Are you ever curious about the criminal underworld of the Philippines? Or how a life of crime and murder can affect a brotherly bond? Well, check out King Palisoc’s Tandem for a fast-paced family/crime drama at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival to find out.
As we watch two brothers navigate a life of crime, corruption, love and thrill, we are brought to the edge of our seats wondering how this “riding in tandem scheme” will all unfold for the two main characters Rex and Roman. Their commitment to family and love for each other is effortlessly intertwined with the corruption of the Manila police force, which won’t leave you surprised when the schemes go from bad to worse.
I was lucky enough to catch up with director King Palisoc during his visit to Vancouver, and get the chance to learn more about the makings of Tandem and his experience at VIFF.
MW: Firstly, I would love to know a little bit more about you. If I am correct, this is your directorial debut. How does it feel to have made your debut as a film director, and what goals do you feel you have yet to accomplish?
KP: It was pretty intense making a feature film as my background is with mostly music videos. I started doing more corporate work like advertisements and commercials but it’s a big difference. Making a feature film is very daunting in terms of the scope and the scale and such. And of course there are different kinds of challenges per different types of media. But the idea of making a story out of one-and-a-half hours instead of a 30-second commercial is a big leap. It is pretty amazing just seeing it for the first time on the big screen and hearing the audience’s reactions. That was worth all the challenges we went through. This project just started early this year. Basically the whole production was about four to five months so it was hard, but, thankfully with a background of music video directing, I’m used to tight deadlines.
MW: What where some of the major challenges you experienced while making Tandem?
KP: Other than time, I think it’s that we weren’t shooting your typical Filipino indie movie. I’m not sure if you’ve seen any of them, but most of these films that come out in the Philippines are usually about family, relationships or intimate stories that don’t require that much planning. One of the challenges since we had such short time was filming the scenes that required more stunts or more planning. Since it’s technically a crime drama/suspense it was a challenge to mount the action scenes and manage everything from time to budget. The budget was another challenge as independent film production in the Philippines is cheaper but our material required a certain scope or scale. Therefore, we had to find the balance between creating the right big moments with the budget we had.
MW: What inspired you to create a film about such heavy content, such as Manila’s corrupt criminal underworld, with such a dark social commentary?
KP: What got me interested in this film was the idea of trying to create a story that is both about crime and family drama. It got me interested in doing a film about two brothers in the same family doing the same kind of crime and how it affects their relationships, not just with each other, but with their extended family members as well. I’m not saying our film is completely different than the films produced in the Philippines in the past year because there are a lot of crime movies that come out. What I wanted to focus on in this story is the story about family and brothers and how everything that surrounds them makes an impact in their relationship. So at the end of it all, it may be about riding in “tandem scheme” or corruption in the police force or the government. But at the end of the day, it’s about the brothers and their environment or the things that affect or challenges their relationship as family. We didn’t try to delve too much into the politics of the police; it was a conscious decision to try to veer away from that because, even as an average Filipino, it’s a deep world that even I don’t have the experience with. It’s also an observation of what we normally see in Manila, the riding in “tandem scheme” is really prevalent in Manila. We looked up security footage and YouTube videos to do research for the film; it’s quite common. But apparently it doesn’t just happen in Manila. I hear it’s also prevalent in Vietnam and Thailand et cetera, so the idea of using motorcycles to escape is pretty common in congested cities.
MW: Have you ever had a “tandem crime” happen to you?
KP: I’ve never experienced the riding in tandem but I got held up once inside public transportation. Needless to say, I handed my stuff over once they had me at gunpoint.
MW: How surprised or unsurprised are you at this film’s incredible success?
KP: For one, I’ve actually seen the film like a 100 times already so I’m not really that objective anymore, but in terms of when I see the cut, I know for myself that I’m satisfied with my work. I’m not saying it’s the best or anything, but I liked how we were able to pull it off with the time and the budget we had. In terms of the success, when we were actually making the film, although my producers were saying they wanted to submit it to festivals. We weren’t really doing it for festivals; we just wanted to make the film without any expectations. So it’s still a surprise for me to show it and screen it in different parts of the world. I didn’t expect to travel to North America for it!
