Directed by Quark Henares, Marupok AF (Where Is The Lie?) retells the true story of a young trans woman in the Philippines who was catfished via social media in an elaborate plan set up by a sociopathic bully and her himbo henchman. The film looks at the bigger picture of transphobia in the Philippines, the prominence of social media in the world of online dating, and throws in some Rashomon-style storytelling tropes for good measure.
Janzen (EJ Jallorina) is a romantic optimist, interior design student, and a trans woman looking for Mr. Right on dating apps and real life. She matches with Theo (Royce Cabera), a handsome young man who immediately accepts her when she mentions she is trans and pre-op, and they begin a months-long correspondence, texting each other daily. Unbeknownst to Janzen, the person she is really messaging at all hours is Beanie (Maris Racal), a prominent art director and scheming bully who is using her resources — actors, designers, voiceover artists, etc. — to catfish LGBTQIA+ people like Janzen online.
The wild and almost unbelievable story turns out to be one of many instances where hateful cyberbullying and outrageous manipulation is used to target trans people, especially (but not only) in the Philippines. Although Janzen is the heroine of the film, the story is also intercut with flashforward interviews and livestream videos of Theo and Beanie telling their sides of the story (as unconvincing and unsympathetic as they are, ultimately, much like last year’s Zoey Deutch-vehicle Not Okay) as they try to justify to themselves and the world why they did such cruel things. There is some creative license taken in trying to portray Beanie’s psychology — she waffles between gleeful sadism and sudden guilt and even sexual obsession at points, which feels very baffling and conflicting but goes some way into trying to explain the web of lies that entangles everyone in the end.
Henares directs the colourful tale with verve. There is a distinctly Gen Z look to the movie. All the young characters (no one looks older than 25) wear stylish outfits, live and work in creative spaces, and are super adept at using social media. Oftentimes, the screen is framed as an online video with likes and comments bubbling up from the corners. One particularly kinetic scene involves a split-screen phone conversation that builds tension as one person approaches the other, going down hallways and through doors, until the screen becomes one again. It’s a clever bit of filmmaking and keeps things interesting visually. With strong direction and central performances, Marupok AF (Where Is The Lie?) is a compelling and revealing look into real-life online drama and the ongoing struggle of trans people in the Philippines.
Marupok AF (Where Is The Lie?) premiered at the 2023 Slamdance Film Festival.