“A Film Trip Around Asia in the Internet Age” Vol. 3: TBA Studios, the Pioneer of Sharing Films for Free

In the previous installment, I focused on Thai director Anocha Suwichakornpong. I want you to check out the Twitter page for her film production company, Electric Eel Films, because there’s a video of her baby in her arms on a bed. Now, for this installment, I’d like to talk about the videos posted by independent Filipino film production and distribution company, TBA StudiosYouTube channel.

TBA Studios, a Filipino film company distributing films on YouTube

Despite including “…in the Internet Age” in the title, I spoke about films that can’t be viewed online in parts one and two of this series. This time, I would like to talk about Filipino films available for free on YouTube. The company behind this is TBA Studios from the Philippines. The acronym derives from the first letters of Tuko Film Productions, Buchi Boy Entertainment, and Artikulo Uno Productions; TBA Studios is an aggregation of these companies. It’s one of the leading, innovative film companies in Southeast Asia alongside Thai company GDH 559 (Bad Genius, Happy Old Year, and others) and Studio68 from Vietnam (Song Lang, Furie, and more). Vietnamese film companies upload past films from time to time, but the rate at which TBA Studios releases films is unprecedented with known Southeast Asian film companies. Unfortunately, there are only English subtitles and no Japanese subtitles. The following are introductions to two films I want you all to watch online.

The psycho‐thriller directed by Jerrold Tarog that almost became an X-rated film

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WROw8VLGPbM

Bliss (2017)

Popular actor Jane falls into a coma after getting into an accident on-set for a new film. She wakes up in bed to a paralyzed abdomen and discovers that her husband has kept her locked inside the house. She then spirals into a sequence of bizarre occurrences. On top of this, there is no explanation when the audience is shown several characters having flashbacks. This causes the viewer to grow confused, as what’s happening to Jane becomes convoluted. Towards the end, the scattered puzzle pieces come together, and after the whole picture is made clear. The last cut is one of malice and dark humor. One can feel the influence of Roman Polanski, Ingmar Bergman, and Satoshi Kon. The main actor, Iza Calzado’s acting is brilliant. At the Osaka Asian Film Festival 2017, she won the Yakushi Pearl Award, which is given to the best actor of the year.

Because of long nude scenes, extreme violence, and masturbatory depictions, the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) deemed Bliss as an X-rated film when it first came out. After production complained, they lowered the rating to R-18. Though it was only temporarily X-rated, the fact that TBA Studios posted this salacious, controversial film on YouTube is surprising.

The director of Bliss, Jerrold Tarog, was born in 1977. At the beginning stages of his career, he worked as a musician and also made the soundtrack for Brillante Mendoza’s first full-length film, The Masseur (2005), which won the Golden Leopard Award in the Video Competition category at Locarno International Film Festival. After that, he worked on the 12th, 13th, and 15th installments of Shake, Rattle, & Roll, which is a horror anthology film series, as a director. He polished his craft as a horror filmmaker with this series. This anthology is brought up often in Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay (2011) by Antoinette Jadaone, a mockumentary on a beloved Filipina scream queen. It won Best TIFF Film in 2019 for Eiga Hiho magazine.

His romance film If Only (2013) and his historical films, Heneral Luna (2015) (available on Netflix) and the sequel, Goyo: The Boy General (2018) were major hits. Jerrold secured his spot as one of the big hitmakers. Although the Japanese subtitles are unavailable, TBA Studios has released Heneral Luna for free online.

TBA Studios’ new film, Crisanto Aquino’s Write About Love (2019), is about men and women who are screenwriters for romantic films, and it has been gaining attention. It won this year’s ABC TV Award at Osaka Asian Film Festival, which is a festival that gets mentioned a lot in my series. Jerrold Tarog worked on the music here too. Because it’s still new, it’s sadly not out on YouTube yet (however, Asahi is planning on showing it on TV in the Kansai region before the start of OAFF in March 2021). Also, Jerrold’s newest ongoing project is a film adaptation of Darna, a Filipina heroine equivalent of Wonder Woman, created by the master of Filipino comics, Mars Ravelo.

