Its OFW story is one that deals carefully with the fact of male bodies, where Emman Toledo (Aga Muhlach) and his dance group are hostos in Japan: dancing in a club and stepping out of there with blonde women in tow. The crisis of the Filipino family in the face of the OFW phenomenon is shown here with a bright honesty: there is no one to blame, there are no judgments, some loves don’t survive the distance. Coming home from Japan and into poverty is shown as a matter of provincial conditions: the OFW is home, he’s got nothing.
But the crisis of Emman, as powerful as this story already is, is made more complex in a narrative that didn’t know when to stop, as if the unhappiness wasn’t enough.
Emman’s life is complicated by a love in Japan, who gets embroiled in yakuza money laundering, for which Emman agrees to be fall guy. The problem with Emman sacrificing life and limb -- and son in Manila -- for this girl is that we don’t know her at all: why was she in Japan, what were her motivations?
All we know of Cedes Fernandez (Angel Locsin) is her youthfulness, she has a crush on Emman and calls him Kuya, dresses in almost cos play outfits, obviously the better to show the age difference with. Then we see Cedes in the present as the silent oppressed woman in a relationship with a politico’s son: she barely speaks, is never spoken to.
Yes, it’s in the present that Emman is an impoverished ex-convict from Japan and Cedes is the prostitute turned girlfriend of Dylan (Jake Cuenca), the governor’s son. Emman and Cedes have unfinished business, one that explains the latter’s silences and the former’s sadnesses. Ideally a movie allows this backstory to unravel given the struggle of the characters, given a really good script.
Instead In The Name of Love uses flashbacks like crazy, with the camera focusing on an object of the past (the music box, the keychain) which dissolves into a flashback. This function comes to a head when the camera focuses on a calendar with Mt. Fuji and cherry blossoms and the blossoms begin to fall and it flashes back to Emman and Cedes dancing the tango in that setting! It was too magical realist for comfort, out of place in such a serious narrative, and elicited laughter in the almost filled theater.
Now this montage of love and happiness is in every Pinoy romantic movie, so why couldn’t it be here? This is a movie after all that wanted to do everything, and it’s easy to think that these flashbacks might have been a statement on innocence being killed by the enterprise of the OFW, how love is lost in its oppressions, including its aftermath.
This aftermath was as grave for Cedes as it was for Emman: in fact it seems that their love got the better of them, as the story of Cedes’ past seven years unravels in the confrontation cum breakdown scene. It’s here where the flashbacks became messy. Scenes were interspersed with each character’s breakdown monologue, and none of it was needed. A good script would’ve sufficed, but here we were forced to look at images: what really happened the last time Emman and Cedes saw each other, Cedes becoming a dancer / a mistress / a prostitute, Cedes dancing for the governor’s family.
The flashbacks also fail the good acting that’s here. Angel does what she can with Cedes, believable both as innocent girl and the angry seething smart woman trapped in a political family. She lets go of the pretty girl acting that’s in most her romance movies, and here shows how quiet intelligent acting is possible for this generation of actresses.
But this is Aga’s show as Emman’s character is more evolved and real. For the first time Aga seems to have gotten rid of the goal to be good looking in a movie, and instead becomes a regular guy his age, man boobs and all. It was refreshing. Angel too was aged by having a real woman’s body, that is not reed thin, and absolutely truthful. One hopes she stays there.
The only thing worse than the device of the flashback is this movie’s script. There’s something wrong when a filled theater laughs at Emman saying that he’s too old for this game of unfinished business with Cedes: a laughter that’s really about the narrative not quite dealing with this fact of age. The audience laughed too when Emman auditioned to be Cedes’ dance instructor and did some OA dancing for good measure. They laughed too when with a gunshot wound, Emman speed drove to save Cedes’ life but was able to put on a coat before getting out of the car.
Yes, In The Name of Love was also an action movie in the end. As it was about a political family’s abuses, with extrajudicial killings, summary executions, grave coercion. As it was about the culture of the rural masses and the corruption of the local police force. As it was about OFWs, the traps they fall into. As it was about throwing in some sisterhood and feminism for good measure. As it was about poverty as dead end. Oh but there’s dancing! And beautiful Japanese landscapes! And happiness! And love will save the day!
No, this isn’t about issues in the headlines. It’s about having a romance with these headlines, using them to make a love story so complex, and then doing an injustice to the people these headlines represent by forcing a happily ever after. This movie bit off more than it could chew, happiness and sadness, real love and social realism, the contemporary political landscape, included. Courage has got to be about knowing when to stop.