Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Gandarrapiddo: The Revenger Squad Proves Vice Ganda Needs a Complete Overhaul

TL;DR: Ganpdarrapido: The Revenger Squad throws in a couple of tweaks to Vice Ganda’s formula, but it only highlights how tired, mean & cynical this endeavor has become.

Gandarrapido: The Revenger Squad is Vice Ganda on autopilot. No amount of flashy special effects can hide that his brand of caustic, reference-heavy, insult humor has become lazy & tired. It’s unfortunate since it’s trying to say something substantial about the world we live in, but it’s hindered by the man at the center of the movie.

Meme (Vice Ganda) & Chino (Daniel Padilla) are siblings living under one roof with their friends Bul-Dog (Wack Kiray), Bok-Bok (Lassy Marquez), Luz-Luz (MC Calaquian) & a young boy named Enrique Heal (Justin Quulantang). They also have a neighbor named Peppa (Karla Estrada) who often goes inside their house & joins their antics. Meme is very strict to Chino, controlling every aspect of his life. She does have good intentions, doing it to protect her brother; who often gets himself into trouble & bounces from one job to another. However, Chino wants nothing more than to do whatever he wants without Meme’s approval.

He may just get his wish. It turns out he will gain powers on his 21st birthday, which he inherited from his evil father Madman (RK Bagatsing). It’s a secret kept by Peppa & the rest of their friends to Chito & Meme, since they used to be a group of superheroes which Meme was a part of – as the titular Gandarra – & they’ve been trying to keep a low profile after Meme suffered from amnesia, forgetting her superhero past. After recovering Meme’s past as a superhero, they will do their best to protect Chino from the likes of Kweenie (Pia Wurtzbach), a villainous woman with powers who spreads fake news in order to spread chaos & confusion among the masses.

Like The Super Parental Guardians, it’s trying to tackle important issues in our society through Vice Ganda’s glib, irreverent comedic style, but handles it so much better compared to the previous movie. This time, they’re making a stance against misinformation & its effects. While it’s not a deep exploration of how fake news ruin lives & undermine democratic societies, it’s better integrated into the plot & even has parallels with Meme, Chino, & Kweenie’s storylines. It helps that the movie has a stance against fake news, instead of flirting with the issue without saying anything meaningful.

Another aspect that makes it an improvement over The Super Parental Guardians is the improved integration action & comedy. The action scenes are well choreographed & much clearer, while the jokes act as punctuation. The production values are also top-notch for a Filipino production, full of splashy, bright colors atypical of recent superhero movies & decent special effects.

But what drags the movie towards abject mediocrity is Vice Ganda herself. He does the same shtick we’ve seen before & there are no attempts to improve or innovate upon it. It wouldn’t be a problem if the jokes are funny or have actual bite in them, but most of it are recycled riffs from his former work or references whose shelf life is already expired by the time the movie comes out; hope you like forced Baby Shark & Nyeam jokes! Some of these jokes stand out for being hateful & surprisingly homophobic; like Chino forcing two male minions to kiss, which is funny because people love to treat gays as punchlines instead of actusl human beings. Admittedly, some bits are hilarious, like a couple of fourth-wall jokes, but it’s so rare they feel like aberrations to the movie’s norm. The movie’s laziness overwhelms the movie that it counteracts whatever goodwill it has in the first place.

Gandarrapido: The Revenger Squad might’ve been made as the huge crowdpleaser of the MMFF, and they definitely succeeded, since it looks like it’s the highest grossing film of the festival. But if this is going to be a sign of things moving forward, let’s hope they’ll be willing to improve his style to stop it from being stale & uninspired. The families who flock to his movies deserve better.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Haunted Forest’s Glossy Sheen Couldn’t Disguise How Bland & Undercooked It Is

TL;DR: Great ideas & high production values are abound in Haunted Forest, but the sloppy execution renders it fruitless.

Haunted Forest has all the trappings of an excellent horror movie. Aris (Raymart Santiago) is a cop who is reassigned to his hometown, bringing his only daughter Nica (Jane Oineza) with him at his sister’s home. Both of them have a rocky relationship ever since Aris’ wife died, with Nica acting out or ignoring his demands. Aris helps out his friend & chief of police Nardo (Joey Marquez) in investigating a series of chilling murders inflicted on women, supposedly caused by a sitsit, an aswang-like creature lurking in the forest. When Nica finally opens up to her cousin & her friends, she joins their outing in a nearby river; including a cute boy named RJ (Jameson Blake) who clearly likes her. After the trip, she starts acting irrationally & prone to fainting. Soon she finds herself slowly reeled in by the sitsit and her friends & family will do everything they can to save her.

Unfortunately, the whole movie is completely dull. There’s a drought of scares due to its sloppy staging & generic nature, especially once it descends into the typical third act confrontation that’s neither thrilling nor fun. This extends to the whole film, where each scene feels perfunctory, shallow & oddly paced. There are also unfortunate scenes involving the village’s mentally disabled local named Voltron – who is the only witness to the murders – where Aris & Nardo beat him up senselessly for comic relief, that stands out for being hateful & ill-suited to the movie.

But glimmers of what could’ve been can be seen throughout the movie. Instead of becoming a metaphor for every father’s nightmare for their daughter taken to its extremes – like the Taken series – it wisely focuses on the father-daughter bond at its core, trying their best to rebuild what was lost after a horrible tragedy. It’s easier to root for these characters when it’s grounded in something painful; compared to Regal Films’ previous Haunted Mansion, where every character is either bland or despicable that you start rooting for their deaths. Raymart Santiago & Jane Oineza both shine in these roles as they reconnect after failing to communicate for so long. The rest of the cast elevate what could’ve been staler material in the wrong hands. Joey Marquez is doing his “gruff dad” shtick he’s been doing recently & it works. Jameson Blake sells his growing relationship with Nica as RJ thanks to their undeniable chemistry. Even if Maris Racal & Jon Lucas aren’t given much to do, they still enliven the film with their presence. There are also two standout sequences – Nica’s violent freakout & its aftermath in her bedroom – for managing to be creepy, but it’s pretty much downhill afterwards.

