Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Panday 2 - Pedestrian Heroes in Oft Repeated Stories

After defeating an evil nemesis, Flavio (Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.), the magic sword-bearing blacksmith, settles down with his would-be wife Maria (Iza Calzado), a fairy princess, in a small town where the former is hailed as a hero and demigod. But the prophetic Lolo Isko (Joonee Gamboa) foresees a troubling future for the hero: “Ang nakatakdang kadakilaan ay ipinapantay ng luha’t pighati.” Soon thereafter, they receive news that nearby towns are ravaged by fire and invasions. Could Lizardo (Philip Salvador) be alive?


The day before her wedding to Flavio, Maria gets kidnapped along with other women. Lizardo, who’s severely disfigured, is indeed alive, albeit with diminished powers. He requires the allure of an engkantada to regain his full strength and youthful vitality. That same night, Flavio gets his wish. While he gets rejuvenated, Maria transforms into an old woman (Rustica Carpio). Flavio, on the other hand, has organized his men to hoist a rescue. With the help of Bagwis, his pet dragon, Flavio charges recklessly, resulting in the death of most of his armada. His people turn against him. Meanwhile, he learns that Bagwis is female, and has morphed into a lovely warrior princess named Arlana (Marian Rivera), a prodigal daughter from the Ragona clan whose people could shift into dragons. Will the legendary blacksmith be able to defeat the energized Lizardo, and in the process, rescue his would-be wife?

In 2009, Rico Gutierrez and Mac Alejandre’s “Ang Panday” outgrossed all its competitors. Moreover, it won a stupendously generous stash of highly debatable awards including Best Actor (Bong Revilla), Best Supporting Actor (Phillip Salvador), Best Child Performer (Robert “Buboy” Villar), among others. It also bagged the Best Picture, a head-scratching feat for something of its artistic (de)merit. This year, it’s poised for bigger things.

Unfortunately, many seats at its second screening on opening day in Greenbelt 3 were vacant. Is this a barometer of the general public’s disappointment or disgust over the turn of events surrounding the death of Ramgen Revilla which highlighted the excesses of a political clan that people are supposed to emulate? Or are people just tired of this Carlo Caparas vehicle? Are people standing up against polygamy, murderous sibling rivalry, hired assassins, unregulated credit card use and clandestine domestic ministrations? Lovely way to paint the modern Filipino family, isn’t it?

But the numbers have surfaced (as of this writing) with “Enteng ng Ina Mo” grossing P91 million, while “Panday 2” churns up a measly P51 million; a far-cry from the first Panday’s box office finish. More than those unreliable figures, I was witness to the empty seats at the 2nd screening of “Panday 2” while other titles enjoyed full house capacity on their pre-booked 2nd to 5th screenings (“Segunda Mano”). Either way, it is a cause for alarm for the senator and the Panday franchise.

Why are we harping on numbers? Because that's what this film is all about. Let’s face it, “Panday 2” isn’t in the realm of artistic and meritorious discourse, despite its coterie of gag-inducing awards in the past. Sometimes, the Filipino moviegoing public is happy with sugar-coated slop and kaning-baboy; thus the mainstream industry sees it fit to provide slop. Sinanay sa kaning baboy, then why else would people look for something else on their cinematic plate?

Now going back to the movie, writing a synopsis for “Panday 2” has got to be one of the hardest things I’d have to endure this season. It’s like painful abrasive scratches cutting through my sensibilities. Besides, isn't it clear that the film stands like a fan movie for GMA’s stable of talents? We see them don capes and body-hugging costumes where the most challenging endeavor they're tasked to do is look handsome or pretty; stand on the background with royal bearing, then get decimated by the advancing evil warriors. The story is peppered with needless characters that keep the narrative too busy to make a dent in the audience’s consciousness.

