We don't have a problem with the "Mano Po" anthology because it usually presents different and valid concerns associated with the Filipino-Chinese population in contemporary Philippine society. Theirs are stories we've always been fascinated with because they're a clannish lot that strictly adheres to colorful traditions we're interested spectators of. We even become players in their folktales sometimes.
Business tycoon Wilson Wong (Richard Yap) runs a tight and disciplined ship, both at work and in his household. He has rules and tradition that allow him to set and achieve goals - and he expects everyone around him to abide by these, including his children Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee), Katkat (Janna Agoncillo) and Caroline (Janella Salvador). Unfortunately, rules are easier written and enumerated than followed. His children detest that he hardly has time to spend with them. Deborah (Jean Garcia), his subservient wife, feels lonely in a relationship that's more of a bootcamp than household.
What seems like a progressive kingdom is actually an emotional prison full of weeping souls. Sonson (Dee) has his head in the clouds from booze and drugs. Carol tries to pursue cello playing (her father's choice) when her heart is in vocal performance.
Devoted wife Debbie is running a jewelry shop and keeping the household together while Wilson Sr. is closing deals.
It isn't a very contented and happy kingdom, to say the least, and the king is least aware of this. When a charming stranger Marco (Jake Cuenca) barges into Debbie's shop, the latter doesn't mind the attention that the strapping lad showers on her. But is Debbie carrying an affair?
Director Ian Lorenos' "Chinoy Mano Po 7" is an engaging drama that tries to build up the characters of his cinematic canvas with circumscpect cerebration so we actually understand their back stories and motivations. Enchong Dee particularly sizzles from this forethought. In "Mano Po 7", Dee is the troubled son bearing enough ethos for the whole Wong family. He takes his situation and reacts, and we are a bit unsettled. He pulls off his party pooper scene adequately. In his moments with Jocelyn (Jessy Mendiola), they get to discuss the Chinese ways, i.e. the use of negative language to coax motivation or express affection, but does the "movement" really come from Confucius? I'd have thought that the philosopher was more circumscpect than to use negative psychology in motivating people.
Kong Fu Tse (551 BC - 497 BC), the philosopher's non-Westernized name, built up his idea about the strength of the Chinese family. What is the proper attitude towards parents? His answer is short and straight forward: "Never disobey." In the 4th concept of Confucianism - filial piety (hsiao), a lot is written about family values: Parents are revered because they are the source of your life. It also says that you have to make your family name known and respected. But there is an unanswered question with regards to the hsiao: "What do you do if your values are different from your parents"? There's a general rule to live by: to "remain unsoured even though one's merits are unrecognized by others." (Analects) This gives authority to the philosopher's advice about never turning bad or selling out, no matter what. It is a rather universal concept, right?
Jean Garcia turns in a well limned and sympathetic portrayal of a painfully subservient wife. At one point, she arrives into the conjugal bed and starts her romantic overture, only to be rebuffed and told that she had to "clean up first before stepping on the bed." Ouch. Did she smell? Even romance follows a set of decorum? Hmmm. I am almost sure that this isn't a universal practice among Chinoys. Wilson Sr. is a flawed individual altogether, a Shakespearean character that deserves to be extinguished from the face of the Earth. How can you admit loving the people around you when you're so insensitive to their needs?
Meanwhile, in the midst of the melodrama, Janella Salvador is a breath of fresh air. Her presence lights up the screen, particularly when Marlo Mortel joins her scenes. Her side story involving Kian Cipriano's lecherous music teacher is a misplaced narrative strain. But didn't it merit a considerable reaction from Wilson? His daughter got sexually harassed, for Pete's sake. NR lang?
I am somehow concerned about Garcia's "relationship" with volatile Jake Cuenca. Was that really harmless friendship? Though she swears that nothing transpired between them - "walang nangyari sa amin", her frequent meet ups with Marco were "extramarital" enough and disconcerting. A married woman, after all, shouldn't go on intimate car dates with a single man, debah? Unless she plans to do an Angelica Panganiban (and be an unmarried wife), that is.
The narrative convolutions in "Mano Po 7" are engaging enough, but it is nevertheless formulaic and unfortunately, predictable. There's gorgeous photography all over. Sound needs moderation because music is excessively played in some scenes. When louder than what human ears can take, music is nothing but noise. In one party scene, it was so loud it almost challenged the integrity of my tympanic membrane How can a very loud music help move a story, I wonder.
Now, is this really the best of the anthology? Not really. For the most part, we feel it's an inferior version among the Mano Po tales. Film no. 7 is less ambitious. Heck, even its requisite travel scenes could only afford to take the cast to Taipei instead of mainland China. If its story telling is not "revolutionized" in the succeeding "episodes", this anthology will eventually lose its relevance.
HAND IN GLOVE
But wait? How is Richard Yap in the film? While he fits the role like hand in glove, the actor conveniently subscribes to his go-to "laging galit" acting schtick. We've seen him in similar persona before, in other teleseryes and movies. Nothing changes much here. No revelations. Even when he turns conciliatory with his wife, I feel Yap's performance was one-note; no emotional variation to speak of. When he sheds a tear (while at the tomb of his stern father), it was screaming for a bit more vulnerability. Most people easily break down the barriers when they're on their own. But Yap was as stern as when he's with others. Is that consistency - or just limitation of capability? The good looking actor wasn't bad, but his performance was nothing to crow about either.
|Janella Salvador is Caroline.|
|Enchong Dee and Jessy Mendiola discuss Confucius and negative motivations.|
|Jean Garcia is in top form as the suffering wife Deborah Wong.|
|Taiwan, this time.|
|Down time and the music class of Janella, Marlo and Kian.|
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