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BUSAN – A truly harrowing account of a 9-year-old boy who goes missing and the anguish of his single Dad who embarks on a desperate search for him, Breakaway is a low-budget standout. This sophomore effort from young Filipino director Ian Lorenos (The Leaving) is not only a powerful film about human trafficking; it is also a small gem portraying a father-son relationship with nothing fake or sentimental about it. Certainly not all audiences will want to share the extremes of pain and anxiety in this expressive little film, making it more likely to turn up at festivals after its Busan bow than in neighborhood theaters.
The stakes are set high from the opening shots, which flash forward to the heartbreak and desperation on a young man’s face. The tension and foreboding of something bad about to happen lingers through the first half of the film, which describes the difficult relationship between Robert Lim (Jericho Rosales) and the bright little Brian (Bugoy Carino). Nagging, brusque and hyper-critical, Rosales expertly conveys the over-compensation of the single parent in the tough love Robert shows his son. He’s a flop as a salesman and although he raises the boy the best he can after his wife’s death, his meagre earnings barely pay for a roof over their heads and tuition at an elite private school, where the rich kids bully Brian.
Perhaps his over-protectiveness bordering on paranoia is some sort of premonition, because one day he takes Brian to the penny mall stands for a treat and leaves him alone in the bathroom for a few minutes while he goes to buy a lottery ticket. When he returns, Brian has vanished into thin air. The only trace is on closed circuit TV, which clearly shows a slightly older boy leading him away.
The last half of the film is the story of Robert’s frantic search through the infernal bowels of the Filipino city with a pimp (Smokey Manaloto) for a guide. There he finds the dregs of humanity, who kidnap children for the same horrifying purposes as their Indian counterparts did in Slumdog Millionaire. Though the horrors are only glimpsed at a distance, it’s impossible not to feel indignation over their existence, which society and the police seem unable to eradicate. The final scenes hold an unforeseeable twist that offers closure, though on a mixed note of great joy and terror.
The film owes a great deal to the natural chemistry between singer-actor Rosales and Carino, the child star of the TV series E-Boy, whose playful, mischievous nature contrasts with Rosales’s nervous hen approach to child-rearing. Their spontaneity is a welcome change from the usual parent-child sentimentality on screen.
Lorenos keeps his script firmly in hand throughout, reigning in the emotions until it’s time to let them explode. Whereas at first the handheld camerawork and overexposed outdoor shots cry indie too loudly, they become quite expressive as the film goes on through simple but effective changes in focus, pace, and editing rhythm.
Venue: Busan Film Festival (Window on Asian Cinema), Oct. 6, 2012
Production companies: Anakim Media Productions in association with Visayan Forum
Cast: Jericho Rosales, Bugoy Carino, Leo Martinez, Smokey Manaloto, Carmen Soo, John Manalo
Director: Ian Lorenos
Screenwriter: Ian Lorenos
Producers: Jericho Rosales, Marge Lao, Bianca Balbuena, Ian Lorenos
Executive producer: Gloria Lau
Director of photography: Rommel Sales
Production designer: Ericson Navarro
Editor: Dempster Samarista
Music: Gabriel Valenciano
Sales Agent: Breakaway (Alagwa) Film
No rating, 88 minutes.
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