Saturday, December 31, 2011

Yam Laranas' The Road - Spinning Scary Yarns

It’s the detours that lead to the untrodden path. When Brian and Janine (Derick Monasterio and Lexi Fernandez) invite Ella (Barbie Forteza) for a night time driving lesson, they didn’t foresee a night of unspoken horror that would have them driving through a road inhabited by restless souls seeking reparation. This eventually leads to the reinvestigation of a 12 year old cold case involving the disappearance of sisters Lara (Rhian Ramos) and Joy (Louise de los Reyes). Luis Medina (TJ Trinidad), a bemedalled investigator, handles the case.

A decade earlier, Lara and Joy drove through this desolate road, sweeping through clouds of dust when their car engine suddenly stalled. When they asked help from a sulky passerby (Alden Richards), they were lead to his dwelling where the sisters soon found themselves captive. Placed in separate rooms, Lara could hear Joy’s pleas, but was helpless. “Patawarin mo ako, Joy, at di kita naipagtanggol,” whispered Lara through the walls. Later that night, Lara found a bunch of keys, one unlocking the chain on her leg. She made a run to freedom, but the man discovered her disappearance.

In 1988, a young boy (Renz Valerio) falls victim to the abuse of his disconsolate and discontented mother Carmela (Carmina Villaroel) who keeps him inside a cabinet whenever her lover (Dex Quindoza) comes over. Meanwhile, his father (Marvin Agustin) – a devout preacher – dismisses his wife’s affair, desperately clinging to the belief that a marital bond shouldn’t be put asunder. One day, Martha (Ynna Asistio) - a pretty girl who volunteers to do their laundry – comes into their lives. In the course of their acquaintance, an accident ensues, unraveling into a series of events that would make the young boy an orphan.

Cohesively told as three seemingly unrelated tales with pinhole-focus , each with meticulously appointed atmosphere that succinctly captures an eventful moment in different decades, director Yam Laranas masterfully and cleverly spins a yarn of utter suspense bristling with pulsating narrative progression and psychological disquiet. It’s the year’s most unexpected triumph too. With a tightly written script and an impeccable casting, the film soars and entertains. It is also one of my favorites for 2012.

The Road” highlights the star turn of Alden Richards and Renz Valerio - playing the teenage and child Luis respectively – who both deliberately took advantage of the script’s slow but steady build up, mining an emotional grit that inspires discernment. Carmina Villaroel browbeats with sinister abandon. You hardly hear her voice rise, but the menace is all there. Her character feels trapped in a loveless marriage and she makes her discontent known. With well threshed out characters and beautifully woven “chapters”, GMA Films has a winner; something that I never expected within the year. After all, when has the production outfit last delivered a great movie? Eleven years ago? Marilou Diaz-Abaya’sJose Rizal” was 1998. Joel Lamangan’sDeathrow” was 2000. Have they done anything of considerable artistic merit aside from the aforementioned? Derick Monasterio was just 6 years old when GMA had one. It sure has been a long artistic drought… until now.

The mother and the laundrywoman.

Brian drives for their lives.

Alden Richards shines brightly as a traumatized, albeit psychologically unhinged teenager - and proves that there's more to his handsome face. In several scenes, he has expressions that reminded me of (a fairer version of) Coco Martin and of John Lloyd Cruz. No Coco? See the photo above.

Alden Richards


When a moron read a typo in the text above: "a young boy (Renz Valerio) falls victim to the abuse of HER disconsolate and discontented mother" - this neutered insect raised hell! With saliva-drenched mouth and a cerebral activity that's about to overload, this IDIOT has turned into an epilepsy-bound wreck! Poor soul. Chill out, hon. Inhale, exhale and go get a brain first before conflagrating into bits and pieces of envy! Who told you to read this blog anyway? Stop punishing yourself. You sure you didn't forget your morning dose of anti-psychotic drugs? Displeased by my genius? Sleep on it. Life will get better.

Pintakasi - Artistic Blend in Film Making Experiment

Cock fight anyone?

But the title in Lee Meilly, Imee Marcos and Nelson Caguila’sPintakasi” straddles two different realms, the aforementioned cockfight and a compound term that puts emphasis on the craving to paint (“Pinta Kasi!”)!

