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Reel Asian Film Festival Review: Graceland

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Directed by Ron Morales

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In a disturbing story of corruption, revenge, human trafficking and prostitution Marlon Villar’s world unravels around him when driving his daughter Elvie and the daughter of his employer, a corrupt politician, home from school one afternoon. Their car is ambushed and Elvie is kidnapped, leaving Marlon prepared to do anything to get her back. Ron Morales spent three and a half years researching and writing the screenplay set in the Philippines. He is part of a growing trend of Asian American filmmakers who are taking familiar U.S. genres and placing them in Asia for a broader audience.

The film’s style, shot handheld with natural lighting, pulls the audience into Marlon’s terrifying and desperate world. Morale’s direction is brilliantly unforgiving and some scenes are intentionally difficult to watch — especially the ones that deal with child prostitution. During the Q&A after the movie, one audience member asked Morales if a particularly uncomfortable scene, containing full frontal child nudity, was necessary. He replied saying that he didn’t think seeing a naked child was the shocking part, but rather the confirmation of the child’s exposure to sex when she asks, “which one first?” It was meant to be unsettling just like the subject matter itself. Watering it down would almost be insulting, like looking away and pretending these real issues do not exist.

Graceland is a well-made and compelling thriller with a strong sense of realism, but it is not for everyone. All of the characters are portrayed to have a negative side to their personality because they are all morally compromised.  When asked where the title Graceland came from, Director Ron Morales replied saying that “all the characters are corrupting one another, or they are doing the corrupting. They are all falling from grace.” If this sounds like something you can handle, then definitely check out Graceland.

For more information on Reel Asian Film Festival, please check out their official website by following this link:

Rating: B

By: Hannah Jinman