The Girl and the Gun (Babae at Baril, Rae Red, 2019)

“Everything is personal” according to one extremely oppressed young man in Rae Red’s neo noir voyage through the legacies of authoritarian violence, The Girl and the Gun (Babae at Baril). Drawing a direct line from Marcos-era oppression to Duterte’s Philippines and the war on drugs, Red’s debut solo feature is an irony-fuelled inquisition of the modern society equally ruled by fear and desperation in which many feel violence is the only recourse against their sense of despair only to discover that violence breeds only more of the same in a nihilistic spiral of hopeless impotence. 

The never named heroine (Janine Gutierrez) is a meek and mild young woman who works in a department store where women, in particular, are expected to be prim and proper. The girl, however, is forever pulled up about the ladder in her tights, seemingly her only pair and as we’ll see she cannot afford to buy a replacement nor will one be provided for her by her employers who pat down employees as they leave the store each evening to ensure they haven’t stolen anything. Despite this however she believes she works hard and is under-appreciated, her sense of disappointment palpable as she witnesses another young woman be named employee of the month. Her colleagues view her as aloof because she is always the last to leave the building and never joins them for drinks, little knowing that it’s not her shyness that keeps her away but shame in her poverty. She has a long and arduous journey home to the poor part of town where she shares a room with another young woman, unable even to make her rent because she sends most of what she earns to the mother she apparently feels unable to return to. For all these reasons, she finds herself alone with a predatory colleague (Felix Roco) who rapes her, sheepishly apologises, and then returns with more threatening violence to advise her to keep her mouth shut. 

The evening before she’d heard a gun shot, left her apartment to investigate and seen a man run away, noticing an abandoned pistol with a heart on the barrel discarded in a rubbish bin. After the rape, she picks it up, immediately pointing it directly at the abusive boyfriend of her roommate. The gun gives her a sense of empowerment that counters the trauma of her victimisation. She is already beyond caring and can now say all the things she’s ever wanted to say to the men who treat her with such utter contempt, taking a flirty customer to task for his inappropriate behaviour with his young daughter sitting right next to him, and eventually giving her boss a piece of her mind when he finally fires her over something as petty as a barely visible uniform infraction. 

The girl had not usually been the type to complain, both her sleazy landlord and priggish boss keen to tell her that there are plenty of people waiting to take her place as if she should be grateful that her awful life is still not more awful. She and her friend dream of escaping the city, going home, or at least far away to a place where they could live a better life. Jun Jun (Elijah Canlas) the teenage drug dealer from the news reports dreams of something similar, lamenting most of all that he had homework due before he became the subject of a manhunt with which he’d struggled. He wonders how he might have done. His friend gives him all his savings which he’d been collecting for his own escape, hoping to return to his mother with his younger sister in tow in order to save her from a father he at least fears is abusive. 

Tracking through the history of the gun before it found its way into the hands of the girl, Red takes us back to the authoritarian violence of the Marcos regime as a nervous policeman assassinates “activists” in place of the current “drug dealers”, his son eventually picking up his gun a “policeman” like his father but filled with resentment towards inescapability of his fate. The gun passes from hand to hand, a child sticking the little heart sticker on it, creating only more chaos wherever it goes. It gives the girl the courage she thought she lacked to seize her agency, to talk back, to be “unladylike” in insisting on her equality in the face of the countless men who ignore, cat call, and abuse her. But the gun itself is not enough, her quest for violent vengeance hollow and unfulfilling, the only real liberation coming as she decides to abandon it in a final act of catharsis that breaks the cycle of violence and oppression which had trapped each of the gun’s owners. As a boy had said, it’s all personal. You might think it’s nothing to do with you, but you can’t escape the oppressions of the world in which you live be they poverty, misogyny, or authoritarianism. 

Largely taking place at night, Red bathes her city in the tones of neo noir, a land of shadows among neon, a shining cityscape of high rise buildings the like of which neither the girl or the street kids are ever likely to enter. Making fantastic use of music from the noirish jazz to the nostalgic pop of the oppressive ‘80s she fully embraces the pulpy exploitation of the material but always maintains a sense of playful irony, never forgetting the full import of her sometimes grim satire of life on the margins of Duterte’s Philippines as her variously oppressed protagonists seek freedom in violence but find only more constraint in the depths of nihilistic despair.


