Everybody Needs a Shipwreck Once in a While
Director: Chris Martinez
Cast: Marian Rivera, Heart Evangelista, Lovi Poe, Solenn Heussaff, Rufa Mae Quinto, Aljur Abrenica, Tom Rodriguez, Mikael Daez, John Lapus
Director: Joey Gosiengfiao
Cast: Dina Bonnevie, Azenith Briones, Jennifer Cortez, Bambi Arambulo, Deborah Sun
Wherever you go, in any Pinoy barkada with a sizable bakla/babaeng bakla percentage, one has probably heard overenthusiastic recommendations of Joey Gosiengfiao’s 1980 film Temptation Island, whether in the form of discreetly swapped VCDs and DVDs (rare kung orig) or the more common “uy bakla pakopya naman ng torrent mo.” Blurt out in the presence of any gay urbanite “Rub a dub dub” and someone will finish the line, “two bitches in a tub.”
Anyone who has seen this camp classic would probably agree that it’s unremakeable. Sure, the story, outfits and locations are easy enough to recreate. But there is something about the whole project—the dead-serious acting, the nonchalant absurdity—that transcends the tangible aspects of production.
So loved is this film, however, that it was only a matter of time before an homage cropped up. Enter Chris Martinez, acclaimed writer and director behind films like 100, Kimmy Dora and Here Comes the Bride. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable captain to resuscitate Gosiengfiao’s legendary sheepwreck.
So, how did it fare? Let’s just say that if the 1980 film was standing beside the 2011 one on a yacht, tataas ang kilay niya, sabay sumbat, “Tatabi-tabi ka sa aking towering height.”
Not that the Martinez remake wasn’t fun. Masaya naman siya. The four main girls had big pantyhoses to fill, and sadly, nay, surprisingly, only Lovi Poe delivered, with her effortlessly dedma aura and imperturbable baritone. Marian Rivera tried too hard and too little at the same time, relying solely on camp and eschewing a serious study of the character. (“Maharot na babae ang role ko,” said Marian famously on the role, “and first time ko to do it.”) She ends up coming across as Marian impersonating Azenith Briones.
Heart Evangelista was inconsistent and sometimes annoying. Solenn Heussaff was passable too, saved by her naturally awkward Tagalog paired with her killer model looks. The boys didn’t fare too well either. Mikael Daez was believable as the boytoy photographer. Aljur Abrenica and Tom Rodriguez seemed to be intentionally swapped and cast against their usual type roles, with Aljur playing the coñotic coed and Tom as the working-class waiter. Hindi nag-work. (Well, to be fair, Tom actually did a good job acting the part, but his mestizo good looks simply didn’t match the role. Aljur on the other hand, was plain old wooden; if he actually tried to embody a college kid, it didn’t show.)
John Lapus was okay, but cannot match the effervescent swagger of the original Joshua. Rufa Mae Quinto was, well, Rufa Mae.
The 2011 film had the good fortune of having on board two of the original girls. Deborah Sun, originally the maid on the island, now plays Solenn’s mother. Azenith Briones became matronic pageant organizer Conchita Syjuco. Like Marian, Azenith 2011 was trying too hard to play Azenith 1980 too.
The remake was very faithful to the Gosiengfiao original, with only a few updates and tweaks in the script. Martinez changed the names of the girls to pay homage to Gosiengfiao’s body of work: Virginia P. (1989), Diary of Cristina Gaston (1982), The Secrets of Pura (1991), Nights of Serafina (1996). Touching gesture, but characters calling each other by their full names sounded more awkward than necessary.
Temptation Island 2011’s weaknesses can be summed up in two points. The first is that, as a remake, it fails to capture the zeitgeist of the new generation. The Gosiengfiao original is a veritable time capsule: the melodic musical score which typified its generation, the rise of starlets, the booming interest in beauty pageants (and the emergence of gay beauty contests), and the increasing cosmopolitanism in fashion and wealth in general. That Martinez stayed true to the original is double-edged: while it retains the humor of the 1980 film, much of what is lovable about it has evolved or become outmoded, thus giving the 2011 film a certain anachronistic feel.
