We were at the premiere of Dance of the Steel Bars last Monday. I wasn’t hoping for the best. In fact, I was expecting the worst. I was ready to sneak out of the theater quietly if I found the movie not to my liking. Honestly, my patience is short for movies that fail to live up to what I claim to be my own standards after watching thousands of films in the last five decades.
To my surprise, after the lead time I gave the film (usually it’s 15 minutes) I had the urge to sit through and finish it and I am glad I did.
Jointly directed by Cesar Apolinario, a GMA News and Public Affairs reporter and host and Marnie Manicad, producer-director of the National Geographic documentary Malacañan, the film the grit of a documentary spiced with an almost soap operatic drama involving a dance instructor (Dingdong Dantes) convicted of killing a transsexual and an American accused of murdering a local amid a slew of minor characters one of whom a transvestite (Joey Paras) and other criminals detained in the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center.
Though it has a rather thin plot, the polish that the filmmakers showed in developing the film into a decent oeuvre is admirable. Apolinario and Manicad were able to make Dantes, Patrick Bergin, Paras, Thou Reyes (the criminally insane hatchet man of the deputy warden), Ricky Davao (jail warden) and Gabe Mercado (the corrupt and ambitious deputy warden) move through the maze of the detention center within the universe of the film’s fictitious world.
Dantes is now the best actor of his generation and he proved that to me in this movie. Though unschooled in acting, he showed an innate talent to interpret human behavior without being over the top. The scene with Patrick Bergin after he learned that his father died I must say was the best ever by a Filipino actor his age. Dantes was aware he was up against a formidable talent like Bergin, but the Filipino actor showed he couldn’t be overshadowed by the Hollywood import. Although the story is told from the point of view of the American, it was able to put Dantes’ character in the right perspective within the milieu of the film.
Dingdong Dantes believes that this project will show the world the resilient Filipino culture, the remarkable talent of local filmmakers and their vision towards globalization of the film industry. “It will be something that will mark the start of something great and I am so proud to be part of it,” Dantes said prior to the screening of the film.
Filmed on location in Cebu and Manila, Dance of the Steel Bars follows Frank Parish (Patrick Bergin), a retired US fireman and philanthropist who finds himself wrongly accused of murder and jailed in the Philippines. Stuck in prison, Frank begins to lose faith in everything he believes in until he becomes friends with Mando (Dingdong Dantes), a convicted murderer who denies his passion for dancing just to prove his masculinity and Allona (Joey Paras), a transvestite who tries to contribute to prison reforms by teaching his fellow inmates dance exercises.
They get involved in a tricky struggle between the positive changes initiated by the new warden (Ricky Davao) and the corrupt system that weighs down the inmates’ chance to become better individuals. Frank finds himself caught in an intricate web of lies and must choose between concealing what he knows to keep him out of danger or to help his fellow inmates by revealing the truth. All throughout the film each character, will be faced with a moral dilemma: will they remain sitting on the fence or will they dance with the steel bars?
Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia plays a cameo as herself and I must congratulate her for encouraging the provincial jail officers in instituting reforms in the facility that has made the detention center an envy around the world.
Cindera Che, a renowned performance coach based in Los Angeles, choreographed the dance performances in the movie. Cindera was Michael Jackson’s muse in his “Smooth Criminal” music video. Edward White, a London-based composer, wrote the score for the movie. Ed was mentored by Hans Zimmer and also did live performances for Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber.
Now, we have been complaining about how insane local movies are lately. This one definetly is not among them. And I egg you, please watch it and tell me if I am not right.