PHILIPPINES – 2012 – 84 MIN – COLOUR - FEATURE - IN TAGALOG WITH ENGLISH SUBTITLES
A FILM BY RON MORALES
Family man Marlon Villar is the long-time driver of Manuel Chango, a corrupt Filipino congressman. One afternoon, while driving his and Chango’s preteen daughters home from school, the three are violently ambushed in a kidnapping attempt. When the attempt goes horribly awry, the wrong girl is taken, and the driver's life takes a sudden, terrifying turn. Left as the only witness to the crime, Marlon’s loyalty is called into question. As events unravel further, he, Chango, and their families become ensnared in a downward spiral of betrayal and deceit that will ultimately leave no one innocent.
I stumbled onto the beginnings of GRACELAND while doing research in the Philippines for another script. My original intent was to tell a story about a community of Filipino Shamans living in the country’s Middle Islands. During my time researching and interviewing subjects in the field, I repeatedly came across stories of kidnapping, child prostitution, and organ trafficking that hinted at a dark and ubiquitous underworld community, operating with widespread impunity throughout much of the country. I interviewed a number of people – especially young people – who had had their voices taken away from them through the tributaries of poverty, organized crime, and sexual exploitation. The inability of these people to represent their daily struggles resonated strongly with me. I felt that theirs’ was the story about my homeland that I wanted to tell.
The real life experience I encountered in researching this world engendered my desire to assemble a cast of flawed and dualistic characters. The world I set out to explore was rife with powerful and corrupting forces, and I wanted to show how these forces were enacted equally on everyone who experiences them. I felt I witnessed a very tangible elision in the boundaries between those characters that one might traditionally associate as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys.’
My understanding of the space in which the story unfolds was inspired strongly by a Tagalog cockfighting term: wala. Translated literally wala means ‘have not.’ Essentially, ‘underdog.’ In the pervasive world of organized crime of the Philippines, the conventional division between ‘good’ and ‘bad,’ as commonly understood it in the Western society, seems to be replaced by a less philosophical but more practical division between the have or have not. Those who ‘have’ also have the opportunity to make choices, even in a moral sense. Those who ‘have not’ are powerless against the whims of those who have. GRACELAND is a story about one underdog who decides he wants to take something for himself, and what happens to him as a result.
Because the film emerged so directly from my research, I wanted the subject matter to follow the threads of something that is sociological, even behavioral - but I also felt strongly that I wanted to make a narrative film. The task I set out on was not to make a documentary. My aim was to trace trajectories - of both the socially scientific and the narrative - to the point where they intersect. I wanted to make something that was substantial, but at the same time naturalistic. —Ron Morales
"Graceland is a small film that deals with big issues via a smart script that keeps you on edge all along the way."
- NOW Magazine
"Any half-decent kidnapping thriller needs more than a little ice in its veins, and Graceland certainly succeeds on that count."
- The Grid
"a gritty and twisty kidnapping thriller set on the very mean streets of Manila"
- Toronto Star
"Writer/director Ron Morales has assembled Graceland‘s many moving parts cleanly and with power."
- Toronto Film Scene
"Morales delivers an arresting thriller that puts a man’s ethics to the test."
- Philippine Reporter
"...Graceland transcends many of the films it resembles by casting off frills and staying focused on its bruised protagonist, a man seriously out of his depth."
"The unflinchingly candid look at Manilla and all the grime and nastiness it can entail is laid bare as the film is never afraid to go to those small corners and back away from very difficult subject matter."
"Much of the film’s success relies on the performance of the conflicted Marlon played by Arnold Reyes who conveys his character’s suffering with all the believability you could ask from an actor without actually kidnapping his daughter.
With the levels of despair and immorality depicted, Morales manages to kidnap all predictability. Not for the light-hearted, Graceland is a thriller that shocks in ways no Hollywood film could ever get away with."
- Dork Shelf
"Graceland has all the elements of a good thriller – with unexpected twists, good pace – plus it sheds light on current issues through an engaging narrative."
- Addicted Magazine
"With help from an earth-shaking performance from Reyes, and from cinematographer Sung Rae Cho’s evocative shots of Metro Manila, Morales establishes himself with Graceland as one of the pre-eminent voices in a new generation of Filipino filmmakers."
- Quick Mag