Directed by Tyrone Acierto
Starring Jean Garcia, Jay Manalo, Junyka Sigrid Santarin
Director Tyrone Acierto’s American film education pays off in spades in Watch Me Kill. (The first dividend is apparent in the facility with which the Columbia College Chicago graduate wields the irony inherent in the English language, with the film’s subtitle “Life Is Precious. Never Kill for Free”.) The plot itself is really just a clothesline upon which to hang the U.S.-based director’s stylistic flourishes: Jean Garcia plays a professional assassin named Luciana, who is hired by crime kingpin Franco (Jay Manalo) to murder a gold panner so he can swipe a diamond the man found. Complications ensue when Luciana stumbles upon a preadolescent girl (Junyka Sigrid Santarin) apparently held captive by her mark, and Franco discovers that the diamond Luciana turned over is actually a quartz pebble. It’s a Western set in the anonymous landscapes of Rizal or Bulacan, stylistically divorced from the messy realities of hired killing in this country. And in Acierto’s assured hand, that’s not automatically a bad thing.
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It’s no wonder Watch Me Kill won the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino’s best director prize, as well as a passel of technical citations. (The bevy of foreign names in Acierto’s crew should, perhaps, give our local artisans pause to think about upgrading their training.) Acierto frames his shots with deep existential poetry, photographing, for example, trees as if they were the receptacles of profound truths. He also choreographs the actors so that his camera has as much elbow room to pan, glide or withdraw information in the slyest of ways. Watch Me Kill is an elegant mood piece.
If only the script itself were as elegant. One minor quibble is Acierto relinquishing the challenge of keeping Jean Garcia’s professional killer unnamed: The archetype of the vulnerable antihero is nothing new, but the more information about its protagonist that the film insists on foisting upon us just reduces her mystery.
The major quibble has to do with Watch Me Kill’s gotcha twist: It is telegraphed by the head-scratching decision of Luciana’s ward to stay with her captor despite being shot in the leg, terrorized with a hail of bullets, and threatened with a knife to the throat. The extreme Stockholm Syndrome just opens up a whole lot of questions which hinder your enjoyment of Acierto’s spare yet slick sensibility.
Its script is the one misstep in Watch Me Kill’s balletic mayhem; I can only imagine what Acierto could show us if he had an airtight diagram.