Both entities figure prominently as metaphors in the existence of DJ (John Wayne Sace) who moves to Isla Pulo, an island dump site littered with scraps and metropolitan junk. In the island, he befriends pretty Josie (Erich Gonzales) who only dreams of singing. His is to paint. Tikboy (JM de Guzman), the self-appointed gang leader (“mayor”) isn’t too happy with their friendship. After all, Tikboy knew Josie first and has proprietary claim on the damsel. This romantic rivalry eventually extends among their friends now caught between the race for supremacy. Though DJ is reluctant to reciprocate the dare, he is left with no option when Josie’s little brother becomes pawn. The job: stealing shabu (methamphetamine) in a warehouse. Would DJ be up for the task?

The mixed media film reminds me of a Taiwanese film – Chi Y. Lee’sChocolate Rap” which peculiarly combines Chinese drama and street dance. “Pintakasi” ups the ante by mixing poverty porn with 2D animation, music and dance! When DJ and Tikboy dive into a musical brawl, a hip hop duet called “Kanta, Pinta” involving rap and dance, I was in a trance. It was an impetuous artistic move that surprisingly embraced the moment, I was tempted to stand and do a shimmy. LOL

The experiment of introducing 2D animation is a bit distracting, but its nonetheless welcome as it obviously alludes to the vision of DJ as a painter in a strange new world (DJ came from the province) riddled with drug peddlers, snatchers, grandmothers (Boots Anson Roa) who likewise run drugs.

John Wayne Sace skillfully essays JM with a polished performance. He’s the new guy in town who dreams of better things for the neighborhood. He’s a symbol of redemption in a domicile where dreaming is nothing but folly. Erich Gonzales once again displays a subjugated emotionality that renders her performance natural and affecting and a presence that ignites the screen. JM de Guzman, who looks stocky, is menacing as the jealous gangster. Others in the cast do well: Alwyn Uytingco as Bogart (Tikboy’s ambitious second-in-command); William Martinez (playing a cop), Giselle Sanchez, Alcris Galura, et. al. Rumors say it took them two years - or even more - to complete, thus a caboodle of directors were credited. If only it pulled a dash of fortitude for an even more satisfying finish.

John Wayne Sace and co-stars

Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos, producer and co-director, and her star Erich Gonzales.

John Wayne Sace (DJ) and Erich Gonzales (Josie)

John Wayne Sace

JM de Guzman

JM de Guzman plays the vicious Tikboy

Alwyn Uytingco plays Bogart.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Joel Lamangan's Sigwa – Raging Storms and Troubled Souls

It took Dolly (Dawn Zuleuta) 35 years to return to the Philippines. Back then, she was a wide eyed optimist visiting her parent’s motherland for the first time. She also believed that well meaning people like her could fight a feeble system and change the world. Several years later, she has returned for a more compelling reason; one that took her back to that tumultuous era. In the early seventies, she hurriedly escaped the clutches of Martial Law quite scathed and dazed, leaving a daughter under the care of Azon (Gina Alajar). In the crossfire of warring ideologies, many have perished. Including her child, or so she thought. But a common friend recently tells her that the child is alive.

At the height of an oppressive dictatorship, young idealist Dolly (Megan Young) – a junior correspondent of a US magazine - is welcomed by a group of student activists who ushered her into the ideals of their advocacy. She meets student leader Oliver (Marvin Agustin) and his girlfriend Cita (Pauleen Luna); the persevering Azon (Lovi Poe) and the dependable Rading (Jay Aquitania); then there’s the restrained Eddie (Allen Dizon) with whom Dolly gets into a relationship. With adequate fervor and high-mindedness, the group soon finds themselves joining the underground movement bent on toppling an oppressive government.

But each member is deliberately captured. The ladies are raped; the guys are subjected to hellish tortures until their souls have all been beaten to a pulp, providing names and whereabouts of their other comrades. Meanwhile, Dolly’s been recovered by the authorities who have been informed that she’s an American citizen, giving her the privilege to abandon her group’s cause and fly back to America while everyone else faces a bleak future.