The Girl and the Gun streamed as part of this year’s New York Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

We Will Not Die Tonight (Richard V. Somes, 2018)

We Will not Die Tonight poster“Your moves are so old”, complains the director of a filmset towards the beginning of Richard V. Somes’ We Will Not Die Tonight, “it’s like the ‘80s”. An homage to The Warriors among other punk infused action classics of the 70s and beyond, We Will Not Die Tonight is as gritty and as grimy as they come following a pack of cornered desperados who unexpectedly find themselves to be the good guys when confronted by an evil unthinkable even on the streets of Duterte’s Philippines. Each in need of fast dough, a desperate gang of martial artists determines on the job to end all jobs, but it’s no surprise that they get a lot more than they bargained for just trying to survive in an unforgiving world.

Our heroine, Kray (Erich Gonzales), is a principled young woman who prides herself on her sense of justice, her good heart, and her ability to survive. Each of these qualities will stand her in good stead in the chaos that’s about to engulf her but for the moment they’re all that sustains her in her frustrating life as a stunt double for low budget movies. Berated by a director (Lehner Mendoza) who seems like he just wants to shout at someone while the “real” actress (Dani Baretto) blithely insists the stunt woman is an unnecessary waste of money, Kray can do little more than grin and bear it, unable even to make much of a fuss when she realises she’s only getting half pay on account of the director’s bad mood. She needs the money because her father (Baldo Marro) is ill and needs medical treatment, though he urges her to give up the stunt work which is dangerous and leaves her feeling humiliated to take a low paid but steady job working for a friend’s catering company.

Kray isn’t suspicious when a couple of her old friends turn up out of the blue, but quickly catches on when her ex, Ramil (Alex Medina), fetches up too. He wants to get the gang back together for one last hurrah. Having let them all down before, Ramil’s suggestion is not universally popular but as everyone is so desperate for money they eventually agree. Unfortunately, Ramil’s plan is once again a bust as it turns out the contacts he’s made are not into drug trafficking (itself a dangerous prospect given the current regime) but something far darker – snatching kids off the street for illegal organ trafficking. Now, our guys aren’t saints but they didn’t sign up for murdering children and even the slimy Ramil manages to suddenly develop enough of a backbone to firmly refuse and walk away. You can’t walk away from this sort of thing, however, and all hell breaks loose as they find themselves on the run with a little girl they save from the bad guys while they try to get to relative safety.

Unlike many similar genre examples, Kray and her friends aren’t hardened street gangsters or young punks, they’re way out of their depth in the murky Philippine underworld where drugs have become too much hassle while disappearing street children might even be viewed as a public service by the current regime. A bunch of martial arts experts with broken dreams and ruined hearts, all they want is to survive. Kray wants to help her dad, Cheche (Max Eigenmann) wants to move back to the country and open a shop, Jonesky (Thou Reyes) is just sick of being poor, and Reneboy (Nico Dans) is looking for a family seeing as his own has moved to Germany without him. Ramil, the slick pretty boy leader just wants to lead with a mild ulterior motive of using his friends to get rich and perhaps winning back the respect of old flame Kray. This world, however, is not going to let them have any of that – they are going to have to fight not only for their lives but also for what’s right if they want to survive.

Somes backgrounds an authoritarian regime as the enabler of such a dark and amoral world as it thinks nothing of gunning down “drug dealers” in the streets while turning a blind eye to other kinds of violence and horror which, in a strange way, perhaps play into its continuous propaganda machine. Yet as much as our heroes are essentially trying to fight their way out of inescapable poverty, Somes’ grime fuelled action picture is pure B-movie, filled with gritty street violence enacted with makeshift weapons and fierce ingenuity. The fighting is ugly, and real (not to mention bloody), but our heroes are fighting for more than just their lives, they’re fighting for the soul of the society in which they live. Desperate to survive, they would rather die fighting than give in to the darkness but the night is long and the battle only just beginning.


We Will Not Die Tonight was screened at the New York Asian Film Festival 2018.

Original trailer (dialogue free, English captions)