January 2, 2020 (11:47 PM)

13 min read


It’s that time of the year again when the Filipino film industry merrily celebrates with the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF). This year, Atenews has chosen three film entries to review: one that is catered to the masses and aims to please with simple thrills; another is a nostalgic remake of a beloved foreign story; and the last one delves into the ordinary lives of people on a major Philippine island, unseen before. Join Atenews as we journey into the narratives of these three chosen films, and the repercussions they may have for the local film industry and the greater Filipino society.

“The Mall, the Merrier”

Photo taken from push.abs-cbn.com

If laughter’s the best medicine, The Mall, The Merrier’s filmmakers are quack doctors and albularyos.

Barry Gonzales’ (Fantastica) second Vice Ganda flick sucks. It’s so bad I promise you it’s the worst of the year. It would only lose to Coco Martin’s entry in the ‘best movie title’ category if there’s one (3Pol Trobol: Huli Ka Balbon is a genius title, right?).

Directed by Gonzales and also written by Alpha Habon, Jonathan Albano, Daisy Cayanan, though obviously machinated by Vice, the flick’s skits are set in “Tamol Mall” (pun for tamulmol, slang for stupid, idiot, like the film’s slapstick characters), the place where estranged siblings Moira (Vice) and Morissette (Anne Curtis) would compete for its ownership after their parents (Jameson Blake, Elisse Joson) passed. The story would have ended quickly if not because of their family attorney, who left at home the last page of the last will and testament. Canned laughter.

What is this bin of a flick littered with? Facebook/Twitter pick-up lines “nalowbat first sight ako sa’yo”; gays drooling over macho men; girls posing in their bikinis; Lapu-Lapu caricatured to an IP; kitschy fashion match; an excruciating rap battle skit (I covered my eyes); an uninspired Night at the Museum parody; and distracting subtitles that didn’t match: not as a joke, the names and terms for Filipino pop culture references punchlines were changed to American ones. What were they thinking? Foreign audiences would care?

What happened to Vice Ganda? If my childhood TV memory’s right (I hope it is), his characters used to be hilarious (Petrang Kabayo), funny (Praybeyt Benjamin), and chuckle-worthy (Girl, Boy, Bakla, Tomboy). But now his flicks barely draw laughter, and when it does, appallingly it is the wrong kind. In my theatre, I swear I heard labored laughs behind me. People convincing themselves they’re watching something funny, that for a couple of hours their problems in life were pushed aside (and didn’t worsen), and that they got their money’s worth. They did not.

Aside from the filmgoers, I felt terrible also for the actors. In the background in shots of Vice frolicking, you’ll notice them smile with discomfort. Lines you’ll detect were delivered with a cringe deep inside in every minute their faces are on screen. The adjective ‘lucky’ would apply to those who wore mascots, their faces hidden from the camera, and oh to those voice actors. You’d cringe along with them — it’s a cringefest.

This flick’s a waste of beauty (Curtis, Joson), talent (Dimples Romana, doubtlessly parodying here her Kadenang Ginto character), production and CGI; time — the actors’, filmmakers’, and filmgoers’ (a 2-hour flick that we know would air in ABS-CBN months from now), electricity and breathable air. The forced sibling moral lesson at the end is the rotten cherry on top!

Yes, I thought of leaving the theatre many times. But as a critic, it’s the respect I have for the art form and for the integrity of this review that kept me in my seat. (And admittedly, also the fact that I paid to see this flick on the big screen, with speakers and full AC. I don’t want my money to be literally wasted.)

I called it a flick – not a ‘film’ nor a ‘movie’ – appropriate as malls should have flicked it out of theatres since day one. Marius Talampas’ Ang Pangarap Kong Holdap, a comedy heist I saw four months ago that I think was well-written, wasn’t composed of famous cast and lavish production elements. Yet, it was worth ten times more than Gonzales’ (or Vice’s) flick.

This is everything that’s wrong with the Philippine film industry and the Philippine pop culture. Unfunny, cringe-worthy, ignorant, and disgusting, The Mall, The Merrier is an insult to comedy and to the other genres (family musical) it purports to be.

