After the success of Para Kay B, Ricky Lee’s highly anticipated novel Si Amapola sa 65 na Kabanata led us again into the quirky and etchos-driven mind of one of the country’s greatest scriptwriters. But I have to admit, and this is quite difficult, that Ricky Lee’s second novel is a disappointment, to say the least.
I am inclined to compare this book with Para Kay B. Para Kay B is a postmodern (some say metafictive but I tend to disagree) rehashing of the love story genre, or, if we stop running in circles, is basically a love story. There are interesting characters, excruciatingly cheesy, albeit formulaic stories, heartbreaking climaxes and fragile but powerful dia/monologues. The biggest flaw, for me however in Para Kay Ba is the uncalled-of, deliberately weird and alienating story of the writer, Julio. (A quick trivia: Julio the writer in Para Kay B was first introduced to us by Lee in his Trip to Quaipo as Hulyong Manunulat, a fictional struggling young scriptwriter). Nonetheless it was an entertaining and seriously reflective read. Good stuff.
However, in Amapola, it seems as if Lee became less uptight, more adventurous, in fact more reckless. The story is about a gay comedy bar impersonator, who turns out to be a manananggal, who turns out to have serious multiple personality disorder, who ventures into a prophesied mission to save the aswang race and the whole Philippines. And it doesn’t get less weirder than that. There are die-hard Noranians, a manananggal convenience store, Machiavellian traditional politicians who are both ruthless and noble. People emerge from toilet bowls (of all places!) and aswangs fly above the Metro like some obese guy taking a stroll. Needless to say, there are puns and jokes and weird things happening here and there throughout the novel. Take for instance this excerpt:
Buong gabi naming pinagdebatehan kung ano ang magiging alyas ko. Inapola kaya, sabi ko, total di naman ako ama. Tiningnan nila ako ng masama.
A Bonsai Confider, sabi ni Lola Sepa. Napatingin ako sa kanya. O kaya Ironic Foes Band. O kaya Nice Food Sabrina. Pina-research ko ‘yan ke Emil. Lahat yan anagrams ng pangalan ni Andres Bonifacio.
Lola naman e!
O kaya, Super Sagwan.
Anagram ng aswang ang sagwan.
Eto pa ang ilan sa mga ni-reject ko. Polanggal (pinagdugtong na Amapola at manananggal), Arise Used Jogger (anagram ng Gregoria de Jesus), Super Gee (suggestion ni Emil), Super Eklavu, Iron Woman, at Mighty Half-Girl.
There are two things to look at this. One, we can treat Amapola as a good satirical piece with countless meanings and limitless potentials for interpretation (“manananggal as the queer, or the mentally-impaired, Amapola as the traditional politician trapped in the twin options of diplomacy or bloody revolution, etc etc; my friend Ruel Caricativo made an incisive analysis of Amapola here). Or, on the hand, we can simply view the book as a rather lousy mish-mash of cinematic archetypes, slapstick humor, swardspeak and predictable storylines. I am compelled to admit, the book is entertaining as hell, much like the delight of watching Vice Ganda, and I had some hearty laughs from it. But in the end, I seems to have crossed the line between good, piercing satire and pure primetime TV entertainment.
There are pages of unnecessary sequences and character development, which I will not describe here, that dulls the story and delays the pace of the story (blurredlights has the same opinion). I really believe that the book will be more effective if it is edited to accommodate smoother transitions and escalating emotions. There are moments when the scene is deadly serious and suddenly a character will crack a joke, as if in a farce. Finally, the story has been watered down and rendered lethargic. Lee’s political-satirical intentions have been drowned in the colorful spectacle.
I have genuine respect for Mr Ricky Lee as one of the true big bosses of cinema. Moreover, I really appreciate his inclusion of social criticisms into the book. Probably all the jokes and other jolly stuff is just there to accommodate the hardcore-ness of the book’s politics. Or maybe the book is just what Mr Lee really wanted to achieve. After all, he said in the “Pahabol” of Para Kay B, “Kapag nagsusulat ako, nagpapahinga ako.”
Or maybe, again, it is just a matter of taste. Some people prefer Bob Ong while some salivate (the horror!) over Finnegan’s Wake. After all, it’s just Mr Lee’s way of expression.