Why ‘Respeto’ earned respect

Respeto (2017) begins with a crowd cheering in a dim lit place, probably a warehouse somewhere in Pandacan, Manila. Two rappers are introduced and later on engage themselves into a rap battle by exchanging words, rhyme, and rhythm and ends with the rapper with the loudest cheer from the audience, winning the competition.

This establishes the highlight of the film: The art of words, rhyme, and rhythm.

Bagging four major awards in this year’s Cinemalaya, namely Best Film, Best Editing, Best Cinematography and Best Supporting Actor for Dido de la Paz, it is not a surprise that Respeto, directed by Treb Monteras II, turns out to be one of the most outstanding Filipino films that have been produced today.

Hendrix, played by Abra, is an aspiring rapper but due to his social status, he was forced to work as a drug mule under his sister’s drug pusher boyfriend, Mando (Brian Arda), who was up to no good. But despite the circumstances, Hendrix did not lose hope on pursuing to become a rapper and was truly supported by his friends, Betchai (Chai Fonacier) and Payaso (Yves Bagadion).

From time to time, Hendrix together with his friends would go to a rap battle gathering named Berso, where aspiring rappers come together to battle with impromptu verses. Short on cash, Hendrix uses Mando’s drug money to join the so-called gathering. Mando eventually finds out and tells Hendrix to pay him back or else he can’t come home. Desperate, Hendrix asked his friends to help him steal from Doc (Dido de la Paz), an old man who lives at the corner street who also owns a second-hand bookstore, and unfortunately, he and his friends were caught in the act. Unsuccessful with their plan, Hendrix and his friends were asked to repair everything they broke in Doc’s bookstore in exchange they would be free of charge. As the story unfolds, Hendrix and Doc’s relationship develops as Hendrix learns about Doc’s history as a writer and as a Martial Law victim.

One of the things that make this film enjoyable to watch is the humor that the characters show despite its heavy theme. There were scenes where Hendrix and his friends share a conversation about their neighbors one by one being killed because their involvement in the war on drugs, and in those conversations Payaso and Betchai would comment in a way how Filipinos would react despite the seriousness of the subject: Always with wittiness and pessimism. What makes it more likable is that how the characters deliver their lines naturally. Also, given it is a film about hip-hop and rap,what made it more enjoyable are the impromptu rap verses that were written by the cast themselves and the musical score by Jay Durias that made it stand out, as it sets the mood of the film which captivates the local hip-hop scene in the Philippines.

Another reason that makes Respeto as one of the best films produced is its social commentary on present issues in the country, specifically the war on drugs. As told, Hendrix and his friends talk about their neighbors who were killed because of the current administration’s Oplan Tokhang. It also reflected how the war on drugs affected the lives of people in the masses, as for Hendrix, his sister, and her boyfriend, they became drug mules or pushers because of poverty.

What made the film compelling is the use of elements of the old and the new. Focusing on the hip-hop scene in the Philippines and at the same time giving light on local poets and poetry, Monteras showed a different perspective on Philippine hip-hop rap battles by making it in parallel with poetry and the traditional Balagtasan. Also, the relationship between the old and the new was portrayed by Doc and Hendrix, both the embodiment of the traditional and modern. Though at extremes, Doc and Hendrix established a relationship as they learn from each other; Hendrix begins to be true to himself when it comes to his words in rapping as he spent time cleaning up Doc’s bookstore as Doc learns to open his closed doors, despite his past, to Hendrix and his friends. In the context of social issues, the film also showed the current and past issues of the country by paralleling the Martial Law period with the events under the current administration.

Tackling social issues and Filipino traditions and culture, it truly captured the essence of the problems of society affecting the people who are part of it, as portrayed by Hendrix and his friends.

Respeto reminds us of the reality there is for those people in the masses, especially the youth, that there are a lot of them who are undeniably talented but despite their situation, are not able to reach their goals and dreams. They are affected by the actions of society and become products of these problems as embodied by Hendrix and his friends. Not only it concerns the effect of these social issues on the youth, but also how it affected society as a whole. It showed how these people are shaped by circumstances in the society we live in, and how they would respond to it. As for Hendrix, he was affected by the war on drugs that mirrors Doc’s experience during the Martial Law regime which greatly affected him as a person.

Commenting and reflecting Philippine society and culture, I would give Respeto a 9/10 as I consider it as one of the best Filipino films made as it leaves you heavy-hearted, speechless and at the same time enlightened by its message.

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