Gay life in the Philippines is very different from here in America. It is erotically charged (not to say that we aren’t). In the movie “Midnight Dancers” you get a glimpse of the gay world of the Philippines as seen through the story of three brothers who work as erotic dancers and prostitutes) in a gay bar in Manila. We see the emotions, the values, and the quest for survival of these three guys. Not really a documentary, not really a made up story, the film is a combination of the two.
Sonny, the youngest of the three, comes home from his studies at the university, looking for work. What happens is that because of the shortage of jobs, he is eventually forced to join his two older brothers in the back rooms and on the stage of the Manila gay club scene and learn the family profession. Joel, 23, has been working there for several years and wants to quit so that he can spend more time with his wife and… his young gay lover. The other brother, Dennis is a member of a street gang and lives on the street. The three find their world running away from them and they soon are on the run from the law. As they are faced with the harsh realities of life—pimps, crooked law enforcement, murderous gang leaders and jealous lovers, they realize that there has to be something better than the way they were living.
Because of its violent nature and hard look at the “deviant” scene of Manila, the movie was banned by the government of the Philippines. It was deemed to be “immoral, exploitative, and obscene”.
On the surface the movie is about call boys, macho dancers, pimps, drag queens, closet queens, b-drinkers, drugs and manipulation and exploitation. Yet beyond the dark and sleazy scenes of life in Manila is a love story that goes beyond gender and class and love and piety. It is only through the strength of the family that Sonny manages to survive. Sonny being as a commodity to be used by men combines with his struggle to protect his family while he searches for intimacy. The movie gives a sordid picture of exploitation in a society that is developing daily and where sexual roles are made unclear by the attempt to survive. Sexuality, eroticism, and choreography unite with violence from the streets to give us a family tragedy shown in docu-drama style.
The backdrop of the film is a series of interwoven characters and we are brought face to face with issues of AIDS, transsexualism, prostitution, drug usage, poverty and familial devotion.
The movie was filmed in the bars of and on the streets in Manila giving it a sense of realism- a realism that is hard. As Sonny reflects, near the end of the movie, on the spiritual coast of selling one’s body to strangers, we see the desolation that the young men feel. But the movie shows not only what is lost but also what is gained. Through prostitution the boys are able to keep their family together and prevent it from starving. The money is easy and they are “stars”. Even though they consider themselves to be straight, they are objects of scorn in their neighborhood. What they seem to lose is a realistic and healthy perspective on their place in the world. Their mother tolerates their profession because it pays the bills,
The movie combines gay sexuality with social criticism as it dramatizes the lives of the lower class boys who dance in gay clubs and turn tricks on the side. We see both social politics and social history in the film and the story is gripping. As sexy as the film is, there are no scenes of intercourse and the nudity that you see is not complete.
The actors are all new to movies but they deliver fine performances. The camera caresses the boys in the film and they appear as handsome with their almost nude bodies. Beneath the gritty realism and blasé view of sex for cash, there is a sentimental family drama. The brothers are loyal to each other and the movie has a big heart and the vision that it gives is an important one.