There’s more to Rod Marmol’s “Mata Tapang” than meets the eye (there are a lot of eye puns in this review, be forewarned). While it seems like a war film on the surface, it proves more of a supernatural drama about friendship and brotherhood. A few cringe-worthy moments and its wearisome pacing notwithstanding, its interesting premise ultimately makes the film wholly entertaining.
Sergeant Luis Batobato (Edgar Allan Guzman), Bangks (Aaron Villaflor) Yulo (Miguel Almendras), and Razon (Jerald Napoles) are Marine officers who get ambushed during a military operation. Luis, known more intimately by his friends as “Hardrock”, is the lone survivor and loses his eye to the encounter. Ironically, losing his eye allowed him to “see” the spirits of his fallen comrades, who need him to help them resolve their respective unfinished businesses in order to find closure and finally cross to the afterlife.
Director Rod Marmol isn’t subtle with the ironies folden into “Mata Tapang”. When he lost his left eye, Luis essentially gains a “third eye”—or, as one character funnily notes, a “second eye”—allowing him to see and speak with the spirits of his dead friends. By losing his sight, he’s also offered the sight of his friends for who they really are—one of them grapples with his sexuality, one is experiencing a moral dilemma, and the one is in love with a person Luis least expects.
It’s a smart and straightforward concept. “Mata Tapang” bravely discusses religion, sexuality, and morality against a military backdrop, albeit with too preachy a voice in some of its moments.
The only problem that I’ve had with this movie is that it’s difficult to empathize with the characters. Maybe it’s because the stakes aren’t convincing and the conflict’s resolution predictable, especially given the fact that the trailer pretty much shows the whole movie already. To be fair, though, the dynamics of the main characters also worked well for the story. Most notable is Aaron Villaflor who, boyish charm and charisma aside, gives a heartfelt performance, turning the movie into Bangks’ story as much as it is Luis’.
Among the CineFilipino 2018 entries, I’d say “Mata Tapang” is a must-see. Told you there’d be puns.
2018 / Rod Marmol / PH
Direction: Rod Marmol Screenplay: Rod Marmol Cast: Edgar Allan Guzman, Arron Villaflor, Jerald Napoles, Miguel Almendras, Ritz Azul
An absolutist soldier who lost an eye in battle opens a new “eye” that makes him see his fallen brother and accomplish their life missions.