Thursday, January 07, 2010

Mediocre harvest (part 2)

This was my column yesterday. Just got back from Tacloban City today.

As I wrote in this space last Monday, I watched the three films in the ongoing Metro Manila Film Festival that received some “critical” acclaim. I wrote about I Love You Goodbye two days ago; today I am writing about Ang Panday, the top grosser and Best Picture in the film festival and Mano Po 6: A Mother’s Love, recipient of the Gatpuno Villegas Cultural Award, Most Gender-Sensitive Film, and Best Actress for the megastar Sharon Cuneta.

Ang Panday passes off as mythology for some Filipinos, particularly those who grew up reading Pinoy comic books for leisure. Many Filipinos latched on to the epic story of the blacksmith Flavio who fashioned a powerful sword out of a meteorite and in the process saved the world from the clutches of the evil Lizardo. Written by Carlo Caparas, Ang Panday had previously been given life in the big screen by the King of Filipino Movies, the late Fernando Poe Jr. This year’s version has Senator Ramon Revilla Jr. in the lead. A lot of good intent went into the production of the movie and it shows. Revilla said many times on public television that this latest reincarnation of Ang Panday was a tribute to FPJ.

The producers wanted to do something grand, something spectacular. They wanted something like the Lord of the Rings—in fact, they copied lots of scenes from the Lord of the Rings trilogy. They tried to replicate Sauron’s headquarters in Mordor and made it the realm of Lizardo, complete with an active volcano spewing lava in the background. They even patterned the character of Geoff Eigenmann from Legolas, and fitted him with bows and arrows.

They also wanted something like the Harry Potter and also copied heavily from the series. They introduced the concept of a prophecy and repeatedly hit viewers on the head with it. It was evident that Philip Salvador tried to fashion his interpretation of Lizardo from Ralph Fiennes’ Voldemort; not that he succeeds. They even had dragons and a giant basilisk.

This is the problem with Ang Panday—it is a movie that is saddled with the sheer weight of its grand intentions that it fails to take off at all. Previous version of the franchise had less technological wizardry but they were so much more fun and more importantly, they had heart. This latest reincarnation was so pretentious everyone in the movie—except probably child star Robert Villar and Rhian Ramos—looked like cardboard characters. Revilla looked constipated all throughout the film. Why he won as Best Actor probably deserves a Senate investigation. How Philip Salvador won as Best Supporting Actor is an even bigger question. The only thing more absurd than an actor who cannot act is an actor who thinks he is such a great actor. In this movie, Salvador acts up a storm it is so obvious he wanted to do a caricature of the character. He fails dismally.

The biggest question, of course, is how this movie ended up the Best Picture in the festival. It turns out it did so only because box-office receipts made up 50 percent of the criteria. A movie was crowned as the best because it made more money—now there’s another source of embarrassment.

Ang Panday does not only have aspirations of grandeur. It requires that you not only suspend disbelief, you also needed to check in your mental faculties at the door. The plot has gaps more glaring that Ben Abalos’ version of the ZTE controversy. The movie doesn’t have a sense of perspective—for something so huge, it is supposed to even have an active volcano behind it, the main characters had to search far and wide for Lizardo’s headquarters. The sets are so cramped one feels claustrophobic just watching the movie. And the costumes! This is clearly an aspect of filmmaking that Filipinos still need to pay close attention to.

The supporters of the movie made such a big to-do with the advances in computer-generated imaging employed in the movie. To be fair, Ang Panday did push the frontiers in movie-making technology and succeeds in some aspects. The flying scenes no longer look like the characters were cut and pasted and the explosions look more authentic. But we’re forgetting that technological wizardry does not a movie make. Special effects cannot be a substitute for the thinking process.

Just like Ang Panday, Mano Po 6 also caves in to attempts at being “big.” The movie goes to town with a surfeit of everything—it’s a veritable exercise in excesses. I hate being mean and I truly think that people’s body size should not be used as reason to discriminate against anyone—but it really was difficult to empathize with Sharon Cuneta’s character’s travails in the movie because the megastar just looked so healthy and prosperous. It looked like they had to make the character suffer so much degradation to make her look more believable.

Mano Po 6 is a blown-up soap opera with too much of everything in it, the only thing lacking was the suggestion of incest. The struggle of Cuneta’s character to recover her children was dramatized to the hilt—it became almost like a farce.

She even staged a dramatic picket outside the residences of her antagonists, complete with placards and streamers. She gets incarcerated in a mental institution. There is so much crying in the movie my friends and I felt we finally stumbled on the reason behind the unexplained Ondoy flood. And when Cuneta’s and Zsa Zsa Padilla’s character finally meet to settle the scores, there is the obligatory slapping done not once, not twice, but thrice, capped with a straight jab a la Pacquiao. Someone behind me in the theater couldn’t help but mutter out loud: “Overrrr!”

The in-laws in the film (led by Padilla’s character) are so stereotypically evil and their motivations weren’t explained adequately to diffuse negative perception of the Chinese. How could this film have won the Gatpuno Cultural Award if it perpetuated negative stereotypes of Chinese Filipinos?

The Mano Po series was supposed to celebrate the culture, contributions, uniqueness, etc. of the Chinese Filipinos. The truth is that there is nothing in the film that is distinctly Chinese Filipino. The premise of the story could be transported to any setting; there are no distinct Chinese Filipino traditions, customs, or norms celebrated in the movie. The characters try to speak Chinese, there are some Chinese dances featured in a school program, the characters visit China and walk through the Great Wall. But all these could have been done with and were not really integral to the story.

Mano Po 6 is not really a bad movie; it’s just not among our best.

2 comments:

Contents under pressue said...

On the matter of Ang Panday, I have a brother studying CG animation who had this to say (to summarize):

"No amount of fancy graphics and visuals will do justice to your script if it is shit."

He said pretty much the same thing as Resiklo. Scratch that...as mecha fans, we felt utterly violated by that atrocious waste of film.

And as elitistic as I may sound, I can only sneer and gawk at the "rave reviews" being given the the people who watched And Panday.

Bong C. Austero said...

I didn't watch Resiklo because I knew it was going to be a ripoff. Your brother is right.