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Movie Review: Ka Oryang

Best picture material? Not quite.
by Gelo Gonzales | Nov 17, 2011
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After a short week, the Cinema One 2011 Film Festival finally concluded last Tuesday, November 15. One of the bigger winners in this year's festival is Ka Oryang; it won best picture, and the best director trophy went to Sari Lluch Dalena.

Excited and filled with expectations, we just had to see it. So see it we did, but sadly, we were quite disappointed.

Set during the reign of Martial Law, Ka Oryang tells the story of a young doctor, Gregoria de la Cruz a.k.a. Ka Oryang (Alessandra de Rossi), who helps cure NPA rebels in her spare time. After having a romance with rebel leader Ka Noli (Joem Bascon), she becomes pregnant, and is captured and detained in a female prison for political activists. At the helm of the prison, of course, is an abusive soldier (Emilio Garcia).

The film is filled with lush cinematography. But these time-lapsed skies and uncomfortable close-ups only add to the depressing and unsettling tone that the movie wants to deliver. Operative word being "wants" because the story lacks effectiveness in character development.

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Case in point: Emilio Garcia’s caricature portrayal of the nasty villain. Mr. Garcia is a talented actor, don't get us wrong, but he completely overplayed the already-clichéd archetype. Where subtle would've done the trick, the actor went for outlandish. Hence, every word, threat and act of malicious intent, felt quite laughable.

Alessandra de Rossi is usually effective at playing the victim– remember her roles in Joel Lamangan’s Hubog and Carlitos Siguion-Reyna’s Azucena?—but here, it's a little different. Unlike in the aforementioned movies where audiences could easily empathize with her characters, here, the audience is left with not much sympathy. When the film reaches its tragic end, we are left wondering about the character’s past and what her importance really is. 

Save for one shocking scene where one detainee is interrogated as she lays naked on a block of ice, the torture scenes feels rather contrived. The plot should’ve allowed for the women prisoners to interact more. If their budding friendships and the dynamics by which they struggle to survive had been built on, and then were juxtaposed with graphic portrayals of the abuse, it probably would’ve been easier to empathize.

The themes of the film are nothing new: women’s rights (which we are all for here at FHM) human rights, Martial Law, and Communism. The supposed subversive nature of the characters was watered-down to say the least. There was an obvious obsession with imagery of eyes, the filmmakers hinting at pagmumulat and/or enlightenment. But to what, we aren’t really sure of.

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Aside from giving birth to a bouncing baby boy while behind bars (the baby boy eliciting the best reaction from the audience, what with the “oooohhss” and “awwwsss”), Ka Oryang, on the other hand, didn’t seem enlightened. As the conclusion hit, she seemed more lost than ever. Just like the rest of the audiences present during the final screening.

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