy stretch of Commonwealth Ave. — a logistical nightmare, as direk Veronica puts it. But it was all worth it, according to Eugene, “We trust the material, we believe in the material.”  

She added, “To tell you honestly, we’re really having a hard time thinking of how to sell this movie, realizing that most of the viewers now would want to watch a movie — and this is really painful — that doesn’t require them to think that much. Kasi ako man, kung buong araw ako nag-iisip kung ano ang ipapakain ko sa anak ko, san ako kukuha ng pera, bakit ako manonood ng pelikula na mag-iisip naman ako? But then again, we would like to encourage more and more people to trust, and that whatever material we admire in Hollywood or on cable, we are also capable of giving it.”

Because the film asks tough questions, the stars also shared some insights on “living life to the fullest.”

Leo said, “I’ve long been living life to the fullest because I’m a senior citizen already. But my father always told me when I was young, that you choose the job you love and you never have to work a day in your life. So, there are 12 of us siblings, and we all have different professions. Yun ang sinasabi ko sa anak ko, yun ang sinusunod ko, papasok ako kung san ako nag-e-enjoy.

For Jake, “I just try to live it like every day is my last. Motto ko yan, I pray for it always — to be able to do things to the best of my abilities. (Yes) I’m religious (because of an Opus Dei school background). Wherever there is a church (even during shootings), I stop by to pray.”

For Eugene, what happened to her during the shoot of her previous film, Ang Babae sa Septic Tank, was an illuminating moment for her. “Nahulog ako sa septic tank nuon, I got hospitalized for many days, then I was able to watch myself on TV in movies where I was jumping up and down and here I was ‘paralyzed,’ I realized then and there how beautiful it is to live, to work. After that, I no longer wanted to focus on my weaknesses, on my pain. Just enjoy! Enjoy! (I realized) if there’s one thing that we can’t get out of our life, it must be our enjoyment.”

Opening tomorrow in cinemas, Tuhog is the latest big-screen offering produced by Skylight Films, the independent film company of ABS-CBN Film Productions. 


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