Color, 1980, 107 mins. 1 sec.
Directed by Mike De Leon
Starring Christopher de Leon, Jay Ilagan, Sandy Andolong, Charo Santos, Boboy Garovillo, Johnny Delgado
Kani (Blu-ray) (US RA HD) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Anyone who thinks they have a handle on Filipino cinema will get totally flipped upside down by Will Your Heart Beat Faster? (Kakabakaba Ka Ba?), a rock musical absurdist comedy complete with a conspiracy theory involving Japanese crime lords and phony nuns. The film is one of the most outrageous features from filmmaker Mike De Leon, who turned out many films for the studio LVN Pictures founded by his grandmother. His output defies easy genre classifications and has undergone major restorations in recent years, even leading to a 2022 retrospective at MoMA. Several of his titles have been available on and off streaming for purchase or rental, but this 2023 Blu-ray release from Kani marks the first physical media edition of what would be a substantial cult favorite if enough people watched it.
Clumsy but ambitious low-level Yakuza member Onota (Garovillo) keeps coming up with bizarre, failed attempts to smuggle drugs and illicit funds into the Philippines, but his most cockeyed concept yet comes when he decides to bring in opium inside an audio cassette tape. The plan involves getting the tape out of Manila as part of a larger plan concocted by the mob, who are at odds with the Chinese factions trying to control the Filipino black market in what amounts to a struggle for the minds and addictions of the entire populace. Enter Johnny (Christopher de Leon), a musician who ends up carrying the tape a la Diva and is working on a project with his buddies (Ilagan, Andalong, and Santos). Romantic subplots mingle with the full scope of the criminal plans, which involve roping in unsuspecting Catholics with a riotous gimmick you won't believe.
An adorably deranged satire, De Leon's epic somehow manages to become progressively outrageous as it goes along and really hits its stride at the 90-minute mark with a spectacular glitter rock number / battle scene complete with singing nuns, samurai fights, racist slurs, and an ode to the wonder of Japanese technology. You'd have to be a local viewer to really get all the jokes and references that get fired away here, but anyone can easily get caught up in its giddy energy and go-for-broke satire of external national influences on the people As with far too many other Filipino titles, this one wasn't taken care of particularly well over the years and was completely extinct on celluloid in its home country, but fortunately De Leon had the foresight to archive this and some of his other works at Singapore's Asian Film Archives; that means a full-scale restoration could be conducted with the usable portions of the film negative and a print.
That 2K restoration (performed by the notoriously erratic L'Immagine Ritrovata from material scanned in 4K) makes for a fine introduction here with the Blu-ray looking as good as you could expect from the condition of the source. Colors are vibrant, though the blacks and whites aren't as robust as you'd hope given the lab's perpetual habit of giving everything a beige cast. Noise reduction has obviously been applied, there's enough detail and film grain here to keep it from turning into a smearfest. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Tagalog audio options include the original damaged track and a restored option, with optional English subtitles; you might as well go with the restored one unless you want to hear how it sounded in its raw form. Also included are an interview with screenwriter Raquel Villavicencio (31m22s), who wore many other hats in the industry over the years and talks about her creative process with De Leon after they crossed paths on much earlier films, and a 14m1s behind-the-scenes 8mm promo cut with snippets from the final product. You get some more De Leon with 1982's Aliwan Paradise (28m49s), his contribution to the multi-national anthology film Southern Winds, here offering a music-packed look at a song competition meant to distract from turbulent current events. Finally you get a sample of LVN's earlier period with 1947's rare Miss Philippines, a feature by Gregorio Fernandez (99m26s) with optional English or Tagalog subtitles. This fizzy romantic comedy about a colorful cast of postwar characters dealing with nightclub life, infidelity, and odd meta touches about the entertainment biz; the quality here is extremely rough (especially the first reel which was preserved with h a home movie camera off a projected screening). A brief 2m2s demo shows how the film was salvaged as much as possible given the iffy nature of what survives. An insert booklet features extensive extracts from De Leon's Last Look Back and makes for fun reading as he talks about the "racist comedy" approach, the musical inspiration of Evita, and the initial banning of his film until he added a disclaimer at the beginning so people would clearly understand the nuns were impersonators. Also included are an informative piece by Jessica Zafra about Miss Philippines.
Reviewed on September 17, 2023