Director: Lino Brocka
Stars: Alan Paule, Jacklyn Jose, Daniel Fernando, Princess Punzalan
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Filipino censors hacked Macho Dancer to pieces before its domestic release, removing sexually explicit scenes. Since this must have left a very short film with at least two-thirds of its scenes missing, we can all be thankful that an intact print was smuggled out of the Philippines and is now housed in the permanent collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art. This print is used for all new DVD releases.
The movie was shot on the streets of red-light Manila. Pol (Alan Paule) is a rural Filipino who supports his family by servicing American GIs who pass through town. He’s lured to Manila by the promise of more glamorous prostitution and there he meets Noel (Daniel Fernando) another country boy who’s become an experienced go-go dancer at various gay-for-pay sex clubs. Drug dealing, petty crime and crooked cops are part of the scene. In the simple, melodramatic plot that follows, Pol falls in love with Bambi (Jacklyn Jose) a vivacious hooker from the girlie bars. Noel’s sister Pining (Princess Punzalan) has also fled rural poverty only to land in a prison-like Manila brothel, and Pol and Noel hatch a plan to break her free.
Top acting is the order of the day, with Jose and Fernando rewarded with the Filipino Oscar, the Gawad Urian, for their performances. A scene where Noel, sobbing in the embrace of Pol, briefly tries to kiss his surprised friend on the lips, is a standout.
Brocka, who died in a car accident in 1991, was prolific, and the Philippines’ most celebrated film maker of his day. He made several movies similar to Macho Dancer, such as Manila: Into the Claws of Darkness, which looked at a rural boy who rescues his sister from imprisonment in a Manila brothel. Despite working under the eye of the Marcos dictatorship, Brocka was able to make dozens of highly critical films about the plight of Manila’s poor.
Brocka was equally fascinated and repelled by the go-go scene and the impassive, almost casual style of Macho Dancer suggests that while his felt for the boys, he never really knew what to think about them.