Hustler whitewashed

Ho-friendly flick is all skin, no bruises.

BOOTY-FUL BOYS Harry (Rodel Velayo) and James (Leonardo Litton) are best pals. They gambol through the Filipino city of Olongapo, ducking inside restaurants and brothels where the cocky James hustles for both men and women. But these lithesome lads have got more problems than an entire soap opera cast.


directed by Mel Chionglo with Rodel Velayo and Leonardo Litton runs February 9-15 at Egyptian

More docile than his friend, Harry's plagued by flashbacks of his abusive, wife-murdering American father. After James kills a man in a brawl, the pair flees to Manila, where they reside with James' sister and her lesbian lover, then find employment at a gay strip club—James as a "macho dancer" and Harry as a host. Harry soon falls for the self-titled "Mother Teresa of the Red-Light District," a curvy hooker with a sweet disposition; takes up burlesque dancing; and does what most characters in this movie seem to do naturally—peddles that ass. Following some relationship woes (and worse), a vengeful, traumatized Harry then sets out to resolve certain childhood issues with his dad.

Burlesk King director Mel Chionglo doesn't portray prostitutes through a gritty lens or under the dim light of moral decay. For this fresh-faced call crowd, he translates Gay Pride into Prostitute Pride: An unhappy ho is a ho who can't love himself. Harry consumes drugs and spars with his girlfriend not because he's a hustler trying to conduct a relationship with a hooker, but because, as his girlfriend theorizes, "You hate yourself for hating your father." (Whoa, that's deep.)

Somewhere between a TV movie of the week and a soft-core porn flick, the enjoyably trashy King brims with melodrama and spicy sex scenes. There's also an exquisitely cheesy stripper-meets-soap-suds moment, the colorful Burlesk King contest itself, and plenty of cutting camp comedy—as when the club owner chastises a nelly dancer: "I'd better give you breasts and send you off to Japan. We sell dicks, not pussies. I'll turn you into Spiderwoman, sell you to the circus!" Forget guilty pleasure—this one's a borderline cult classic.

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