(If any, its best update is the Miss Manila Sunshine pageant at the end. It ditched the question and answer portion for a fabulous multi-collection fashion show, which made it more “now.” If only the rest of the film was reimagined in the same way, perhaps it might have turned out better.)
Its second, and more glaring, weakness is its self-consciousness. Susan Sontag, in her seminal Notes on Camp, says: “One must distinguish between naïve and deliberate Camp. Pure Camp is always naïve. Camp which knows itself to be Camp (‘camping’) is usually less satisfying.” Gosiengfiao’s film was pure camp; the Martinez remake was pure camping. The heavy-handedness, the obvious attempt to be camp, made the film feel, in the words of another camp classic, rather “second-rate trying hard.”
The allure of Temptation Island lies not just in its fabulous lines and awful-but-dead-serious acting. The doomed yacht is the Bapor Tabo of its time, a whitewashed (read: nagmamalinis) craft which regained popularity in the Marcos era alongside the reclamation of Manila Bay to accommodate the dictatorship’s edifice complex. Loaded with beauties deemed representative of the national image, Temptation Island is a mockery of the glitzy culture of social climbing, and our fascination for hollow spectacles of the “feminine” and the “motherland.”
In a nation where only the masses, never the wealthy, are perennially shipwrecked by the thousands, Temptation Island strikes an oddly relatable chord. The film is a fable where a cross-section of society struggles to survive and stay fabulous amidst a climate of death, hunger, catfights and an inane competition (whose prize is some cash and a taste of the United States). It miniaturizes and satirizes the nation’s economic and cultural relations, wrapped in the horribly amusing veneer of a pageant.
It is also simultaneously a gay fantasy and tragedy. Aside from pageant dynamics, we see that the gay character is the most poised and wealthy among all the shipwrecked, and surrounded by men: the ultimate gay fantasy of uninhibited sexual desire and upward social mobility. There is also the irony that Joshua dies an invaluable death—he died appreciated by the rest of the island, literally keeping them alive, the metaphorical Jesus who died to save the rest of humanity. It is no wonder that Temptation Island is a wellspring for camp, a brand of pleasure which, to some extent, only homosexuals can truly appreciate.
The story of the stranded beauties is a Lord of the Flies scenario, except in the postwar novel, the children, after confronting their hidden monsters, were ultimately inconsolable with grief. Reeling from their harrowing experience in the island, they can no longer return to their prior innocence. Temptation Island follows the same trajectory, yet somehow, even as the beauties return to their lives cathartic, we know that it is only a pageant, and nothing has really changed.
And yet, it’s all in good fun. What reverberates in us: “Walang tubig, walang pagkain. (Walang signal.) Eh ‘di magsayaw na lang tayo!” Kahit patay na bakla na lang ang tanging maisisiksik sa sikmura natin, we should never let go of hope. Wholeheartedly, we will sing: Nais kong mabuhay sa haba ng panahon. Or if you prefer the orig: There’s a place for us, somewhere a place for us. Peace and quiet and open air wait for us… somewhere.#
Temptation Island 2011 trailer
Clips from Temptation Island 1980
Entry filed under: Edgar Allan Paule, Filipino films, Full length films. Tags: Aljur Abrenica, Azenith Briones, Bambi Arambulo, Bapor Tabo, beauty pageant, camp, camping, chris martinez, Deborah Sun, Dina Bonnevie, fable, gay, Heart Evangelista, island, Jennifer Cortez, joey gosiengfiao, John Lapus, Lord of the Flies, Lovi Poe, Marian Rivera, Mikael Daez, miss manila sunshine, notes on camp, pageant, Rufa Mae Quinto, shipwreck, Solenn Heussaff, somewhere, survival, susan sontag, temptation island, Tom Rodriguez, toto belano.