Film review: Respeto (2017): A Mash-up of Rhymes and Resistance

Community Opinion & Analysis Feb 22, 2019 at 4:05 pm

Respeto-posterBy Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

Respeto is an engrossing mash-up of rhymes and resistance, charting the intergenerational lives of have-nots. It weaves the words and worlds of a young street rapper Hendrix (played by real-life rapper Abra) and the much older reclusive radical poet aka Doc (Dido dela Paz). The former represents the grit of underground Hip Hop caught in the middle of a deadly drug war and the latter of the grizzled era of the UG (underground) struggle during the martial law of late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s.

Treb Montreras’s directorial debut is the highlight of 2019 TIFF Next Wave. With a standard one-and-a-half hours, the film runs on a self-reflexive motif on how a dreamy teen negotiates his own Bildungsroman while surrounded by dispossession and discontent in a city in its death throes.

Seeing himself as having “the heart of a Filipino and the mind of a gangster,” our main character Hendrix is forced by circumstance hustling in Pandacan, Manila. But he wants to gain respect by slugging it out in rap to break away from work as a drug mule under his abusive sister Connie (Thea Yrastorza) and drug-peddling boyfriend Mando (Brian Arda).

Hendrix hangs around with homies Betchai (played by Cebuano actress Chai Fonacier, also a writer and musician herself) and Payaso (Yves Bagadiong) to brush up his swagger and to get a ticket out of the slums.

respeto_01The young rapper’s chauvinism takes a knock when shots fire back at him losing his first rap battle. Wanting to take another stab at the prize by any means necessary, he and his friends break into a second-hand bookstore to no success. Its crabby owner Doc decides that instead of jailtime the teens are ordered to work off the damages in the derelict shop.

Though the two are at odds initially, Doc takes Hendrix under his wing and their friendship would change the boy in his approach to life. Soon enough, the relationship begets respect for the old man whose poetry would enliven the aspiring rap star’s verses and would reveal his past as a writer and as a survivor of government persecution under military rule.

The tropes are revealed from this point on, yet the filmmaker shows interest in something larger than just how an individual learns to find his own voice.

Poetry and the arts are not merely means for individual self-expression; they also echo national consciousness. Montreras’s use of Hip Hop as the anchor of the story is a reaffirmation of it being a rebellious art form translated to the moving image. The filmmaker does not hide his politics both in reel time and in reality. He was once quoted calling out the government for red-baiting tactics.

respeto_03The technical aspects of this indie film were entirely amazing. Each shot is carefully composed by Ike Avellana, the editing of Lawrence Ang, the score of Jay Durias, sound work by Corinne de San Jose and production design by Popo Diaz all contribute amply to create this milieu of thrilling satire and touching authenticity, an adjectival pileup of wonder.

The narrative of Respeto builds to a prolonged, harrowing sequence showing the antagonism embodied by Hendrix’s rival Breezy G. (Loonie) and Doc’s son Fuentes (Nor Domingo), a corrupt cop who controls the dealers in the neighborhood—including Hendrix’s brother-in-law.

The film also features MC Rappers Mike Swift, Apekz, Abbaddon, J Skeelz, Mike Kosa and M-Zhayt and promising female rap artist Luxuria, all of whom had to create their own scripts for their parts in the rap battles that have birthed the 16-bar/pass-the-mic challenge. National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, and poets Vim Nadera, Frank Rivera and Mark Angeles also contributed verses to the film.

As acutely as it conveys the clash of cultures, the camera contemplates the cusswords into changing connotations of collective cool.


Director: Alberto “Treb” Monteras II; screenplay: Nathaniel “Njel” De Mesa, Treb Monteras II; cinematographer: Ike Avellana; editor: Lawrence Ang; production design: Popo diaz; sound: Corinne de San Jose; music: Jay Oliver Durias; producers: Monster Jimenez. Rating: Ca-14A (Alberta), R-13 (Philippines). In Filipino, with English subtitles. Running time: 96 mins.

Starring: Raymond “Abra” Abracosa, Dido de la Paz, Marlon “Loonie” Peroramas, Kate Alejandrino, Chai Fonacier, Ybes Bagadiong, Brian Arda, Nor Domingo, Thea Yrastorza.