The cover of Pathfinder's release of Squatter Punk says, in a font resembling a ransom note not unlike the cover of The Sex Pistols' Never Mind The Bullocks album, "This is not a film by Khavn. In way, that statement is absolutely true, even if the singularly named movie maker was the guy behind the camera - the film isn't really directed. Rather, it just follows around a kid with a Mohawk named Hapon as he zips around a slum in Manila, Philippines, more or less going about his business and basically trying to keep himself interested.
When the movie begins, we see him kicking a can of Coca-Cola down a grubby street (a stab at blatant American consumerism? You be the judge!) and as his can-kicking expedition takes him deeper into the slum, we get a look at the abject poverty that he and many others live in, day in and day out. Hapon, for the record, is just a kid. Granted, his Mohawk may make him look tough, but as we pay closer attention we realize that he's likely not even hit his teenage years yet. Pay further attention still and you may pick up on the fact that despite his cocky attitude and self assured screen presence, he's pretty frail looking, maybe even malnourished, bordering on sickly in appearance.
There's no dialogue in Squatter Punk or is there really all that much of a story. It's simply a document of this kid cruising through a slum, interesting sometimes but just as frequently keeping to himself and doing his own thing. This whole mish-mash of black and white images is set to a fairly intense and aggressive soundtrack by a Filipino punk band called The Brockas (Khavn plays in this band, so it makes sense that they'd supply the soundtrack for the picture). It works fairly well and sets the tone for the picture really effectively. Even if the music isn't your style (personally, I really dug it), there's no denying that it really does a good job of capturing the ups and downs and manic pace of Hapon's life. There are lyrics to some of the music, but it's all in Tagalog, and it hasn't been subtitled on this DVD so it's impossible to say if it relates to the movie in any way or not.
The movie, if you want to call it that (it doesn't subscribe to the normal confines of what we expect a movie to be), seems to be making some sort of statement about the conditions that this kid and so many others live in, and it seems to point its finger and blame Filipino society for effectively forcing him to grow up too fast and taking his innocence. At the same time, we see early on through the simple act of playing with an empty soda can that, tough life or not, Hapon still has a fairly bright glimmer of his childhood intact, as do the kids (all of whom are roughly his age) who see him as a gang leader of sorts and spend some time following him around. It's hard to say if the film is asking us to acknowledge this or if it's simply documenting things as is, as whatever political agenda may have been there gets quickly buried under fast editing and shaky camera work.
As interesting and frequently visually memorable as Squatter Punk is, by the time the half hour mark rolls around you might find yourself hitting the fast forward button. There are very impressive moments here, scattered throughout the film from the beginning right on to the end, but they don't always add up to much and the parts are worth more than the whole in this case. That's not to say that this isn't a film worth seeing, because it definitely is, but rather to point out that despite the interesting subject matter it does suffer from pacing problems and get repetitious at times. There really isn't a narrative here and while it's fascinating to see this kid go about his business, without a story or a heftier context it starts to feel like we're staring a little longer than we should be.
Squatter Punk is presented in 1.78.1 non-anamorphic widescreen. That's right, it's letterboxed only, not 16x9 enhanced. The movie was shot on digital video, on the fly, and in black and white so the picture quality is only going to be so good, and on top of that there are some obvious sawtooth and combing artifacts. Compression artifacts also pop up in some of the darker scenes. That said, it's watchable enough. There's certainly been loads of room left for improvement here but given the film's completely low-fi origins, it's unlikely anyone expected perfection in the first place.
This is a film with no dialogue, instead, it's all set to music by a Filipino punk band called The Brockas. The music sounds fine, as under produced as it is in spots, and it has a nice raw sound to it. The DVD actually gives you the choice of watching the film with five different soundtracks, all by the same band, each one presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. There aren't any subtitles as they aren't really needed. All in all, the audio sounds like a cheap punk record, but that's maybe not a bad thing, because that's basically what it is.
Aside from the alternate audio tracks, the disc also features The Brockas: Live! (17:58) which is some concert footage of the band doing their thing on stage mixed up with some footage of them in a studio space scoring the film. There's no dialogue here, and as such, no real context, but some of the footage at least sheds a light on what they did and how they did it. An interview entitled Talk To Khavn (4:31) is a brief spot in which the man who made the film talks about how and why he made this odd little picture, how the 'slum genre' is a unique sub-genre of Filipino cinema, and where his ideas came from. Last but not least is the inclusion of a short film called Ultimo (6:14) which is shot in fullframe black and white and set to instrumental music.
Rounding out the extras are a trailer for the film, trailers for a few other Pathfinder DVD releases, static menus and chapter stops.
This is a tough one to sum up. The intent behind the movie is solid and interesting, but the feature just goes on a bit too long and probably would have been better served as a short film rather than a full length offering. That said, there are some really mesmerizing and memorable moments here that viewers won't soon forget, even if the non-anamorphic transfer is a bummer. A few extras add some value to the package, but it's hard to say if Squatter Punk is really a film worth going back to time and again. It's worth seeing once, so consider it a decent rental if you're got an appreciation for experimental foreign cinema.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.