by Rowan Foggit
It is natural for a person, when living in a country other than the one in which they were brought up, to make comparisons between the two. Prices, for example: ‘Blimey, the train from Liverpool St to Newcastle is now 55 quid – the bus from Baclaran to Baguio is only P105.’ Or, ‘You know darling, that amazingly camp queenish tomboy thing that cuts my hair down Pasay Rd only charges me the equivalent of £2 for a trim that’d cost a minimum of £25 in Cambridge now…daren’t ask him for a blow-dry though in case my request is misconstrued.’
Of course, the economic realities of the countries being compared necessitate wildly differing prices: the cost of labour, for example. And quality of service and customer satisfaction often differ wildlyÊ such as at the cinema.
I still marvel at paying around P70 to watch a film in the country’s best theatres (not, you note, the movies to take in a flick. I remain staunchly and stubbornly a communicator in Queen’s English, not the tainted Americano version of our fine language). Humankind loves a bargain and P70 when exchanged into pennies is up there with the Mother of All Bargains.
Yet my first visit to a Philippine cinemaÊ at the Greenbelt mall, Makati, one of the most centrally located and owned by the esteemed Ayala Group – was a consumer experience I was unprepared for. Theatres i’ve visited in Hong Kong, the US, Malaysia etc. all provided similar levels of entertainment and left me a satisfied customerÊ although the size of food and beverage portions served in the US were of sufficient size to halt a ravenous wooly mammoth for several weeks.
Queuing for a ticket at Greenbelt was harmless enough but then came the unfamiliar reply from the girl behind the counter that there were no reserved tickets available for this particular show. I smiled, obviously confused, and advised we simply wanted 2 tickets.
Still a little baffled, tickets were purchased, the girl breathed a sigh of relief, and through we wentÉÉto be met by masses, literally a hundred or more, of people loitering around the top of the aisles. They had nowhere to sit. All seats were taken. And more to the point, we had nowhere to sit. And there were people coming in behind us still. And the film had already started despite us being on time. Or perhaps it hadn’t yet finished.
I was perplexed, dumfounded and starting to sweat. Everyone else seemed to be calmly taking up positions with the intention to stand. ‘What on earth is going on darling?’ said I. My wife quickly explained the film, Rizal and his Filibuster thing, had recently opened, hence the crowds.
I’m told that at this point I began grunting various threats and complaints, such as ‘not bloody good enough, where’s the manager?’ to nobody in particular. The manager was located allowing me to ineloquently, due to being in close to a frenzy, detail my abject disquiet and unhappiness with the situation and demand a refund. My wife dragged me away, accepting their decent apology and equitable offer of 2 tickets to another show some other time, averting a shameful scene, and for me an apoplexy.
So, Philippine theatres allow more people in than it has seats to accommodate. A novel idea. I was enlightened. Perhaps such a system would catch on in the UK? Nah.
Even having the odd rodent scurry across one’s feet with discarded hot-dogs can be withstood. But what is it with the persistent noise and general lack of concern shown by fellow cinemagoers? Phones ring: not only this, they are often answered. Texting and its infernal incoming message beeping continues. Fast food is eaten with accompanying irksome plastic bag and wrapping rustling. Conversations are held in the seats. From the back near the lavatories one can always hear the ushers being chatted up by the security guards. What I understand the least however is the amount of people who wander in, or leave, half way through a film. I’ve seen old couples sitting chatting near the aisle, barely taking interest in proceedings on the screen, being collected by younger relatives and removed mid-film. Most odd.
Yes, I know UK cinemas can have their faults: an X rated film coming replete with dirty old men in flasher raincoats and teenage fornicators pre-booking the back row; extortionate prices; and mangy old seating. But UK cinemagoers, be they perverts or film-buffs, remain, more often than not, quiet.
But what do I expect for P70? This must be always be asked of oneself. And I must add that things have improvedÊ only though in the sense of one person per seat.
It has always been refreshing to see the impressive audience turn-outs for British films here. The gist of most films must be fairly easy for Filipinos to follow but much of the vernacular used in certain UK productions is obviously difficult to understand. Take Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, the premiere to which I went with a friend who’d been enjoying happy hour earlier that evening and most of the late afternoon. The heavy cockney slang employed made it fantastically realistic, but lines such as ‘Keep your Alans on’ left the local audience none the wiser as to what had been said. (Alan Whicker = knickers).
Imagine their bemusement and multiply it by one thousand and you get me sat watching, without much of a clue as to what is going on, Isusumbong Kita Sa Tatay Ko, Magkapatid and other such marvels of the Philippine film industry. But it’s great viewing, particularly the comedies. And you know what – the audience is much better behaved. Sure, they make a noise but it seems to fit in with the general hubbub of the soundtrack and dialogue. And I enjoy it more this way. And I don’t care if someone’s phone goes off or munches noisily through 17 pieces of chicken behind me as the overall experience, not just the quality of acting, cinematography and production of the film, is preferable.
So we now don’t go to watch UK releases like About a Boy and hope to sit in stony silence, we go to Mana-Mana Tiba-Tiba, eat copious amounts of crap, make a bit of noise, send texts for the hell of it and come out smiling. ‘And it cost £5 for 2 seats and a feast! That would have cost £50 in Bristol with food and parking.’
by Rowan Foggit