But 35 years have changed people. Dolly has chosen to live a solitary life. Oliver (Tirso Cruz III) has joined the government, acting as the presidential spokes person, while Cita (Oliver’s former girl friend, this time played by Zsa Zsa Padilla) has risen in the ranks of the left-leaning revolutionary group. She has in fact become their supreme leader. Dolly has required the help of Oliver, now in the position of finding people, to locate Azon (Gina Alajar) who was left with Dolly’s child at the height of the insurgency. Dolly’s pursuit has unraveled strife anchored by their past. Is her daughter still alive? Will she ever find her?

Joel Lamangan’sSigwa” (Storm) is a harrowing journey that follows the lives of student activists with ponderous tenacity. On the foreground is a mother’s search for her child, but it’s merely a device used to introduce us to the characters. Though compelling and thematically clamorous, the focus wavers from too much detail. This isochronous storytelling tends to provide a less cohesive work, denying the material to soar. That’s always the plight of a material with a multitude of climaxes, thus the story eventually plateaus. This is not saying that Lamangan’s “Sigwa” is an insignificant material. It in fact deserves to be seen and remembered.

Megan Young and Dawn Zulueta competently link the past and the future with honest portrayals as Dolly. Marvin Agustin delivers one of the most emotionally distressing depiction of a torture victim. While his tears trickle down his cheeks and he pleads for his life, you are punched in the gut by the scene’s realism. Tirso Cruz III, who plays the older Oliver, is equally treacherous as the cabinet secretary who’s had a change of heart. Gina Alajar, brilliant as ever, mines her veteran instinct to show the emotional groundwork of a mother who’s afraid to lose a child she’s nurtured as her own. I do have certain misgivings in Zsa Zsa Padilla’s portrayal. Maybe I’m too much weaned on her being the sophisticated lady that she is that it doesn’t seem right to see her carry guns and don sneakers, and tough talking like a revolutionary honcho. But she works hard for her part and it shows. Allen Dizon seems misplaced and looks awkward and ill at ease in many of his scenes, and the age gap between Megan’s Dolly and Dizon’s Eddie (he was planted by the military to spy and infiltrate the leftists) is a lumbering fact.

The torture and rape scenes feel sanitized. The sense of dread is somehow watered down by its careful staging. In my mind, there’s a need to stage a brutal scene – allow it to be ruthless and ferocious - to underline the horrors of an amoral military rule gone mad. Torture victims are scarred for life, and they don’t experience savagery with cotton candy ministrations. Despite its busy narrative, fragmented storytelling and its tendency for maudlinism, “Sigwa” is better realized than the indulgent “Ka Oryang” (which won Best Picture at the recent Cinema One – a truly despicable year for the festival).

A favorite scene is Dolly and Azon’s meeting. In this scene, the camera frames a troubled Azon – with Alajar in tremendous control – while the light from outside is casting shadows against her face. It was a deliberate form of visual poetry concocting a singular emotional moment that highlights Azon’s chagrined soul. Are there limits to what a mother would do to keep a daughter? Boundless.

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.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Enteng ng Ina Mo - Comic Flourishes with Diminishing Substance

It’s the first film we went to watch at the MMFF not because we thought highly of it. Logistics of watching movies at the festival has to be carefully planned if you want a hassle-free experience. We chose Greenbelt 3 over Trinoma (nearer my village) because of the comparatively less crowd volume. Besides, it’d be nice to break the tedium. Christmas dinner afterwards would take place at my grandfather’s dig in Makati.

Which film would bring in the most crowd? That’s what we’d book first, that way we can take our sweet time queuing for the rest of the line-up without the frenetic rush to get the last few seats later in the day. So on the first day of MMFF, I donned my Christmas-inspired stilettos and harassed my friend so we could make the first screening at Greenbelt 3. Tony Y. Reyes’Enteng ng Ina Mo” plays first, followed by “Panday 2”, “Segunda Mano”, then “House Husband”. It was going to be “Shake, Rattle and Roll 13” instead of the Judy Anne Santos-Ryan Agoncillo starrer, but it wasn’t in the Greenbelt line-up! Simply put, that’s our fearless forecast for the biggest money makers for this festival. Doing away with them first would allow us to enjoy the rest of the movie watching season, with relative ease and comfort.

So... what happens when Enteng Kabisote meets Ina Montecillo?

