What’s Your Beef?


Not even passable as a waxy-beefcake oglefest, Mel Chionglo’s Burlesk King fully consigns the Filipino go-go-boy melodrama (a blueprint drawn by the late Lino Brocka with 1989’s Macho Dancer, sloppily xeroxed by Chionglo, Brocka’s assistant, in 1995’s Midnight Dancers) to the realm of exploitation movie. Prowling once more the Manila gay bars populated by generously oiled dancer/hustlers, Chionglo sets his gaze on buff, blank-eyed Harry, a young man traumatized by childhood memories of his American father—a monster who abused and pimped Harry and his mother before accidentally killing her. With an amnesiac’s disregard for continuity, Burlesk King staggers punch-drunk from one stodgily hysterical episode to another. Chionglo relies on a tsunami’s worth of exaggerated pelvic undulations—coyly choreographed macho-dancer routines featuring the strategic use of stripper props (feathers, soap suds, popping balloons). The casually polymorphous sexual landscape seems to be economically determined: Harry, his friend James, and the other hustlers, who identify as straight (more to the point, are required to do so by the job description), have no qualms about selling sex to both men and women; Harry falls for a hooker, the self-proclaimed Mother Teresa of the city’s red-light district, and the lovers repackage their relationship as a two-for-one special. (Fucking is rendered Cinemax style: more discreet grinding.) Macho Dancer (and to a lesser degree Midnight Dancers) had a messy vitality and, within the parameters of shrill melodrama and softcore titillation, a way of haphazardly lapsing into sociopolitical critique. Burlesk King, so titled because Harry is eventually crowned champion gyrator, is not only too inept to be lurid; it’s almost aggressively disinterested in any semblance of social reality.

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