By Engelbert Rafferty Dulay
Most of us dream of finding greener pastures and living a peaceful and prosperous life. This dream has been instilled in us, hence the emergence of Filipino diaspora. However, there are instances wherein the means of achieving such dream entail taking or being forced to take drastic measures. This is reality. Carlo G. Obispo’s sophomore feature “1-2-3 (wan tu tri)” shows its viewers that reality is hard, rough, and painful (deadly even).
Lulu (Barbara Miguel) yearns to succeed in life by becoming a singing sensation. Because of this, she resorted to attending numerous singing contests in their locality. She was able to do this with the help of her older brother Luis (Carlos Dala), who in spite of their parents’ objections, still fully supports his sister and her goals. On the day of a particular singing contest, a talent manager (or so she claims) discovers Lulu and offers to manage her and coach her in Manila. Lulu, seeing this opportunity as a chance for her to leave the suffocating company of her parents, agreed to go to Manila. After a few months of lack of communication, Luis was forced to go to Manila to search for his sister. To his surprise, Lulu has changed so much since they last saw each other.
1-2-3 is reminiscent of Jacco Groen’s social realist drama Lilet Never Happened because of its similarities in the theme (i.e. child exploitation and human trafficking). What one-upped this film over the other, aside from the top-notch cinematography, editing, and musical scoring, was that this had a more solid and narrowed-down plot. This had allowed the film to put its focus more on the issues and the characters. The film made its gruelling themes look light by adding comedic nuances in the guise of the supporting characters, especially Reyna (Teri Malvar).
The film is likable for its quick pacing. However, this produced underdeveloped characters, particularly that of Luis and Lulu. Unfortunately, their actual intentions were shrouded by ascribed ones thereby making their dialogues lack a genuine appeal to the viewing public.
There were also queries that were introduced and left unanswered until the end, among which are the following: (1) If ever the NBI didn’t have the bar raid, would Lulu have stayed?; (2) How come the parents didn’t care enough to look for their children in Manila, let alone look for them once they were nowhere to be seen in the island? Were they really that heartless?; (3) What is Luis’ real intention on going to Manila? Was it because he sincerely cared for his sister or was he insecure because his sister could already provide for their family?
The latter parts were also quite concerning. It seemed like they were rushing (or were they dragging?) to finish the film by just adding sequences that didn’t seem to fit the whole puzzle. However, in a way, it was mimetic enough to depict the rigors of trafficking: being caught by the NBI, child victims being turned over to the social welfare department to send them back to their parents, and the bars slash sex dens opening again, only with different names.
There were a huge number of moments wherein the film’s narrative holes could have been patched and dealt with carefully. But, all in all, the whole thing was enough to compress societal reality in a nutshell. While it had phenomenal performances from the child actors, it stumbles when it could have stayed firm on the ground. Nonetheless, it was enough to fit both the story of a girl who, like any other person on Earth, wants to succeed; and a boy who, in spite of a helter-skelter attitude, wants a harmonious life for his family.