Ina Montecillo (Ai-Ai de las Alas) has been having vivid and disquieting dreams of strife and fighting a war alongside a valiant warrior, a “knight in shining, shimmering armor”. But in her waking hours, the doting former president is anxious of being left on her own while most of her 12 children have started living their lives. Juan (Marvin Agustin), her eldest, is due to move to a new home with his family. Tudis (Nikki Valdez) has bought a house for her and son Oogie. Dimitri (Carlo Aquino) will soon relocate to Cebu where he’s assigned for work. Gay son Pip (Alwyn Uytingco) might do the same once he finds his new papa, taking daughter Monay (Xyriel Manabat) with him. To make matters worse, Rowena (Eugene Domingo), Ina’s best friend, is too preoccupied with her boytoy Frank (Jon Avila). The widow of four is lonely. And Carlito (Piolo Pascual), her last boyfriend, has flown off to South Africa, and has suffered morbid consequences (“Nilapa ng leon,” informed Ina.) Where will this leave Ina? No wonder she has burdensome dreams of conflict - and of a brave knight.

Meanwhile, at the Kabisote household, Enteng (Vic Sotto) is flustered when Faye (Gwen Zamora), his wife – a fairy princess – decides to leave Earth for Engkantasia (the fairy world) without his permission to fight a fast-losing battle against her evil sister Satana (Bing Loyzaga) who has captured the queen, Ina Magenta (Amy Perez). While Faye is occupied training for the impending invasion, Satana casts a spell on Enteng: the first lady he sees at the door becomes the future Mrs. Kabisote. In comes Ina Montecillo who’s flattered by the attention that Enteng showers on her. While Enteng is bent on wooing Ina, the latter is gradually falling for the charming gentleman who failed to tell her that he’s married. What’s worse, Ina’s children aren’t pleased with their mother’s new paramour, and they’re too happy to let him know.

Over at Engkantasia, the situation has turned hopeless. With the help of other fairies, Ina Verde and Ina Asul (Precious Lara Quigaman and Megan Young), they have to summon the help of Enteng and bring to fairyland their “bagong tagapagligtas” (new savior) who happened to be – Ina Montecillo! And they have to get there fast before Faye, Ina Magenta and the whole fairyland fall under the sovereign of Satana! Will Enteng, Ina and the gang succeed against ghouls, monsters, witches and a giant Cyclops? Guess.

Hurdling the narrative stretch is a feat, but there’s novelty in the cinematic pairing of the two biggest box office draws of the MMFF. With a reed-thin plot that fuels this smorgasbord of genres (comedy, drama, horror, fantasy, action, adventure), the movie rests solely on the spirited performances of its cast, and its episodic endeavors at humor. Ina and Enteng’s rendezvous is indeed novelty, considering we’ve somehow grown accustomed to them. They’ve become guilty pleasures; they’ve become part of our Christmases, whether we deem them substantial or not! Ai-Ai de las Alas and Vic Sotto enjoy a comic chemistry that at times feels genuinely funny; other times banal, mundane. But it’s hard to ignore the light banter between these two veteran comedians. Their scenes mostly work even with the occasional awkward moments when the romantic strain becomes a burden. This uneven consequence is reflected in the movie going experience, taking us on a roller coaster ride of mediocre gaffes, heartwarming deliverances and the comfort and relative succor of familiarity with the characters.

Eugene Domingo returns as the rambunctious and hysterical Rowena who takes advantage of most of her limited screen time. Domingo lights up the screen with manic energy. She’s our adorable comic muse for a reason. Her timing is impeccable, her delivery crackles with whimsy. This comic intuition is borne out of her theatrical experience, I surmise. Either that, or she's unadulterated genius. It’s notable that, despite her cinematic successes, she hasn’t turned her back on the movie series that helped showcase her comical magic on screen. In a scene where Ina learns of Enteng’s “deception” (he tells her that he’s married, that their romantic dalliances was from a witch’s spell, and that he’s still in love with his fairy wife), Rowena suddenly pulls a panel behind the wailing Ina, chasing her around with the set piece. “Dito ka sa harap nito umiyak, mananalo ka ng award!” she deadpans. Though on text, that isn’t humorous. Her glib delivery had me cracking up. Kakaloka ka, Eugene!

Enteng gets spellbound by an anonymous lady (Pauleen Luna).

