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Asiong Salonga--the Director's Version

Asiong Salonga--The Director's Version

(Please take the time to sign the petition asking the producer to release a Director's Cut of the film)

So here is the story the way I heard it:

A film was shot based on the story of Asiong Salonga, a notorious Filipino gangster who ruled Tondo in the late '40s and early '50s. The film was directed by Tikoy Aguiluz, and starred Jorge 'ER' Ejercito, Governor of Laguna, who was also the film's producer.

There were disagreements between director and producer as to the direction the film should take. The producer--naturally--wanted a commercial product; Aguiluz wanted something that would meet the criteria of good storytelling, with a minimum of cliches and an original attack on the classic Filipino action film. This is the compromise they came up with:

Working with his editor and longtime collaborator Mirana Medina, Aguiluz put together a 115 minute cut. This cut, as Ms. Medina outlines in careful detail in her blog, trimmed or edited out scenes that 1) had little to do with the story; 2) included melodramatic (her term was telenovela, or TV soap-opera) acting; 3) involved melodramatic dialogue; 4) employed traditional Filipino action film fighting cliches; and 5) retained traces of Governor Ejercito's former acting persona, which comes across as negative (her term is mala-demonyo, or demonic).

The producer, wanting his own cut, worked with Medina's assistant editor and put back in most of the elements Aguiluz and Medina took out, arriving at a 2 hour 30 minute cut. This was the cut Ejercito is apparently complaining about as 'boring' and 'slow,' not to mention 'overlong' (that's the running time of a Transformers movie which, when you think about it, is boring and overlong). Ejercito claims to have hired four additional editors, who have trimmed down their long version to a reported 108 or 110 minutes. According to Aguiluz some additional footage was shot without his knowledge, footage which included gunfights and an explosion, and this was included in the producer's version.

This was the version that was shown to the CEB, and while the response was good (the film was rated "A") the report noted  "underlying melodramatic tendencies," and that "there are just too many fight scenes." They further noted that "E.R. Estregan seems awkward in some scenes."

Medina in her blog wrote "after watching the raw footage during the first shooting days, we could already see the great chances of Gov (Governor Ejercito) to win an award as Best Actor." I'm guessing his performance could only be improved by the trimming done by Medina and Aguiluz (removing the melodramatic excess, the traditional action film cliches, the former acting persona to reveal a new man altogether).

It probably won't help that, according to Aguiluz, the music composer the producer brought in created a totally unacceptable music score, one that as the director puts it is "meant for a soap opera and not for Asiong."

Things apparently got ugly after the two edits were made. Aguiluz was not informed that Ejercito was unhappy with the film. He was not informed that additional footage was to be shot. He was not invited to the December 17 premiere. His name was not removed as per his explicit request, but the names of his two editors, Mirana Medina and Rolando Eucason were removed and replaced by the name Jason Cahapay. 

It's hinted that Aguiluz was paid a hefty sum for his name, hence their refusal to remove it. I've heard horror stories of this happening before, but it's a shock to hear it still happening--a man can't even control the use of his name? Something seems wrong about that. 

Something equally wrong about removing Ms. Medina's name. As I noted in a previous blog post, Ms. Medina is not only Aguiluz's only acceptable choice to edit his films, she is easily one of the finest editors in the world, let alone Philippine cinema.

Incidentally that hefty sum isn't exactly correct. Aguiluz was contracted to work for eighteen days, and shoot extended up to thirty-six; he should have received P450,000 for the extra eighteen days, but his pay was negotiated down to P200,000 (roughly $4,500--American filmmakers, indies included, please note).

There are claims that a director's cut as Aguiluz has requested is too expensive, roughly P2 million ($50,000.00). Aguiluz points out that this isn't true--the Director's Cut exists in the Bangkok post-production outfit used; kinescoping has already been done with the producer's cut. Assembling the cut, scoring and mixing it shouldn't cost too much more--an estimated grand total of P500,000 (less than $11,500). This in fact is the agreement director and producer arrived at in the first place, before the producer began his extracurricular activities.

It would be in the producer's interest to do this cut. He may be interested in recouping his costs here in the Philippine, but the international film festival circuit, and the market available through this circuit, is a whole different animal. Aguiluz has the experience--he's attended many a festival, not just as guest or juror but as competitor, and directs his own international film festival (Cinemanila); he knows the criteria by which international film jurors and distributors judge entries. He knows the lay of the land, so to speak, and should be the most qualified person around to judge how and in what form the film should be presented abroad.

The word 'respect' has been bruited around, sometimes a bit too often; Aguiluz is known to be pugnacious and unafraid to stand up for his rights, but in this case I think he's also in the right. What was and is still being done to him is too much, and should not be tolerated--not by Aguiluz, not by any filmmaker, Filipino or otherwise. 

(Again, if you feel there is the least bit of rightness to our cause, please take the time to sign the petition asking the producer to release a Director's Cut of the film)

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