If Maria (Calzado) is an engkantada, why was she so helpless during her abduction? Couldn’t she summon her queen mother (Lucy Torres) for help? Did they actually forget that fairies are supposed to exhibit magical power? They should have asked Vic Sotto for tips about the fairyworld. And what was the loathsome witch Baruha’s (Lorna Tolentino) raison d’etre in the story? Did she do anything in the movie that merited her abominable presence? She would intermittently appear in her sinister meanderings, looking at a cauldron, and annotating as events unravel in Flavio’s life. She was expendable. If they took her out of the movie, it wouldn't have mattered. If she was Lizardo’s partner in crime, why were her inspired comments hurled against Lizardo (read and weep): “Ang laki mong pangit mo! Tanga kang Lizardo ka! Lagi kang nauutakan ni Flavio!” Yet Lizardo successfully ravaged the essence of the fairy princess. Should I underline this sense of disconnect?

Then there's Phillip Salvador returning as the opprobrious Lizardo, this time made up like a Joker wanna-be. He used to be one of the most competent actors in the business. He was a Brocka baby, an actor's actor. But in his advancing years, all that's left of his thespic gifts are his disproportionate and unfettered emotional dynamics. Remember "Baler" and KC Concepcion's "For The First Time"?

Benjie Paras (named Zanburo in the first Panday, then renamed Alulod in this chapter - make up your mind, guys) was given enough screen time to parlay his comic gifts but, let's face it, Paras' limited comic repertoire annoys more than amuses. Rhian Ramos returns as Emelita who has joined the "ambeks" - the "fish monsters". In her scene, she transforms into a sharp toothed ghoul, reminiscent of the tiyanaks. When most stars are given flattering parts (as princesses and valiant warriors), all they could bequeath to the embattled Ramos is that of a tiyanak-looking ogre? Such abortable star-making cameo, I should say. Poor girl. Mo Twister surely succeeded in his scorned-lover's vendetta.

Then there’s the Ragona Tribe headed by the illustrious King Daluyong and Queen Ibira (Eddie Garcia and Alice Dixson). This was a peace-loving race which could morph into fire-breathing dragons. Most of the GMA artists were hired to populate this tribe of dragons: Joshua Dionisio, Barbie Forteza, Bea Binene, Jake Vargas, Alden Richards and the lovely Kris Bernal who played Alira (Arlana’s sister). When they were invaded, they shifted to dragons yet were readily overwhelmed by Lizardo’s villains who were a third their size. I had to laugh in spite of myself. Defeat seems impossible when you have 1. Manpower, 2. The size (they’re dragons, for pete’s sake), 3. Flight, 4. Fire-breathing weapons, 5. Claws. Have you ever seen such helpless dragons? Only in the Philippines. They couldn’t even protect their queen and their princesses. What gives? Lizardo’s men only had swords. But this narrative strain may have been fabricated , regardless of how brainless it is, to make Flavio’s vengeance doubly sweeter, debah?

But when it was time for Flavio to face all these henchmen, all he had to do was swing his sword on air one single time, while popping gum balls from the sidelines; the sword was doing all the work, and that was that. Ho hum! Despite the “wisdom” of this sword to fight its own battle, we have a hero who lost his wife, and further lost the family of his Marimar-wanna be dancing dragonlady Arlana. How dependable can you get?

Envisioned as the local version of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Harry Potter”, its spectacle is lost in its vacuous drivel. Technology should help move a plot. Instead, the story takes the backseat to glorious computer-generated images. There was never a single moment of authentic emotion, thus it's a senseless endeavor to dispense empathy. In fact, Maria’s death felt uneventful. It came to pass without much fanfare when it should be one of its cinematic highlights.

Mac Alejandre’sPanday 2” is supposed to deliver stuff of legends, yet all we have is a well choreographed passing of air. It has a middling storytelling acumen replete with vignettes of ideas not fully realized. It has a protagonist with legendary might, and an equally bulging tummy. It's a growing conundrum. What have our action heroes become? Heaven help us.

Marian Rivera is Arlana who was Flavio's dragon Bagwis before Maria bit the bullet. Heroes need dainty damsels too.

Lorna Tolentino plays evil witch Baruha who does nothing but laugh the whole movie through. Her nonsensical presence is impudently underlined by the blatant fact that there was nothing vaguely funny to merit her laughters. Schizophrenia, perhaps?

Impressive CGI's, vacuous drivel.

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