RUINED HEART: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore (2014)

RUINED HEART: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore 

Ruined Heart DVD Cover
Ruined Heart DVD Cover

UK Release Date: December 07th, 2015 via Third Window Films

Running Time: 73 mins.

Directors: Khavn

Writer: Khavn (Screenplay)

Starring: Tadanobu Asano, Nathalia Acevedo, Andre Puertollano, Elena Kazan, Vim Nadera

Website   IMDB

The latest release from Third Window Films is Ruined Heart: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore. That long title should give an indication that the audience is going to be given a familiar tale of forbidden love with archetypal characters but the way it is shot and the use of songs makes the film different.

The setting is the criminal underworld in Manila where a crime boss rules the land through a mixture of carnivalesque moments of violence and religion. Fireworks and gunplay light up the streets, alleys, and courtyards of the city as he sends his thugs out to take territory, oversees sprawling streets parties, and then aggrandises himself in concerts where he rises from the dead, giving himself a supernatural aura. Like all mob bosses, he has a moll and his one is a tough woman, The Whore, (Nathalia Acevedo) who strains at his control. When she falls for a flamboyant thug, The Criminal (Tadanobu Asano), the two make a break for it hoping to avoid getting caught and leave the city, all the while getting to know each other…

Ruined Heart Tadanobu Asano Nathalia Acevedo

Nothing about this synopsis looks that interesting or original but the combination of a cult director/poet/artist Khavn (famous in the Philippines for films like Mondomanilla) and the internationally renowned cinematographer Christopher Doyle has made this familiar story different.

The film plays for seventy minutes and it is in constant motion for the entirety of its duration. Its rhythm and flow fluctuates as the camera dashes and slithers through the neon-lit melancholy criminal underworld of Manila which writhes with sex and violence and everyday street life where kids play at theme parks. The visuals absorb the viewer, the camera’s placement and movement, lenses and filters, creating an experience that defies convention so that what plays out on the screen becomes a strange and intoxicating cavalcade of music and action where you are swamped with scenes that flit between gritty realism to colourful exoticism. These scenes are compelling and the film shares the same lively but downbeat and decidedly melancholy atmosphere of Fallen Angels.

Shot at night and in the murky world of a big metropolitan city, where music on the soundtrack does more to show how the characters feel than the dialogue does, Khavn is clearly cine-literate and a fan of Wong Kar-Wai (just having Christopher Doyle as your DP should show that) but his characters are nowhere near as compelling. They are archetypes however the actors playing them are exceptional enough to make them more memorable than cardboard cut-outs. Tadanobu Asano brings a gleeful chaos to his role of The Criminal, roving around with his big grin and a colourful shirt, dashing here and there with a gun and an arm in a cast. Nathalia Acevedo is a new talent from Mexico who has made waves on world cinema with her appearance in Post Tenebras Lux (2012) and she does so again her with her lithe and supple body moving in and out of shadows and bewitching the men and women around her as she dances and twists around scenes. The two help the flow of the film by moving around as much as they do.

Ruined Heart Nathalia Acevedo

However, again, I think what I found most interesting about the film was the way it was shot. Scenes of sex and violence are filmed obliquely and usually with a scuzzy electronic score or melancholy guitar melody and soulful singing to punctuate a point about the characters and their lives. Fights feature Filipino martial arts, which is quick and brutal but they are shot from far away with props and the set blocking some sight lines so they become strangely disconnected. The sex scenes venture beyond the erotic to become artistic by focussing on the faces of the participants as they are rapt in ecstasy or regret and covered in fluids. It actually brings to life the earthy scenes of the streets of the Philippines and makes the film worth watching when the story doesn’t evoke much interest.

Fans of Asian cinema will compare it to Chinese-language cinema from the 90s/early 2000s from filmmakers that Doyle has worked with over the years. The film is mostly dialogue-free and the plot has little propulsion. Impetus is given by the way it is shot by Christopher Doyle who brings his usual visual vibrancy and invention while the film gets its rhythm from its soundtrack of collected works from Filipino acts and German synth-pop duo Stereo Total. In essence, the film has the feeling of a series of music videos stitched together. While not the most gripping watch, the fact it strays from being conventional and becomes experimental and shows a more artistic angle (especially with its visuals) in delivering films.

3.5/5

Here’s the song:

7 thoughts on “RUINED HEART: Another Love Story Between a Criminal and a Whore (2014)

  1. I have seen the film a few days ago and until now it’s hard for me to describe it, but you did so eloquently. I agree that it appears like a collection of music videos and having not much dialogue is like the filmmaker/crew are saying, hey, this is different, which is – in essence – it is. Not really sure if I love the film, but Tadanobu Asano was just awesome!

    1. Thanks for the comment! It’s always great to get your opinion on things.

      One of the notes I made while watching it was that it was a series of music videos and while it dodges giving us a conventional tale we are rewarded with a well-shot film where everything on screen holds the attention. I’m not sure if I will ever watch it again.

      Also, I agree with your praise for the acting. Asano has been perfect in everything I have seen!

      1. The scenes in the slums of Manila are very realistic. Though they “glamourize” some of the scenes by adding a few things like those laundry ladies having the same uniform, and even the fight scenes with the Filipino transport called “jeepneys”. I’ve been there, seen it all, so it really brought a lot of memories, but there’s a lot of fantasies mixed with reality. Foreigners may think it’s like that, but the stench and the rampant violence and drugs are not funny at all.

      2. Thanks for that insight. You’re right about there being a lot of ugliness mixed in with the flamboyant aspects. The film did flit between realism and art and I think a viewer going into this will be slightly more cineliterate than your average viewer and able to appreciate what’s happening on screen.

  2. Good write up.

    But I’m still not convinced enough to see this and frankly even the trailer hasn’t excited me either. I don’t know what it is but usually I jump on TWF titles but over the past couple of years they’ve gone too far into the esoteric direction for my tastes, which is a huge risk for an already niche label.:/

    Maybe they’ll surprise me and bounce back with more of the quirky and intense stuff I like next year!🙂

    1. I must admit that when this was revealed as part of the line-up for the London Film Festival it was at the bottom of my list of priorities because the trailer and synopsis failed to light up my interest. I only went to see one film after.

      I understand where you are coming from. When TWF first started there were a lot of high profile Korean action films and heavyweight Japanese dramas but in recent times (this year in particular) the label has become more diverse with niche indie titles from Japan. I really do appreciate getting the opportunity to watch these since there’s little way to see them otherwise and you are guaranteed great extras that reveal what it’s like being in the Japanese film industry.

      TWF are giving us a series of treats with Uzumasa Limelight, the Takeshi Kitano films and Sono’s latest, Love & Peace on the horizon!

      1. Sono is always a safe bet!😛

        I think it’s because I’m personally more partial to films like Confessions, Kamikaze Girls, Fish Story, Oasis, etc. which all came out over a three year period and making for a good run of hit titles and made TWF a cool label for me.

        However Adam Torel has said TWF put out what they like which other labels won’t touch, so I guess I’ll have to wait until they like the quirky cool stuff again!😉

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