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REVIEW | ‘Bhoy Intsik’ works because of the chemistry between its two leads

Raymond Francisco as the titular character in Joel Lamangan's 'Bhoy Intsik.'

There is a moment in “Bhoy Intsik” where two people who lead desolate lives share an idle talk while gulping down bottles of beer.

Bhoy Intsik, the gay con artist shares why he added an “h” to his alias while the young man he has taken under his wings has finally warmed up to him that he confides about how when he was very little, his mother deliberately let him get lost in the crowded streets.

There is an unusual tenderness in the scene, a moment of warmth that is fleeting, especially in the kind of lives that they have. You know that Bhoy Intsik and his ward hardly get to snatch at small joys like this, to have someone, at the very least, lend an ear to your little secrets.

Joel Lamangan goes back to his roots with “Bhoy Intsik” as it is reminiscent of his well-crafted socio-political dramas of yore like “Bulaklak ng Maynila.” The film is not very adventurous in its narrative choices, spinning its story in a very linear fashion. But it is thankfully devoid of hysteria, the drama always in check.

In a cemetery in the slums somewhere in Cavite, Bhoy Intsik (Raymond Francisco) and Marlon (Ronwaldo Martin) swear at each other at first as they start out as foes. In fact, cursing comes naturally for them, as one would suppose is the norm for social outcasts. Oft-times, they curse for no apparent reason.

When Marlon is kicked out of the dilapidated bus that he calls home, he pleads Bhoy to take him in. Bhoy agrees, only after he has launched into a litany of house rules.

Friendship gradually develops between the two. Or maybe it is mere affinity. By film’s end, it has evolved into kinship, with Bhoy addressing Marlon as “anak,” and Marlon calling Bhoy “’Tay.”

But somehow you can sense that these two who have grown to live with their sordid predicaments will ultimately be denied of happy endings.

And yet, their journeys are a mix of tempered drama, snatches of comedy, and hints of socio-political realities (the rampant extrajudicial killings, for one).

Aside from Lamangan’s adept handling, the film mainly works because of the heartbreaking chemistry between Raymond, formerly RS, Francisco as Bhoy Intsik and Ronwaldo Martin as the young vagabond Marlon.

It is impossible not to smile at their bickering early on in the movie and, later, to be moved by the strangeness of their fondness for each other.

Francisco probably owes it to his theatrical background because his performance is restrained, always hitting the right notes, even in the potentially loud and/or mawkish scenes. He beautifully navigates the thin line that separates caricature and authenticity.

Martin’s slightly squeaky voice actually becomes his trademark and does not diminish his quiet power as a performer.

By film’s fade out, you only hear Francisco’s voice as he endlessly thanks one of his many lords who tells him that they finally have a new dead body to earn from through an extended wake. Little does Bhoy Intsik realize that another tragedy awaits his already badly scarred heart.

Francisco won a well-deserved Best Actor plum for “Bhoy Intsik,” which was one of the entries in the just concluded Sinag Maynila Film Festival.