KAKABAKABA KA BA?- RESTORED (Mike De Leon, 1980)

English title: Does your Heart Beat Faster?

A film like Mike De Leon's outrageous musical "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" would have never been made today. Equal parts a mystery film, a comedy, a social criticism and a bizarre descent into the unknown, De Leon and co-writers Raquel Villavicencio and Doy Del Mundo unleash one maddening sequence after another, culminating in a finale that now stands as one of Philippine cinema's most iconic moments.

Everything begins on familiar territory. A Japanese (Buboy Garovillo) tries to smuggle contraband into the Philippines, but miserably fails every single time. (If this is not predictive of current airport woes in NAIA, I don't know what else to call it.) In his latest attempt, he hides the contraband inside a cassette tape, and slips it into the jacket of an unwitting co-passenger named Johnny (Christopher De Leon). The contraband goes through customs, undetected. (Again, another mockery of local airport security which still rings true today, more than ever.)

The lives of Johnny, his pal Nonong (Jay Ilagan), Nonong's girlfriend Nancy (Sandy Andolong) and their newfound friend Melanie (Charo Santos) are thrown into unimaginable chaos because of the cassette tape. Both the Japanese and the Chinese are eventually after it, with Armida Siguion-Reyna (who heads the Chinese syndicate) doing a side-splitting parody of a local well-known movie producer, who goes by the name of "Madam Lily" in the film.

That's just one of the film's many subversive elements. De Leon and company leave no stone unturned and no punches pulled in telling their satire, which is clearly ahead of its time. From musically-inclined nuns, secret lairs, double-faced members of the clergy, and a psychedelic sequence featuring a hippie/rocker aptly named Santacruzan (Danny Javier), "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" takes one on a journey that goes weirder and weirder further. 

Performances are inspired, too, from Moody Diaz's back-talking housekeeper character Melody, to Garovillo's comic misadventures as Onota, to Nanette Inventor's charismatic and show-stopping turn as Mother Superior, up until Johnny Delgado's gritty portrayal of a Japanese criminal mastermind.

Even the four leads embrace camp like ants on sugar. Christopher De Leon and Jay Ilagan embrace a devil-may-care attitude, while their onscreen beaus Charo Santos and Sandy Andolong balance the equation with caution and conscience. When faced with the threat of an unseen force, the four however are up to the task to fight what needs to be fought.

The cassette tape, another cultural landmark of a bygone era, and the film's centerpiece, is another reason why "Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" is one of the most important films in our cinematic heritage.

"Kakabakaba Ka Ba?" masterfully and unabashedly uses humor to criticize consumerism, capitalism, xenocentrism and most of all, the Catholic church, and in doing so, the message arrives in a very colorful package, one that would surely have audiences begging for more bread. (Cue in "Bigyan mo po kami ng tinapay" musical number.)

Restored to its former glory as if the film was only shot yesterday, The ABS-CBN Film Restoration team and Italy's L'Immagine Ritrovata have made the film accessible to current and upcoming generations, and this is one film that needs to be seen more. The images are vividly tangible, and the sound fully audible. I first saw the unrestored version years ago, and some of the dialogue could barely be understood. So another win for Philippine cinema. 

Go see the film when it rolls out in cinemas next year. Nanette Inventor alone is worth the price of admission, and believe me, I held my breath in that dark theater in anticipation of her onscreen arrival (which will not happen until near the film's end).  

See the trailer here:


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