Jungle Love: Hong Kong Review

Jungle Love Film Still - H 2013

Jungle Love Film Still - H 2013

Filipino indie director Sherad Anthony Sanchez bizarrely combines the mysteries of sex and nature with a mischievous sense of humor in a film not for everyone.

Filipino director Sherad Anthony Sanchez's mysterious mood piece verges on the outrageous.

The jungle was never so carnal as in Filipino indie filmmaker Sherad Anthony Sanchez’s Jungle Love, an impressionistic, often hallucinatory experiment which alternately fascinates and repels. In many ways the film recalls the mischievous kind of things Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is often up to, including disconnected narrative, stories that never come together or have any rational explanation, ghosts, explicit sex, full frontal nudity and X-rated dialogue. On top of all this, Sanchez pushes hard on the technical side to confuse and disorient, demanding the viewer “get lost” in a brutish Picnic at Hanging Rock. Very much a festival taste, it has difficult distribution prospects.

Evidently this is primarily a personal effort at self-exploration. Perhaps jungles bring out the heart of darkness of filmmakers, or at least their id and a good deal of unpleasant material dredged up from the unconscious. In any case, the result is idiosyncratic, though technically so well-made it’s hard to easily dismiss.

As in his poetic ode to sewer-dwelling kids, Imburnal, writer/director Sanchez has a socially motivated agenda underlying his uninhibited narrative, but one so veiled it is hard to pinpoint. The first character to appear – though the practically black-on-black cinematography barely reveals her presence -- is a naked middle-aged woman (Gloria Morales) begging for sex from her brother-in-law. When he refuses, she steals his new-born infant and runs hysterically into the jungle.

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Next, two young hikers sporting full body tattoos (Martin Riffer and Mae Bastes) indulge in frequent sex stops as they tramp through the jungle with their guide. What's most disturbing is the blond man’s continuous taunting of his Filipino girlfriend, pushing her to go farther into animal lust. And she complies. Whether this counts as manipulative exploitation or not is a judgment call.  

Needless to say, their young local guide (Aldrin Zapitan) is not excluded from their sexy game-playing. Though again he seems a willing pupil more than an innocent victim, the long-held shots of his naked body with an erection in progress are designed to make the viewer uncomfortable. Lifted from sexploitation films, these voyeuristic scenes have a jarring effect seen side-by-side with shots of a half-naked native tribe who mysteriously flit through the film. If Sanchez is trying to make a comment on society and morality, the audience has to have patience to connect the dots.

But the jungle isn’t all serious, portentous or pornographic. It’s also spiced with surreal humor. Unconnected to the other characters, six Army recruits jog through the bush or march behind an enthusiastic baton-twirler. And the whole film is woven around a bizarre religious song, the ditty Jesus Saves You ‘Cos Mamma Mary Loves You irreverently remixed by talented composer Teresa Barrozo.  She is also the author of the film’s eerie soundscape, like a symphony of heavily breathing trees, that gives the haunting images of cinematographers Malay Javier and Gym Lubrera added depth and resonance.

Venue: Hong Kong International Film Festival (Indie Power), Mar. 22, 2013.

Production company:  Salida Productions

Cast: Gloria Morales, Mei Bastes, Martin Riffer, Edgardo Amar, Aldrin Zapita

Director: Sherad Anthony Sanchez

Screenwriter: Sherad Anthony Sanchez

Producers:  Sherad Anthony Sanchez, Cheiradee Villanueva

Executive producer: Mabel Acosta

Directors of photography: Malay Javier, Gym Lumbera

Production designer: Joel Geolamen

Costumes: Amanda Nava, Eddie Perez

Editor: Cheiradee Villanueva

Music: Teresa Barrozo

Run time: 86 minutes