A crime film worthy of its billing, this one gives its eponym a bad name. But it serves another purpose: it indexes the mercantilization of dogs. Dayang Asu wallows in it. Self-incrimination is in full display, but no sense of self-loathing here – about the crimes portrayed, detailed, about the criminals with double lives, described in a trickle-down hierarchy, about this culture that seems to have descended into cannibalization. The resolution is part retribution, but also part an open end, a testament to the resilience of entrenched crime: as if it were the ascension of a new boss in Godfather III, a prelude to a Godfather IV that was never filmed. The successor in Dayang Asu has come full circle, too, but he is less an ambitious and willing operator than a wounded tiger who must throw all remorse by the wayside.
In consequence of this seeming moral ambiguity – you’ve heard clapping at the end (for the direction, too, I suppose) -- the dimension of racism against Muslims seems eclipsed. At least the sacrificial victim -- the ultimate casualty that they embody -- gets buried in more ways than one. Who has forgotten the symbolism of the backhoe, as part of recent history: a synecdoche of what might be an attempt at impunity, and not the symbol of progress supposedly underway? As a result what Etienne Balibar might refer to as "internal, differential racism," (a racism based on cultural differences) which underlies our society at the expense of minorities like Muslims, is touched on but goes under-theorized. Missed opportunity, but it would have been conversely a polemical flashpoint had the film taken that route.
What takes up the quicksilver time, instead, is the fast montage about a nation, set in the microcosm of Pampanga, in the thrall of men in power abusing power, and everyone downstream (among whom most of the action happens) follows suit or cowers in fear. Nothing new, except that these proceedings are observed by formative eyes. Here the friction of nomos (law/order) and physis (chaos/nature), however, is a source of humor and horror. For, in truth, the figures who wield law and order here are the very forces of chaos. The film tosses us red herrings that there is hope, but how are the underworld portrayed in any national cinema, let alone the one with such rich archetypal tropologies of crime we keep patronizing, Hollywood?
Blunt metaphor to hit our heads with, but there are two kinds of dogs here: one is the privileged dog that gets to fetch a middleman’s price and lands in the lap of innocent coddling and upbringing. The second kind is not as lucky, gets butchered for the mouths of those who have lost civilized conduct. But these dog-eaters have cunning. Some have families, well-grounded even, who have no clue what they are up to.
Bor Ocampo’s award for best direction is not undeserved. Speed is the film's stylization, with a restless kinetic feel that propels us, all disoriented and hard-pressed to catch up, from one shot to the next, as if the establishing shots are all but jettisoned and most of the shots are in medias res, where action and the colorful, piquant turn of phrase (mostly in Kapampangan) is the only logic. Like bullets ricocheting, like a Morse code sending out its message in dots and dashes, the film keeps us guessing, until the unraveling at the end. An end for which, originality aside, Mario Puzo would have been flattered.