The opening credits of Astig already give moviegoers an idea that they are in for a wild ride.
Utilizing his years of experience as a music video director, GB Sampedro heightens the excitement of viewers by showing a montage of photos in the Manila area as the catchy song "Astig" plays in the background.
Astig (international title: Squalor) focuses on four men all deemed worthy of being called astig. In the film's subtitles, the term astig is translated as squalor survivor. In colloquial language, astig is Pinoy slang for the word tigas (which translates to being tough).
In this film, we meet four tough men: a con artist named Ariel Darlucio (played by Dennis Trillo); a young expectant father named Boy (Edgar Allan Guzman); a Zamboanga native named Ronald (Arnold Reyes) who is trying to sell a decrepit building in Escolta; and Baste (Sid Lucero), a university student and overprotective brother of Elgine (played by Glaiza de Castro).
RECTO AVENUE. Episode 1 tells the story of Ariel, a conman who works for a shop at C.M. Recto Avenue, selling fake diplomas and other documents.
Dennis Trillo gives an angst-ridden performance in his first indie film. He swears, he beats up guys just for the heck of it, and he sells his body to all kinds of women. He's the all-around bad boy but with a heart.
Ariel's tough guy exterior melts when he meets Elgine (portrayed by Glaiza de Castro). The young girl gives up her virginity to him and the look on Glaiza's face after their deed is truly priceless. It conveys the look of a bride who has just saved herself for her groom but it's a gift that is underappreciated by her jaded partner. As they leave that dinghy motel room, Elgine's life is drastically altered, paving the way for a climactic ending.
Technically, Dennis gave a good performance but he could have been more effective if he was made to look more brusque and rough-looking. He was just too clean-cut for his role as a kanto boy making a living hoodwinking other people.
OROQUIETA STREET. Boy (Edgar Allan Guzman) is a teenage father who sells beauty products given to him by his mother (portrayed by Chanda Romero).
When the camera shows a closeup of his wife (portrayed by Angelique Urquico), viewers can clearly see her pimples, underscoring the youthfulness of this teenage mother.
When Chanda's character is apprehended for shoplifting, Boy does not hesitate to use his savings to bail her out. Penniless and desperate, Boy offers his services to Tanda (Arman Reyes). As he humbly kneels down to "service" the old man, we could actually hear the young moviegoers gasp and beg Boy not to do it. Such is the ability of Edgar Allan to evoke sympathy from moviegoers.
BINONDO. Ronald (Arnold Reyes) is part-Chinese but he has been living mostly in Zambaonga. When his Chinese father died, he was bequeathed a building in Escolta. However, the area is surrounded by squatters, making it very difficult for him to sell the building.
Humor is injected into the story when mainstream stars have cameo roles as potential buyers. Even the co-producer of the film, Boy Abunda, appears briefly sans speaking lines.
Finally, Gardo Versoza's character takes a look into the building and offers to buy it but in return, he takes advantage of the probinsyano. After the deed, Ronald is shown butt naked with moonlight illuminating his chiseled body. In an effort to regain his sense of masculinity, Ronald hires a prostitute (portrayed by Keanna Reeves) but he ends up being taken advantage of—again!
With his two love scenes (with a male and a female) and skin baring scenes in this movie, Arnold shows that he can do such scenes without being sleazy in the process.
ARRANQUE. Baste (Sid Lucero) stands as a father figure to his siblings since their father is serving time in prison in a foreign country. He has a tendency to be overprotective, especially when it comes to his sister Elgine (Glaiza de Castro).
My favorite moment in the movie was when Baste sarcastically asked Elgine, "Meron bang pokpok na nagbabasa ng pocketbook?" To which, Elgine quickly retorted, "Bakit, wala na bang karapatan magbasa ng pocketbook ang prostitute?"
Oo nga naman.
It's just too bad that during the last sequence, Sid Lucero was giving an intense performance but he could barely be seen by viewers since the room that he was in was too dark. The scene took place during a brownout but of course, he could have been given candles as props so he could have been properly illuminated.
Astig will take viewers on a wild ride along Manila's busy intersections, cramped squatters' areas, seedy motels and theater houses as well as anomalous hospitals. Since Direk GB Sampedro used to study in Colegio de San Juan de Letran in Intramuros, he is able to capture the dirt and filth of the "Distinguished and Ever Loyal City."
Even though the movie has an ensemble cast, each character is given his/her time to shine onscreen. It's a fast-paced story yet viewers will be able to connect the dots and realize how our actions can greatly affect the lives of other people—whether we realize it or not.
Personally, I've lived in Manila for a long time already but I rarely think about the lives of the kanto boys, street vendors and other people that I pass by on the street.
In the same manner, the four protagonists lead distinct lives but their stories are interconnected without them even knowing it. But through the masterful editing, viewers won't get lost by all the twists and turns of the plot.
In life, everything indeed, comes full circle.
Catch the topgrosser of Cinemalaya Cinco before it goes to the 14th Pusan International Film Festival and to the Asiatic Filmmediale in Rome, Italy by the end of October.
Astig is rated R-18 by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. It is currently being screened in Robinsons Galleria IndieSine (Cinema 8).