It’s embarrassing how flicks like this are green-lit, funded, made, and watched. All while aspiring filmmakers, actors, and writers go to film school, serious and passionate in studying and mastering the craft, the art of cinema.

As I angrily bolted out of the theatre, the bloopers rolled, as if the entire thing I sat through wasn’t one.

Percival Cyber is a cinephile. He also enjoys a good comedy. A telephile in his early teens, among the shows he enjoyed were ‘Bubble Gang’, ‘Lokomoko’, and ‘Wow Mali’.

“Miracle in Cell No. 7”

Photo taken from imdb.com

The first time I watched the Korean original of Miracle in Cell No. 7 in 2013, I was caught off guard by the way it squeezed out tears from my oft emotionless eyes. This time, with the Filipino remake, I was touched still, but mostly due to the actors’ artistic expressions and the minor details which deviated from the original. Not that there were a lot of them.

Save for the emotional tearjerker that this film was destined, and I dare say, expected to be, Nuel Naval’s remake of the hit Korean drama could be classified under the “not bad” category (especially for avid drama junkies), but it was in no way extraordinary. If anything, the film hints that so many minds from the Philippine movie industry are running out of original ideas.  

Starring Aga Muhlach and Xia Vigor, the film follows the lives of mentally handicapped Joselito “Lito” Gopez and his daughter Yesha. Lito is thrown in jail, tried, and sentenced to death after being wrongly accused of raping and murdering the daughter of Secretary Yulo (Tirso Cruz III), a high-ranking police official. In the midst of his incarceration, Lito, through his acts of kindness, convinces his fellow inmates that he is innocent. The latter and even the Jhonny (John Arcilla), the prison director, then work to bring Yesha into the prison cell to be with her father, all the while investigating and devising ways to prove that Lito is innocent. Throughout the movie, sporadic clips showing an adult Yesha (Bela Padilla), now a lawyer, appeals the court to overrule its previous decision. This is where we get the message that Lito was indeed, killed by the force of the law. In the end, Yesha is successful in disproving her father’s guilt, and the final scene involves her dancing with a pepper haired and wrinkled Lito (or the memory of him) while making goofy faces.

If one takes the time to view Lee Hwan-kyung’s original, then juxtapose it with Naval’s more recent adaptation, I wouldn’t be surprised if I hear comments that the Filipino version was a shameless remake. Don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of fans, the likes of novel readers, who would swoon over the fact that a remake does not depart far from the original, and that it being an exact copy kind of brings the original work to life, but in Miracle’s case this style simply did not work. As the Korean original was such a big hit, Naval, together with his cast and crew, put on quite the weight on their shoulders. Did we expect the Filipino remake to be better than the original? Yes (and no). But Naval could have at least done the audience a favor and added more significant Filipino flavors to his film, apart from adjusting necessary elements like changing the weather from snowy to rainy or replacing Korean greetings with the Filipino po and opo. Of course, those details had to be changed. But what else could the Filipino Miracle in Cell No. 7 offer? Nothing, really, except if you want a good laugh coupled with buckets of tears afterward.

What was more disappointing, apart from several replicated scenes, was the prevalence of a largely unoriginal script. It’s forgivable to translate some signature lines, but to copy statements as simple as Sol’s (Joel Torre) “Yesha can’t stay because she has to go to school” is so dull that only two words come to mind: artistic drought. 

For what it’s worth though, I think what makes this film memorable was its attempt to be more comedic and its impressive cast— John Arcilla bringing his General Luna vibe into the role of Johnny is my personal favorite. And perhaps, the only time that the film really attempted to add a Filipino flavor was when Sol, who is illiterate, recited the lyrics of Tatlong Bibe when Yesha asked him to read her a story. Other than that, the film obviously overlooked opportunities to improve some bizarre scenes from the original. A case in point would be the hot-air balloon escape plan. I mean, seriously, who uses hot-air balloons in the Philippines? To make it even worse, who uses a hot-air balloon to escape from prison?

