'Ruined Heart: Another Lovestory Between a Criminal & a Whore': Tokyo Review

Courtesy of Tokyo International Film Festival
For too-cool-for-school fans of Roxanne

A wordless digital poem captures the mood of Manila’s mean streets

At first glance a controversial choice for Tokyo competition, Ruined Heart: Another Lovestory Between a Criminal & a Whore is a tone poem that has its own raison d’etre. Prolific Filipino digital pioneer Khavn (aka Khavn de la Cruz), who has carved out a youthful fan base at many Euro festivals, won’t disappoint his followers with this wordless romantic crime tale that surges forward on waves of world music. The story is set in a shabby but colorful rabbit warren of backstreets amid Manila’s violent, live-for-the-instant underworld, where a handful of characters love and murder each other. 

It would be a challenge to dredge a meaning, much less a message, out of the events onscreen, but this will probably be a mere detail for Khavn’s fans. Suffice it to say that there is more poetry than narration here. Charged with electricity by Australian D.P. Christopher Doyle of Wong Kar-wai fame, the lush roughhouse lighting and handheld digital camerawork contribute the lion’s share of the film’s atmospheric energy high. 

The absence of dialogue makes the backstory a guessing game, but a pre-credit intro – shot like a police line-up – helps to identify the protags. The main faces are the Criminal (Tadanobu Asano, star of Christopher Doyle’s directing bow Away with Words) and the Whore (played by live-wire Mexican newcomer Nathalia Acevedo from Post Tenebras Lux.) Dreamlike jump cuts set them in motion, as the dark-haired hooker goes on the run with the hit man after he leaves his latest victim lying shirtless in a pool of blood. We are somewhere deep in the Manila slums. The only antagonist in sight is an exhibitionist Godfather who appears on stage in a kind of trance reciting “I am the world poem.”

This is a case where excellent casting goes a long way. Acevedo’s exuberant body language and striking costumes and Asano’s sheer gritty physical presence, heightened by a broken arm in a dirty cast, create a world that's both familiar to the viewer from myriad cinematic and literary versions (hence “another” lovestory) and quite distant. Though Doyle’s constantly moving, staggering and tilted camera and production designer Francis Soeder’s densely packed screen blunt the impact of an orgy scene, a long-held shot of the prostitute laughing in extreme close up with semen running out of her mouth is quite uncomfortable to watch. But sex and violence aren’t really what this very physical film is about; it comes closer to a joyful, wild and dizzying engagement with fleeting life, which includes moments of tenderness and various moods of love.

Brezel Goring and Khavn contribute strong musical energy from around the world which guide the tone of each scene. The memorable opening credits are shakily tattooed on somebody’s back.   

Production companies: Kamias Overground, Rapid Eye Movies
Tadanobu Asano, Nathalia Acevedo, Elena Kazan, Andrew Puertollano, Khavn, Vim Nadera
Director, Screenwriter: Khavn
Producers: Khavn, Achinette Villamor, Stephen Holl
Director of photography: Christopher Doyle
Production designer: Francis Soeder
Editor: Carlos Francisco Manatad

Music: Brezel Goring, Khavn
Casting director: Anthony Cinco
Sales agent: Rapid Eye Movies
No rating, 73 minutes