There are send-ups from popular movies (“No Other Woman”, “Won’t Last a Day Without You”), but they mostly fall flat. The humor cake is mostly served in the interaction between Enteng and Ina, and the sporadic scenes of the ebullient Eugene Domingo.


The message of strong familial ties resonates loudly in the intertwining stories of Ina and Enteng. Societal woes batter the dynamics of living a harmonious family life, yet it is instructive to note that when we we're required to hurdle insurmountable problems, we ultimately find ways to unite and fight our battles together - as a family. And isn't that the essence of a Filipino family?


The funniest scene in "Enteng ng Ina Mo" transpires at the concluding scene when they realized that Aiza Kabisote (Aiza Seguerra), Enteng’s lesbian daughter, got pregnant. The father: Ina’s gay son Pip (Uytingco) who then testily reminded Aiza: “Ikaw kasi, kalabit ng kalabit!

It’s interesting to note that the scenes away from Engkantasia (which monopolized the last fourth of the movie) were more compelling than the invasion-and-rescue which was hackneyed. We’ve seen them before. We could close our eyes and chronologically predict what’s going to happen next. The novelty of such obtusely choreographed fight scenes (with decent CGI’s) has worn off two years ago. People are eventually going to tire off such drollery. See how people have gradually dismissed Bong Revilla’sPanday 2” with briskly dwindling numbers.

Yes, the gang’s back but we need narrative substance too.

Rowena shares her thoughts. to bestfriend Ina.

Faye rehearses her fairy spells.

"Hi, kids. I'm Mr. Pogi," remarked Enteng.

"Could you lock the door?" Enteng tells Ina. She replies with, "No, Enteng, please don't!"

Giant cyclops

Asiong Salonga Story - The Land of Posturing Potbellied Gangsters

There are valid reasons why biopics are produced, the most common of which is to tell the story of a popular figure; the “real” one that explains his origin and motivations. Another is to demystify a persona steeped with preconceived notions; strip him out of hearsays and hyperbole; venture on this personality’s charm or notoriety, and understand why such personality fascinates the public.

One of these personalities was Nicasio “Asiong” Salonga.

Asiong Salonga (Jorge Estregan aka ER Ejercito) is an iniquitous mobster boss from Tondo who, in the late 40’s, lived a fast life with plenty of guns and a coterie of women. He was clannish and patriarchal of his townmates, yet implacable towards his enemies. People either feared or admired him. When he married Fidela (Carla Abellana), his grasp of the criminal underground burgeoned further. It helped that his brother, Domeng Salonga (Philip Salvador) was a well decorated, albeit highly regarded police officer. He became so influential that even political parties (he’s pro-Liberal Party) would compete for his good graces and ultimately, his endorsement. Asiong was also generous to the poor, earning him the moniker “Robinhood ng Tondo”.

But not everyone was pleased with Asiong’s rise. His main nemesis constituted a group of miscreants headed by Totoy Golem (John Regala) who wanted him “discarded” for good. After a series of retaliatory shootouts, Asiong was put in prison where he befriended a cellblock mayor (Jay Manalo) who helped hatch an escape. Unfortunately for Asiong, he was imprudent. He got caught. Not long after this, he was propositioned to foil an assassination plot against a local Liberal Party standard bearer who carried enough political heft to give him a parole.

Asiong reclaims his hold in the underworld mob, but had to contend with betrayals within his men. He learned of Erning’s (Baron Geisler) abusive streak. One day, Golem invites him for a conciliatory meeting, unaware that Erning has “jumped ship”. Would Asiong survive the plot?

Filmed in glorious black and white, this ambitious opus has the visual savvy reminiscent of Wong Kar Wai and vestiges of Jonathan Sela’s eye-popping camera work in “Max Payne”. But “Manila Kingpin – The Asiong Salonga Story”, a film not directed by Tikoy Aguiluz, is all gloss and cinematic posturing. The story is pretty trite and uninsightful. It offers a plot that might as well be another henchman’s story. There’s nothing distinct about its narrative. More importantly, it forgot to tell the story behind what we already know: Which family reared him? What made him who he became? We needed to understand the genesis of a mobster – but this wasn’t on the cinematic plate. Was it a problem explained by the very public altercation between director Tikoy Aguiluz (who did not direct this movie, let me be very clear) and the Laguna governor and executive producer? I doubt.

