The exciting part in Brillante Mendoza’s Kinatay is not the murder and body-part dispatch of the female drug dealer-victim (played by Isabel Lopez). It is the flat-tire ending, a baffling moment for Peping, the main character played by Coco Martin.
The movie begins with a wedding. Peping and his live-in girlfriend, Cecille (played by Mercedes Cabral) are happily rushing through the streets to go to city hall for an appointment with the justice of the peace. They weave through the hustle and bustle of Barangka neighborhood in Mandaluyong City.
Brillante Mendoza’s film begins with an upbeat rhythm of high expectation. Peping and his fiancée have deposited their baby with a neighbor. He is about to legalize his status. There is no trace of guilt in Peping, of trying to right a wrong in his relationship with his girlfriend. Rather, it is played out like a natural process: that now he can marry Cecille, his beloved, in anticipation of his becoming a full-fledged policeman with a career ahead of him. He is at the dawn of a new life as husband. He is at the threshold of his career as a future policeman, a boyhood dream he claims to have had ever since tambayan pinoy movies.
A good part of the beginning follows Peping through the marriage ritual-bleached of any religious affiliation. It is the secular state, in the sala of the Justice of the Peace (played by Lou Veloso) that is in charge of overseeing and legalizing the bond of Peping and his wife. As they proceed to the municipio for their appointment, they witness a high-tension scene between a man perched like Humpty Dumpty high up on top of a steel structure near Edsa, and his distraught mother, hysterically calling out to her son, to come down from the high beam. This image of precarious self-destruction is glimpsed amidst the happy expectation, if not euphoria of Peping, Cecille, and family on the way to the wedding and reception.
The next episode in Brillante Mendoza’s storyline brings Peping back to school attending a class of would-be rookies. The excitement of the wedding that just happened in the morning infects everyone in the class. There is much bantering among his classmates, and teacher.
After class, Abiong (played by Jhong Hilario), his friend, informs Peping of an urgent assignment that same night: the boss wants them.
Here the Brillante Mendoza’s movie shifts into the dark bowels of the city. A female drug dealer (Isabel Lopez) is picked up from a bar-night club, and whisked away in a van. A journey through Roxas Boulevard, and Edsa, ends up via the NLEX in some remote town in Bulacan or Pampanga.
The female is interrogated and beaten up in the van. Much of these scenes are filmed in dark shadows with a constant barrage of incidental car and road noises.
At the safe house, the victim is dragged into a basement, revived by a pail of water, and interrogated further about her shortcomings, betrayals, and failures to deliver the promised money. All the while, Peping watches the proceeding helplessly in one corner. The assistant to the boss, Kap (played by Julio Diaz) orders him together with Abiong, to buy cigarettes and a lighter. They take the van to town. Abiong hands him a gun. He says Kap told him it was a present for Peping for his personal use. Agitated and confused, Peping contemplates abandoning his friend. He stealthily slips away, attempts to take a bus, fleeing the scene. His cell phone rings. Abiong is wondering where he is? He reluctantly goes back to meet his companion.
As Brillante Mendoza returns the story to the safe house, Peping returns to the basement with the cigarettes. At this time, the victim attempts desperately to negotiate some deal with Kap. Instead his friend, Abiong, rapes her. The horror mounts effectively due to the fact that the scene is staged matter-of-factly. No melodramatic effects are resorted to. Screaming for her life, we hear her panic amidst the black shadows, “Huwag n’yo kong patayin, me anak ako!” (Don’t kill me, please, I have a child!”
She is killed, and then hacked, limb by limb, body part by body part. Brillante Mendoza’s stages this episode in a detached style, showing the efficiency of the murderers/executioners. He is careful not to choreograph a sensational rhythm of brutality, given the mounting emotions of all concerned. Absence of melodrama is sustained. We are far from Hollywood. To me, this is a-typical Pinoy cinema!
Brillante Mendoza brings us now back to the city… it is nearly dawn. The body parts, wrapped in plastic are strewn, one by one, or hurled onto different garbage sites.
Back in the city, somewhere in Grace Park, the team stops by the wayside for a breakfast meal. Peping by this time is stupefied by the nightmare. He asks to be excused. He can’t eat. The Boss allows him to go home. He gives him money to take a taxi.
In the taxi, Peping pulls out the gun from his bag. And while staring at it, we hear an explosion. The taxicab has had a flat tire. Freaked out, Peping goes down from the taxi and weakly tries to hail another cab. In the meanwhile, the driver changes the tire. Once fixed, the driver bids him to come back in. It takes a long while for Peping to come to grips with himself. Then he goes back in. At this juncture, Brillante Mendoza heightens the tension and drama. It reminded me of Kafka’s story, “Metamorphosis.” Peping has become exactly like Gregor Samsa. In the Kafka story, Gregor Samsa wakes up in bed, and discovers he has become a bug. The horror of that story is not that he has been transformed into an insect. The horror is that he and his family take it for granted. At the end of the story, Kafka describes the room of Gregor lying in bed with the bedroom window wide open. Vladimir Nabokov, the Russian novelist, in analyzing the story was bemused to ask, if Gregor was a bug in his bed, with a window wide open, why did he not use his wings to fly out to freedom?
Brillante Mendoza’s Peping has become a reincarnation of Gregor Samsa. Totally disoriented, and psychologically dislocated, Peping stares at his new weapon given him that night. The movie began with hope and expectations. The images of self-obliteration (the would-be suicide at Edsa) disturbed his wedding ritual. The experience of brutality and violence interrupted his wedding feast, annihilating his sense of self. Peping has lost his wings. Is the trauma temporary, or permanent?