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Cuchera: The shocking truth on the plight of drug mules

Poster from Cinemalaya.orgPoster from Cinemalaya.org

Dark, bloody, and guaranteed to keep you at the edge of your seat, "Cuchera" fleshes out the lives of Pinoy drug mules.

Maria Isabel Lopez, who made her mark as a sexy star in the '80s, titillated the audience in a different way as Isabel, the lead character in this based-on-a-true-story flick.

A prostitute-turned-veteran drug mule, Isabel oversees the transport of drugs from China to Manila. She recruits people to disguise as tourists. For P50,000—and the opportunity to travel for free—these individuals inadvertently become drug couriers.

The film is a gritty eye-opener. Especially disturbing are the scenes showing how capsules containing the contraband are swallowed or concealed in the body cavities of male and female drug mules.

Laban, who is also a journalist and managing producer for GMA News and Public Affairs, based his film on a 2007 story that aired in the show, “Reporter’s Notebook.” 

“We all have the materials but there were a lot of restrictions on television,” he explained in an interview with Yahoo! Philippines OMG!  “That became a lingering frustration of mine until finally, I came back from studying abroad, sat down and wrote the script for it.”

He submitted his story to Cinemalaya even before the execution in China last March of three convicted Filipino drug mules. According to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, there are 691 cases of Filipino drug couriers as of 2011.

Laban based the lead character of “Cuchera” on one of the mules he met in the course of researching his original report.  She reminded him so much of former beauty queen and sexy star Maria Isabel Lopez that he sought out the actress to play the lead, whom he also named Isabel.

Photo by Marlo Cueto/NPPA Images.Photo by Marlo Cueto/NPPA Images.Lopez, who has won awards for her roles in acclaimed indie films like Brillante Mendoza’s harrowing “Kinatay” in 2009, and “Halaw,” Cinemalaya’s best picture last year, disclosed how difficult it was for her to make “Cuchera.”

“Painful, kasi masyadong mabigat ‘yung script, lalo na ‘yung capsules na kasing laki ng thumb na inilalagay sa ari,” Lopez said.

Though typecast in prostitute roles, Lopez said that appearing in independent films has given her more fulfillment than her stint with mainstream cinema in the 80s.

"We're not doing this for the money but for personal gratification. And with indie films, nagkaroon ako ng chance na rumampa sa iba't ibang festivals around the world. 'Yung recognition as an actress, di ko 'yun nakuha nung nasa mainstream ako," said Lopez.

Now sought-after to compete or screen in film festivals around the world, Filipino independent movies also gave Lopez the opportunity to be associated with international award winners.

“Kinatay” won for Brillante Mendoza Best Director at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, while “Halaw” received a special mention from the jury of the Network for the Promotion of Asian Cinema (Netpac) in the 61st Berlin International Film last February.

"Cuchera" is not for the faint of heart. It's an eye-opener. When you leave the cinema house, you will look at the world in a different light. It's a reality you can't ignore.

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