A documentary film on Filipina housekeepers working in Hong Kong

Sunday Beauty Queen (2016)

Oliver Siu Kuen Chan’s Hong Kong film starring Anthony Wong, Still Human (2018), was released in Japan in February. It shows the relationship between a middle-aged man who became paralyzed from the waist down in an accident and a Filipina live-in domestic helper who takes care of him over one year. Sunday Beauty Queen (2016), directed by Baby Ruth Villarama, is a documentary film that sheds light on Filipina domestic workers working in Hong Kong. NHK BS1 aired the 26-minute version of the documentary on September 1st, 2015 as “Colors of Asia 2015 Sunday Cinderella.” The following is a quote from the website of the channel:

“Hong Kong is home to 190,000 Filipino maids. On Sundays, the maids congregate in a square and reminisce about their families back home. A beauty contest for maids is held each June where they dress in their finest in the hopes of winning the crown. But what really lies in the hearts of these Filipino maids?”

There’s an article, “‘Real-life Cinderella’ film delves into plight of Hong Kong maids” on Reuters, and it is still available online today.

“The story of Goliava, a Filipina domestic helper, and her fellow workers is the subject of a new documentary that seeks to shatter stereotypes about the millions of women employed in households across the world. Directed by filmmaker Baby Ruth Villarama, “Sunday Beauty Queen” follows five domestic workers as they gear up for the annual Miss Philippines Tourism Hong Kong, a pageant organized by the maids in the Asian financial hub since 2008.”

To add to this description, Sunday Beauty Queen isn’t focused only on the domestic helpers that enter the beauty contests; it also portrays the women who run them too. The film illustrates the helpers’ situations in a multifaceted manner and attempts to show both sides of the beauty contests. The contrast between the helpers’ daily hard work and glamorous beauty contest is stark. In this way, the documentary masterfully shows the trials of these Filipina women living in Hong Kong. This subject is significant in Filipino films, with the current highest-grossing film being Cathy Garcia-Molina’s Hello, Love, Goodbye (2019), which is about a Filipina domestic worker and bartender falling in love in Hong Kong.
It could be said that Sunday Beauty Queen is the film that connects Still Human and Hello, Love, Goodbye together via the theme of domestic helpers. Another film by Baby Ruth Villarama, Jazz in Love (2013), is out on YouTube: it’s about a long-distance relationship between a young gay man from Davao and his boyfriend in Germany.

The women directors holding the Filipino film industry together

It is interesting to note that the directors of Sunday Beauty Queen and Hello, Love, Goodbye are both women. And so is the director behind Still Human. The Philippines is ranked 16th worldwide in gender equality, and within ASEAN nations, it’s ranked 1st. As a country where women have a powerful presence in the workforce, women filmmakers are active in the film industry too. For instance, among the Filipino films that are scheduled to be screened in Japan, the director for Fan Girl, which is set to be screened at TIFF, is Antoinette Jadaone (Six Degrees of Separation from Lilia Cuntapay). Alyx Ayn Arumpac is also a woman director who created Aswang (2019), a documentary following those fighting against the Duterte administration. This film is scheduled to be shown at TOKYO FILMeX. One of the prominent forces driving recent Filipino films forward is women directors.

TBA Studios is one to watch, as the company is an Asian trailblazer in terms of delivering films created by women and sharing past films on YouTube for free. TBA Studios is planning on uploading more films onto their channel, so I recommend you to subscribe to them.

TBA Studios: http://www.tba.ph/

Translation Lena-Grace Suda

author:

Naoya Sakagawa

Naoya Sakagawa is a Southeast Asian Studies affiliated researcher at Center for Southeast Asian Studies Kyoto University. With his primary focus being on Vietnam, he studies and investigates Southeast Asian film history. His research field includes a wide array of genres such as the recent comeback of Vietnamese entertainment films, superhero (action) films, and propaganda animation. His interests include representation of peoples in cinema.

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