Seeing the flop that this film has become, I could have watched the Korean original at home, microwaved my own popcorn, and there wouldn’t be any difference. While Miracle in Cell No. 7 is not the first Filipino attempt at a remake, I hope it becomes a lesson to filmmakers who are eyeing the same path. The beauty and thrill of adaptations, at least for filmgoers like me, is not to see that everything about the original has been copied, but to discover that the filmmakers added their own flavors that make the movie worth watching. Or better yet, that they dug into their own creativity and molded their own masterpiece.


Photo taken from conandaily.com

When I first heard that a film entitled “Mindanao” was going to be released in this year’s MMFF, I was giddy with excitement. Finally, there would be a film that would challenge the disposable shenanigans of the likes of Vice Ganda, Coco Martin, and Vic Sotto in a major film festival. Of course, neither its main stars (Judy Ann Santos, in particular) nor its director (Brillante Mendoza) is from Mindanao. But, I thought to myself that the filmmakers would at least be professional enough to do their research and create a film that is both culturally diverse and culturally appropriate. Boy, was I so wrong.

First of all, the film likes to toy with your emotions as the plot revolves around a Muslim couple and their cancer-stricken child. It just so happens that the mother, Saima Datupalo (Judy Ann Santos), is stuck with caring for little Aisa Datupalo (Yuna Tangog) at the House of Hope in Davao City. Meanwhile, the father, Malang Datupalo (Allen Dizon) is fighting rebels as a combat medic somewhere in Maguindanao. To make it short, this story is one set for a tragic ending as neither parent could actually do anything to save their daughter. Therefore, the filmmakers think that they could exploit the plights of marginalized Muslim Filipinos for audiences to feel sorry for them.

Second, this is a film supposed to be about Mindanao. Yet, this movie only portrays one small side of a culturally diverse Mindanao. Filmgoers only see the viewpoints of Muslims as if other Mindanaoans like the Christians, the Lumads, the immigrants, and so on don’t even matter. Audiences only see the negative aspects of Mindanao, especially with war setpieces scattered throughout the film. This is especially problematic as more and more Filipinos (especially those residing in Luzon and Visayas) will think Mindanao is just like how the film portrays it to be. How insulting to call a film “Mindanao” when it only deals with a minute portion of the island.

Strangely enough, the filmmakers can’t even be bothered to shoot at location as sets for Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) and the House of Hope were not at all the actual locations. I could even see what seems to be the Manila skyline in one or two shots. Are the filmmakers really sure they are making a film for Mindanao?

Another questionable decision done for the film was the lack of genuine representation from Mindanaoans. As stated earlier, neither Judy Ann Santos nor Allen Dizon is Muslim Mindanaon, yet they were chosen to be cast as the two main stars in the film. Aside from this, Brillante Mendoza hails from Pampanga, and while it is true that he has done some research before going into this movie, it is still upsetting to see non-Mindanaons take center stage and reap several awards from the MMFF jury. This is also quite troubling as there are more filmmakers and artists from Luzon who are given more opportunities for projects such as this than Mindanaons.

Mendoza also masks all his film’s flaws with a crudely animated storytelling of the legend of Rajah Sulayman and Rajah Indara Patra’s journey into Mindanao, juxtaposing real events in the story. While it is commendable that he included traditional garb, songs, dances, rituals, and practices hailing from Muslim Mindanao, these things are not enough to rinse off the damage that the filmmakers have unknowingly caused in the overall image of Mindanao.

In some ways, this film could prove to be more of a meaningful watch than some of the mainstream entries of the MMFF this year. Although, no matter how all the main performers powerfully acted their roles nor how emotionally involving the film may prove to be, the point still stands that a film about Mindanao is less of a love letter to an island brimming with culture than a propaganda-filled statement on how Mindanao is so full of poverty and conflict.

Perhaps it was best to have left this project to actual Mindanao filmmakers and artists who know so much more about the island’s issues. Mindanao deserved better than a film wrongly entitled “Mindanao” with the island only seen at the tip of its iceberg. Recently, I had jested to my peers that a more fitting title would’ve been “One Part of Muslim Mindanao” as ridiculous as it sounds. Still, it might’ve had avoided all this controversy.

End the silence of the gagged!

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