“Ruined Heart – Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore” – 2015 BiFan Film Review

Tadanobu Asano (left) in "Ruined Heart – Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore." (still courtesy of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival)
Tadanobu Asano (left) in “Ruined Heart – Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore.” (still courtesy of the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival)

Khavn de la Cruz’s new film “Ruined Heart – Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore” (2014) is not for the feint of stomach. It is a picture that revels in body fluids and horrors; sex, death, and love all have their corollaries in spit, cum, and blood. While many indie films brag about their DIY production values and Filipino directors like Brilliante Mendoza use their slum surroundings to pitch a brand of poverty porn that big name festivals regurgitate as artistic, Khavn eschews such bourgeoisie acclaim.

The director, a polyglot who not only directs films but is also a poet, singer-songwriter, painter, pianist and writer, has the distinct honor of being the father of digital cinema in the Philippines. Famous for utilizing guerilla film tactics when shooting his digital manifestos, this time around in “Ruined Heart” l’auteur de la Cruz has by his side gonzo cinematographer Christopher Doyle, whose work for Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai has been a major influence on many artists, commercial or otherwise.

As prolific as Khavn is, it may at first be confusing to find a similarly titled short film directed by the director in 2012 with a whole different cast and director of photography. I have not seen this earlier version, but I doubt it was merely a dry run for this picture. It’s a telling sign that both versions of this film have the subtitle Another Lovestory Between a Criminal & a Whore following the main title; making it possible that maybe the director desires to make several installments of this film series with the basic template of a gun and a girl being the only carryovers.

From the first shot until fade out, the 2014 version of “Ruined Heart” embraces its lo-fi aesthetic and is a mishmash of visual experimentation. Doyle and de la Cruz’s goal seems less about composing beautiful shots (though the film does have some remarkably poignant and frame worthy compositions), and more about creating a sensory experience through light and sound. A clear example of this is the chase sequences with Tadanobu Asano, the titular Criminal of the story. These sequences mainly consist of Asano holding what appears to be a small camera or smartphone as he makes his getaway, darting and weaving through the back alleys of Manila. The shot composition stays fairly uniform, with Asano’s head and a bit of the background visible behind it, but add to that the actor’s constant movement and the result is a very impressionistic chase sequence with the sounds of footsteps and people coupled with streaks of light and color.

For those curious about the story, don’t be. There is no story. The film is more a retelling of a contemporary myth set to music: the modern-day romance between two fallen souls, the eponymous criminal and whore. Although it stars Japanese superstar Asano, he only speaks during the last scene of the film, and his dialogue amounts to about two minutes of un-subtitled Japanese. Bing Austria & the Flippin’ Soul Stompers must be commended for their catchy song “Ruined Heart” which becomes the film’s main theme; with trumpets blaring and a rock jazz band that evokes old school R&B it makes you want to just get up and dance.

In summary, “Ruined Heart” is singular in style. It is not shot in digital made to look “professional”; instead it is a digital film that utilizes the medium in a more daring way. It is not always beautiful, and for those who need a conventional narrative story to keep one interested, then this film is not for you. “Ruined Heart” demands an audience that is not afraid to be challenged and can look upon the beauty of ugliness without averting their eyes.

This is the first article in a new series of reviews by Meniscus Magazine reporter Rex Baylon titled “New Philippine Cinema,” which focuses on rising Filipino filmmakers and their work. “Ruined Heart – Another Love Story Between a Criminal & a Whore” will screen at the 2015 Bucheon International Film Festival on July 18 and 22.  For ticket information, go to bifan.kr.