Danilo "Danny" Asuncion (Paolo Gumabao) was retrenched from his job at a hotel in Dubai and was sent back to his home in Cavite after only two months because of the COVID-19 pandemic. When his invalid father Gener (Jess Evardone) was rushed to the hospital, their finances became even tighter than it already was, with no job opening in sight.
Since Danny was desperate for cash by any means, his close friend Lito (Paul Jake Paule) recommended him to Mama Rene (Jim Pebanco), a gay madame who ran a cyber stud business for foreign customers. Even if Danny was repulsed by the things he was being made to do, this was the only thing he could do to settle his family's debts.
Director Joel Lamangan and writer Troy Espiritu (who also wrote socially-aware films like "Ma' Rosa" and "Alpha: Right to Kill") set Danny's family drama within the spectre of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. From the first scene, we see all the COVID precautions being taken in communities -- quarantine centers, face masks, bunny suits, social distancing, guest restrictions in hospitals. We also see its effects on businesses, employment and on personal plans, like weddings. Problems about financial assistance from the LGU were also mentioned.
As Danny, newcomer Paolo Gumabao showed promise as a sensitive dramatic actor, especially in quiet scenes like the one at his father's hospital bedside, or those with his mature fiancee Luz (Max Eigenmann). That said, there were also some acting choices which did not feel consistent given Danny's age of 27, street-smart demeanor and prior history as a gay escort, like his disgusted reaction during his first visit to Mama Rene's place, or his groveling manner during that encounter with the police colonel Ramon Suniga (Alan Paule).
Having films shown via online streaming seemed to have made filmmakers to be bolder when it came to nudity. This year alone had several local films which capitalized on their actors revealing their privates, from Lamangan's own "Anak ng Macho Dancer" in January, to Erik Matti's "A Girl + a Guy" in June. As this film dealt with gay cybersex dens, Gumabao and his co-actors boldly bared it all, perhaps more than what is absolutely necessary in my opinion. This movie may not sit well with the super-straight, ultra-conservative types.
Aside from the timely pandemic setting though, the story of Danny and the depravity he needed to do to earn the much-needed cash is a very familiar one. This had been the usual basic plot of several films in the past about prostitutes, both females and males, like Lino Brocka's "Macho Dancer" (1988) or Brillante Mendoza's "Masahista" (2005). Now that he has shown off his all, it is now up to fate to decide whether Paolo Gumabao will go the way of Alan Paule and Coco Martin in terms of critical acclaim and longevity of acting career.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."