Review: Engkwentro (3.5/5)

PEP Review: Engkwentro (Unedited)
by Fidel Antonio Medel

At only 21 years old, Pepe Diokno (a columnist for Philippine Star Supreme and an auteur in the making) is the youngest person to be given a Cinemalaya grant. The grandson of the late Senator Jose "Pepe" Diokno directs “Engkwentro”, the love-it-or-hate-it film in this year’s Cinemalaya. This will provoke discussions and even spark debates because of its dissection of juvenile crime and moral ambiguity. The unconventional filmmaking technique – the use of the shaky handycam ala “The Blair Witch Project” – will polarize viewers into haters and believers.

“Engkwentro” is the story of two teenage brothers, Richard (Felix Roco) and Raymond (Daniel Medrana), caught in the ruckus of two warring gangs. Richard is the leader of the Bagong Buwan gang. The Davao Death Squad, a band of vigilantes allegedly backed by the local government to murder suspected gangsters and criminals, is going after him. So he decided to leave town and elope with his prostitute girlfriend, Jenny-Jane (Eda Nolan).

As he tries to source funds for his escape, Raymond is being inducted to the rival gang Batang Dilim. As the night comes to a close, a square off becomes deadly when Tomas (Zyrus Desamparado), the gang leader of Batang Dilim, orders Raymond to kill his older brother. The inexorable conclusion, punctuated by searing brutality, will shock you. You won’t believe that what you just saw are events lifted from actual news headlines. It will leave you with a dreadful feeling that is difficult to shake off.

Since “Engkwentro” deals with an alarming real-life subject, Direk Pepe makes it a point that his filmmaking style would embody its raw and gritty nature. The camera walks us through the labyrinth of dingy alleys and shanty houses overpopulated by slum dwellers, in a style somewhat similar to Jeffrey Jeturian’s “Kubrador”. We pose as voyeurs as the camera individually follows the exploits of the characters in what seem like a single, continuous take. In fact, Direk Pepe did shoot it much like a stage play (as if without cuts) since he wanted viewers to have a "real-time" experience while watching this action-social commentary film.

Some of the day scenes bathe in solar glare, while some of the night scenes are intentionally too dark. It helps that Direk Pepe used high-definition cameras but the cinematography can still be dizzying especially during fight scenes and parkour chases. This callusing tale of moral corruption is not for everyone. Some will walk out of the theatre even before it is finished because of nausea. Others will complain that it is too stylized, while some will applaud this body of work as a bold and unforgettable piece of cinema.

Among the ten finalists vying for the Balanghai trophy in this year’s Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival, “Engkwentro” has the highest chance of being picked up by international film festivals. It may even snatch the top plum from festival frontrunners “Mangatyanan” and “Ang Panggagahasa Kay Fe” like a real dark horse. Watch it if you dare.

* published in


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