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Temptation Island 2.0

It might have been the more apt title, actually, for the benefit of those who are so strict about originals and remakes, and imagine faithfulness to be about keeping to the level of copy. But there’s no crossing the same river twice, and it’s a foregone conclusion that every remake is a retelling, every retelling a different story altogether. And so the question for Chris Martinez’s remake of Joey Gosiengfiao’s 1981 Temptation Island (Regal Films and GMA Films) is: does it still work? Is campiness something we’d know to be an exaggeration? Would campiness work with this set of five girls, three guys, and a gay man? Could Martinez make it work? He apparently can, at least if we take the laughter in that almost filled theater as an indication of success. I myself was familiar with the lines from the original and still found myself laughing, sometimes too loudly or just earlier than the rest of the audience in that cinema. Because there’s a learning curve here, during which the audience seem to warm up to the idea of exaggeration and extremes, the kind that campy relies on. So when the movie begins with Lovi Poe’s Serafina, with her overtly slow and husky voice, and a body in the eternal act of posing, it was easy to feel the audience’s discomfort: ah, this is this kind of movie? Never mind that it wasn’t clear what kind it was. By the time Marian Rivera was delivering Cristina’s lines while dancing with her crook of a boyfriend, the over-the-top delivery seemed to have sunk in, if not the obvious look and feel of an Austin Powers movie.
And so the absurdity of it all, of these four girls, so different in social classes and concerns, being enamored by one beauty pageant suddenly makes sense. The next thing we know we are on a yacht, where the conservative virgin Virginia (Heart Evangelista), the social climber Pura (Solenn Heussaff), the malandi crook Cristina, and the spoiled socialite Serafina begin their journey with gay pageant organizer Joshua (John Lapus) and three men. The next thing we know the boat’s on fire, the girls come together on one raft, find themselves on one island. Temptation’s barely the point. Because they need food and water and shelter, because Serafina is the anti-thesis to every stereotype that exists on that island, traveling – getting stranded – as she does with her personal maid Nympha (Rufa Mae Quinto). The unraveling in this sense is slow, as with the original where the stereotypes plod through the sands of the island, and don’t establish much except their discontent and bickering. Which is of course what makes it fun, and in Martinez’s version is a redefinition of the idea of frolicking in the sun, being stranded notwithstanding. For of course they will fall in love, as the virgin Virginia finds herself with ardent suitor Alfred (Aljur Abrenica), as the crook Cristina gets it on with waiter Umberto (Tom Rodriguez), as the social climber Pura gets hot and heavy with Ricardo (Mikael Daez), regardless of the fact that the latter is stranded there with gay benefactor Joshua. That this romance is riddled with comedy, where love is almost out of the picture, and it’s pure unadulterated and irrational kilig and libogpisikal kung pisikal – just works with these good-looking men, half the time topless, and with Umberto suddenly appearing in just his briefs with no rhyme or reason. Of course the women are also in all manner of undress, given their long gowns tattered by the sea, then by the sun, then by the need to tie their shelters together. But Martinez works his magic here, making sure the sexy is doused with a good amount of the absurd, where what would seem too daring for comfort becomes but part of the narrative of the inane. Kissing and sex are tongue-in-cheek, complete with giggling, big movements, rolling in the sand across the screen; the hallucination in ice cream wonderland has the girls making it like candy strippers in bright colored outfits, laying it on thick as they lick at the object of their mirage. There’s no real romance here, not one bit, and it’s almost a step further than Gosiengfiao’s original in the utter refusal to forget the hyperbolic fabrication. Though this might be the effect of having chosen this particular set of actors for Temptation Island 2.0 as well, and more than anything letting them to their own particular enunciations. Case in point, the crass crook works perfectly in the celebrity of Marian, whose real voice is less than classy, an extreme version of her real gung-ho devil-may-care attitude interspersing believably with the character of Cristina. This interweaving of fictional character and celebrity persona is also in Rufa Mae’s portrayal of the maid Nympha, where half the time she seems to be playing herself, except when she goes crazy with her solo dance number by the bonfire – a must-see by the way. This is true for letting Aljur be the rich boy who, as it turns out can barely articulate himself in English; this is true for Mikael with his stilted Filipino and an inconsistent Bisaya accent. This might not be about acting at all, but given this material, it sure keeps to the magnified over-the-top farce that the campy requires. Solenn’s acting has improved from My Valentine Girls early this year, though it could also be the fact that Temptation Island is material that allowed her eccentricities, including the strange accent regardless of whether she’s speaking in English or Filipino. Thankfully Solenn’s confidence can fill that screen, where she is obviously comfortable in her own skin, giving Pura a new spin. Of these five girls though, it’s Heart whose characterization of conservatism is too one-dimensional for comfort, not exactly the old – or new – version of Virginia. Here, what’s missing is some fire in the eyes, the kind of fire that would tell of an inner strength, over and above the cloak of virginity. But the one who turns in a perfectly extreme 2.0 version of her Temptation Island character is Lovi, in the caricature that is Serafina, who she reconfigures as irritable and bratty, with a slow husky drawl, a morena in all her glory. Lovi works it in the sense that she makes you forget who she is, and she becomes Serafina – fueled by an inflated ego, overly dramatic, and self-absorbed par excellence. Everything is about her, even as there are nine of them stranded on that strip of beach. What works almost as two other characters in this film are its cinematography and costume design, proving that where there is very little to work with, there is actually more to do. The empty island, the blue waters, the skies seem endless and beautiful, even as it is captured as a form of entrapment in this film. The fact that for most of the film the girls are wearing the same dresses but that these looked to be evolving into various stages of disrepair while they were on the island was just awesome, especially since the original escaped this skill by having the girls in swimsuits that were apparently under their gowns. But Temptation Island 2.0 is ultimately Martinez’s show, where while the tiniest details are fodder for laughter, it’s the bigger picture that works at making it funny and ludicruous and everything in between. It’s safe to say that Martinez got the spirit of the absurd and ridiculous here, the kind that Gosiengfiao had in the original. It’s also ultimately a tribute, as it is a measure of the present’s ability at the campy. And with a gloss that’s usually reserved for romantic films, there’s a layer of irony here, too; with that choice of song as the cast partakes of their first meal on the island there is everything and wit here. That last bit is reason enough to see this film, no matter that the ending was as stretched out as in the original, no matter that you might not enjoy this humor. That scene where all eight characters sit in the middle of temptation island, crying as they eat barbecued meat, and suddenly all start singing “Habang May Buhay"? That might be the best ensemble moment in the movie. It’s also what makes the inane – and campy – in Temptation Island 2.0 absolutely priceless. - YA, GMA News