If you’re familiar with Jay Altarejos’ previous LGBT-themed films, you may have expected his Sinag Maynila entry, “Tale of the Lost Boys”, to be riddled with passionate, sexy scenes and unapologetic nudity. In his 2007 film “Ang Lalake Sa Parola” (Eng. lit. “The Man in the Lighthouse”), a caretaker of a desolate lighthouse starts a romantic relationship with a gay man he meets from the city. His 2008 film, “Ang Lihim ni Antonio” (Eng. lit. “Antonio’s Secret”), follows a fifteen-year-old boy’s sexual awakening to violent and harrowing ends. Coupled with Altarejos’ other films such as “Kambyo”, “Laruang Lalake”, and “Ang Laro Sa Buhay ni Juan” the themes of his previous work tread towards homoeroticism, romance, and sometimes tragedy.
In“Tale of the Lost Boys” we follow two stories: The first is that of Alex (Oliver Aquino), a salesman whose father abandoned him when he was still young. Not long after, his mother does the same thing and starts a new family in Taipei, leaving him alone in the Philippines. Alex’s fate comes full circle when he flees the Philippines and flies to Taiwan as a respite from his discovering that his girlfriend is pregnant.
The second tale is that of Jerry (Ta Su), a Taiwanese aborigine belonging to the Atayal Tribe. Jerry moonlights as a bartender while he completes his studies as a med student. He toils away so that he’s able to give back to his tribe; in fact, he’s studying to be a doctor because that’s what his tribe needs. His parents expect him to marry and become a tribal leader like his father. The trouble is, with too much at stake, Jerry is conflicted about revealing the fact that he is gay and has a live-in partner in the city.
Altarejos finds a way to connect these two stories seamlessly into one of boys lost in their own respective struggles. Alex and Jerry’s stories are night-and-day different, but the friendship they struck weaves a truly human connection. They realize that they are both, to some degree, alienated from their own families. They both brawl against conflicted identities: Jerry feels the pressure of having to decide between keeping his happiness as a gay man or fulfilling his promised role in the tribe. Alex, meanwhile, exclaims that he is neither his father nor his mother’s son, given how he grew up without parents. The film creates an interesting dynamics between the two cultures, even going so far as suggesting that the two main characters may be related by blood.
Between the two arcs, Jerry’s story feels more fleshed-out. The film takes its time in building up his backstory, moving buoyantly as his character unpeels. Ta Su also portrays the character with dedication, as he gradually transforms from cheery bartender to anxious son, and finally to a man who finds the courage to speak for himself, even if only to a certain extent.
Alex’s story, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of Jerry’s. The whole arc is rushed, the denouement bland, and Oliver Aquino’s portrayal feels uninspired that the character feels like a margin of a bigger if flawed story. May de Los Santos’ screenplay coasts on the interaction between the two “lost boys” that it forgets it’s telling a story still, and that it must, if it wants its emotionally charged finale feel nothing short than earned.
Eschewing romantic love or sexuality, “Tale of the Lost Boys” is ultimately an endearing story about friendship, and how fleeting interactions with strangers may lead to a more meaningful, humanly bonds.
Tale of the Lost Boys
2018 / Drama
Director: Jay Altarejos Screenplay: May de Los Santos Cast: Oliver Aquino, Ta Su, Kristel Romero
The story of the friendship between two men — Alex (Oliver Aquino), a Filipino mechanic, and Jerry (Ta Su), a Taiwanese aborigine student. The two meet randomly when Alex flees to Taipei from Manila, upon learning that his girlfriend is pregnant. A casual conversation develops into a surprising personal connection between them. Both realize that they yearn for a more intimate connection with their mothers since Alex’s abandoned him for a new family while Jerry is afraid that his traditional parents will reject him for being gay. The two men go on a road trip and end up at Jerry’s tribe. The trip eventually makes them reconnect with their mothers and both discover a certain sense of identity and freedom.