Whether it is Aguiluz’s 115 minute cut or Ejercito’s 150 minute copy, it is obvious that the problem is in the substance, casting and cinematic vision. Or should I offer it to be re-titled to “The Land of the Potbellied Gangsters”? The movie purports to re-introduce Asiong Salonga to a generation who has no idea of his name or nature. It intended to bring back the old-fashioned “Pinoy action movie” which has, thankfully, died a natural death. It intended to make Jorge Estregan a legitimate action figure and dramatic actor in one sweep, something that he never succeeded in his younger days. He was, after all, a starlet, riding in the coattails of his family’s ear-friendly surname. Did anyone remember him in films like “Mga Paru-parung Buking”, “Boy Tornado”, “Kumander Dante”, “Pepeng Kuryente”, and “Gapos Gang”? Didn't think so. Does anyone remember the governor star in a film called “Asiong Salonga: Hari ng Tondo” in 1990 (directed by Armando de Guzman, Jr.)? Why would you remake something that didn’t work the first time? The indomitable human spirit is sometimes nothing but a meaningless folly.

Jorge Estregan doesn't possess the charisma of Joseph Estrada or Rudy Fernandez who both starred as Asiong Salonga in 1961 and 1978 (Title: “Salonga”, co-starring his father, George Estregan) respectively. His signature expression is that of a scowl, and when he’s angry, it turns into a devilish gaze (“nanlilisik ang mga mata”), something that isn’t too different from “the scowl”. Even his declarative sentences feel like constipated ramblings. His foray into real emotions provokes somnolence. Carla Abellana is luminous, but watching her lock lips with the governor inspires goose bumps; it’s a gag-inducing sight. It’s like mixing turpentine and milk, then taking a swig. It’s a potently visceral sensation.

The film, conceived as an action opus, is populated by actors sporting Santa Claus bellies. Seasonal requirement, perhaps? But a genre has to follow a physical criteria to be believable – or did the gangsters of old Tondo really sport such watermelon guts? If these were to find itself in international exhibits, wouldn’t the audience question the use of such unfit actors for a slambang action? We should get Sharon Cuneta for a new "Darna" film, if that's the case.

Others in the cast are wasted in Ejercito’s shadow: Baron Geisler (who’s as nefarious here as his public persona), Amay Bisaya, Joko Diaz, Ronnie Lazaro, Yul Servo, Roldan Aquino, Ping Medina, John Regala, Philip Salvador, Dennis Padilla, Jay Manalo, The ladies are mere decorative habitues: Carla Abellana, JC Parker, Paloma and the beautiful Valerie Concepcion whose sophistication belonged to that era. Even Asiong explained the role of women in that era: “Dapat lagi kang maganda, malambing, at hintayin mo lang ang pag uwi ko.” Ouch. Don’t we have the right to impose the same? That he should look handsome, at least – if we’re to do what he said?

In one slow motion scene, Asiong charges into a compound filled with his nemesis, each one carrying heavy artillery. In the succeeding gun fight, he decimates 3 dozen armed thugs without even ducking or running for cover. He just took his stride forward, stood unflinchingly stiff, and fired his gun while bullets crossed his path. He came out unharmed. Talk about spectacular, right? Maybe he possessed the powers of Pepeng Agimat or Kumander Inggo?


In another scene, Asiong takes his wife Fidela to a club where we find the handsome Ely Buendia laboriously singing a “kundiman” – a song called “La Paloma”. This scene felt misplaced because haranas and kundimans required full-bodied voices a la Diomedes Maturan, while the iconic Buendia has thin pipes and nasal singing. You do wonder about such artistic choices.

The best part of the movie is the posturing of our protagonist. He stares like he’s ready to devour. He sports an attitude that belies calm and composure. If its attitude we want, its attitude we get… with the pot belly, of course! And not much else.

Totoy Golem (Regala) isn't happy with the competition.

Baron Geisler is Erning

Carla Abellana and Jorge Esregan

Compare Asiong Salonga and a Wong Kar Wai flick (with Tony Leung)

Mark Wahlberg as "Max Payne"

Faces of Asiong: Joseph Estrada and Rudy Fernandez