MW: Everyone is wondering, what is your favourite film?
KP: I could list like 10 or 15! Maybe because I’ve seen it recently or because I was doing research for this film, I really liked Michael Mann’s Heat. I saw it at TIFF, and I was surprised to watch the three-hour epic and still get the same experience after it. Heat is something that filmmakers who want to do crime dramas should take a look at because it’s really amazing crime suspense where you get to know a lot about the characters. I find it a very intelligent crime drama.
MW: What initially made you want to enter the film industry?
KP: Originally, I wanted to do directing for commercials, that’s how I got my start and that was my goal in college: to get into advertising. I’ve always loved movies, and maybe in about my third year of college, when I took film production classes under Filipino directors, I realized the idea of collaboration and the idea of making something out of a shared vision. Full film gives you an amazing reward when you see it on the big screen and you hear the audience and people’s reactions after — you can’t beat that.
MW: Tell us more about the development of Tandem and your vision with creating this movie.
KP: In terms of the development of this project, it was actually a concept that was submitted to us by one of the producers. She showed me a short one-page story line about Tandem; from then on we fleshed it out with Mikhail Red and then brought in my writer. Once we figured out the concept with Mikhail, my writer and I worked hand-in-hand in the creation process. We actually wanted to be able to lock down the story before shooting the film so that when I’m on set, I can shoot it from the script already.
MW: How did your culture and Filipino heritage influence this movie?
KP: I guess in a sense it’s the idea of growing up in that particular environment. I actually came from a middle-class family, so I wouldn’t say I experienced the same lifestyle that the brothers experienced. However, the idea of being bombarded with news like that on TV growing up gives me a closer look into what happens outside. Especially in our tabloids, they have a lot of that. Most of the stories that come out in the news are either political related or crimes of passion, and I feel like those kinds of crime are more interesting to review. This is because they aren’t about big corporations that do all these kinds of schemes all the time, but it’s more personal — it’s more intimate. So, yeah, the fact that we get exposed to it on the news and experienced it a little bit also helps.
MW: As a director, part of your role is to help the actors set the scene and visualize their performance. How did you get Nico Antonio and JM de Guzman to deliver such an engaging brotherly performance?
KP: For one, they are actually just really good, but I wanted to try as much as possible to involve the actors in the story development. Before doing Tandem, I was able to direct a short feature, and part of my process there was to get the actors to say something about their characters before finalizing the script, so I tried that again with Tandem. We were doing it side by side, writing the script and showing it to them and asking for their feedback, and trying to figure out what was working and what wasn’t working. One of our considerations was to make them look like brothers even if they don’t necessarily look alike. So we wanted to get that by building the chemistry between the two. So when we were on set, it was just guiding them and reminding them of the things we talked about prior to the shoot. And basically, the characters that they portrayed already had a piece of them in it.
MW: **Spoiler Alert** I’m sure the end scene was meant to leave the watcher with some doubt and wonder, but what is your interpretation of the ending? Do you know where Roman is and what he is doing?
KP: I’m actually surprised at how the viewers have been reacting to the ending. Even the fact that you are asking this now, I find this interesting. Because it was never really our intention to make it an open ending. One of our intentions when we first did it was for Roman to die at the end, but I guess when we shot it and when it came out, it was different. What ever interpretation people got when watching the movie that is 100 per cent authentic, because, personally, when we were making it, we didn’t mean for him to live, but maybe that is the way it was meant to be to viewers. And film endings can change. I actually like how the audiences are giving different reactions: a few people picked up that he died, but the idea that Roman is still alive and just not “in the game” does give it some more dimension. Originally, our idea was to put the burden of having Roman die on Rex, which makes it a little heavier for him. So we were conscious about shooting the ending because we got some questions in the past of whether or not it patronizes the idea of having them ride off into the sunset because we didn’t want to make it look glamorous. In the end, I’m just really glad people got something new from it.