Tuhog, as it turns out, isn’t actually about three people who are impaled on the same steel bar. It certainly has that in it, but most of the movie is spent with these characters living wholly separate lives, intersecting only in the most casual of ways. That central image, as it happens, is actually more of a handicap to the enjoyment of the film. Tuhog tells three really good stories that have been forcefully skewered by their framing device. The ending leaves a bad taste, but there’s much in here to be admired.
The movie begins with a bus accident, which results in three people getting impaled on a metal pole. From there, the movie tells the stories of these people, fleshing out the months leading up to the accident. Tonio (Leo Martinez) is retired, and he feels that his family no longer appreciates him. Out of this frustration, he makes the rash decision to follow his lifelong dream of opening a bakery. Fiesta (Eugene Domingo) is a surly bus conductor feared by all the drivers in the company. Her latest driver is Nato (Jake Cuenca), who intrudes into her life and decides to woo her. College student Caloy (Enchong Dee) is in a long-distance relationship with Angel (Empress). The two are virgins, and are raring to have sex with each other, but the distance is putting a strain on both of them.
So it turns out that the movie is really more of an anthology, and the central gimmick is little more than a framing device. It doesn’t really matter that these three are stuck together, their stories largely unaffected by this violent event. In fact, it seems to serve as a bit of a narrative cheat, resolving plotlines that previously weren’t anywhere near a proper resolution. The ending feels like completely unearned, the parts simply not fitting together all that well.
But taken separately, each of these stories offer individual pleasures. The third is the weakest, concerned as it is with little more than the comparatively shallow emotions of an early romance. But given that, it does offer a notable frankness about sex that is often missing from the mainstream. The second story gets into some deep emotional territory, depicting a really complex relationship that feels oddly genuine. And the first story finds ample comedy and drama in its exploration of a man’s growing insecurity about his age. It’s all terrifically written, and all the segments are willing to go just a little bit darker and more honest than what we usually get.
The production is pretty tight as well. There’s obviously a lot of talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera. The film gets great performances out of all its primary players. Eugene Domingo and Leo Martinez are predictably impressive. But the film also gets a lot out of its younger stars. Jake Cuenca delivers a fairly memorable turn here, as does Enchong Dee. The film really plays to their strengths, and both actors are made to deliver. Director Veronica Velasco exhibits plenty of technical skill as well, her camera often moving gracefully through scenes, lending more energy to the already charged encounters.
Tuhog could be seen as just three stories without a satisfactory ending; perhaps three discarded ideas for full Star Cinema movies, awkwardly stuck together with a pointless conceit. For all its merits, the film does end up cheating through its resolutions, dropping the ball emotionally as it rushes to its ending. But I find that I can’t discount the great talent that went into each of these separate stories. There is some potent stuff in here, a surprising maturity and brutal honesty that gives these stories resonance. The directing is more than solid, and the acting is great across the board. It is hard to love the entire package, but it easy to adore the individual parts. And in the end, the final product is still preferable to much to what’s being put out there.