That’s not even mentioning the movie’s polished production values, so even when the movie isn’t working at all, at least it:s beautiful to look at. Rommel Sales’ cinematography creates eerie images in the dark. Ericson Navaro’s production design deserve praise for adding a foreboding atmosphere, like the creepy tableaus the victims end up in after their deaths. The CG special effects are also well done, but it distracts from the movie’s overall vibe.

Despite all this, it never rises above its middling quality. There are seeds of a better horror movie surrounding the movie, but it is in dire need of a more assured hand to pull it off. What we have instead is half-baked movie that never reached its full potential.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Siargao is a Gorgeous Meditation on Finding Ourselves & the Places We Do Them

TL;DR: Siargao is a thoughtful, melancholic take on finding yourself in an enchanting foreign land.

The idea of going to an unfamiliar land in order to find oneself has always been a tempting idea. Removing ourselves from the stresses & comforts of our ordinary routine can give us a chance to reflect & find out who we really are & what we really want in life. It’s such an alluring idea that it’s a trope used in different kinds of movies from coming-of-age stories, romantic comedies, & even action-adventure movies. It even had a resurgence in Filipino cinema thanks to the huge success of That Thing Called Tadhana (That Thing Called Destiny).

Paul Soriano’s first foray into romantic dramas dives head first into this trope – with a script by Anj Pessumal – but Siargao stands out from the rest by broadening its scope past its main outsider.

Laura (Erich Gonzalez) is a vlogger who ran away to Siargao to do some soul-searching after a life-changing moment didn’t go the way it should’ve. On the plane, she meets Diego (Jericho Rosales), a member of a famous band who escaped to his hometown of Siargao due to a scandal he caused. The two of them are at odds at first, but slowly become friends. Things start to get complicated when Diego reconnects with his old friend Abi (Jasmine Curtis-Smith), who are linked due to their muddy past.

What Siargao does so well is subtly tackle the myopia inherent in stories like this. Journeys of Self-Discovery™ are about enriching oneself in order to become a better person, but it is selfish in nature. Not that it’s a bad thing – since taking care of yourself & improving oneself should be encouraged – but it can become a narcissistic ordeal, where a place & its inhabitants are reduced to vessels of self-improvement, stripping it away of its humanity & complexity. 

These are even more egregious in Western stories, where Caucasian men & women searching for themselves descend into “Orientalism,” seeing the East as an exotic place of wonder, mystery, & enlightenment. One of the biggest offenders include Eat, Pray, Love & Hector and the Search for Happiness; the latter of which has Simon Pegg writing “sometimes happiness is not knowing the whole story” in a notebook with one of the letters turned into a sad face after witnessing a violent incident involving a prostitute & her pimp while staying in Shanghai.

Obviously, Siargao never becomes an Orientalist tale simply because it’s not a tale told from the perspective of a white person, but the movie can still turn Siargao into an exotic paradise full of wise, simple folks who will help realize the full potential of privileged outsiders who can afford to stay there. What Siargao does to mitigate this is to fill the movie with characters who are also trying to find out what they want in their lives, including the ones who live in the island. Laura is surrounded by people who are also lost or taking a break from their lives in Siargao; some of them fell in love with the island so hard they choose to stay longer. Abi is a native who’s already chosen a path for herself – setting up a business while helping out initiatives to preserve the island’s beauty & support other business ventures from fellow locals – but Diego’s return makes her question her past decisions. And while Diego never shed his roots, his controversies force him to go back to the island & examine old wounds. Not only does this open up other points of view we don’t usually see in similar stories, but it questions the need for an “exotic paradise” in order to grow & if we are doing anything to conserve these places.

And the stories are compelling, even if they seem small in the grand scheme of it all. There’s a raw intimacy present as these people try to rebuild their lives, while a heavy sense of loss & regret slowly builds up, receding & progressing, until it crashes down on them, forcing them to do what they think is right. Setting it in the gorgeous vistas & beaches of Siargao isn’t put to waste thanks to Odyssey Flores, who captures the grandeur of Siargao, its surfing culture, & the interior lives of its characters through a variety of wide, drone & handheld shots inspired by vlogging that make the personal look epic & the epic look personal. The indie rock soundtrack, while typical, is still effective at capturing the movie’s mix of romance & melancholy.

Great performances from the central trio are key to making it less flimsy than it seems. Erich Gonzales is fantastic as a tourist opening up herself to Siargao & its people. Jericho Rosales gives Diego the right amount of smugness & charm that makes him even more charismatic. Jasmine Curtis-Smith is more quiet & subdued as Abi, but you can see how Diego’s return has made it awkward for her. In fact, all of them are trying to hide their suffering under their facades, trying to hold onto it until they become vulnerable.

What Siargao deeply understands about people is we will be forced to face our issues sooner or later. While places like Siargao offer a temporary respite from our problems, neither the island nor its inhabitants will resolve our problems. The island is just a place that needs to be taken care of, full of people who are also lost & in transition. What matters most is to figure out what we truly want & have the courage to pursue it & face the consequences.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Meant to Beh is Actually Good! This is Not a Drill!

TL;DR: Meant to Beh is a new benchmark for Vic Sotto’s movies. It is at its best when it focuses on the emotionally rich story at its core & trying out funny, wackier jokes, instead of falling back on old habits.

Everyone who found out that Meant to Beh is included in the first four slots reserved for films chosen through script submission either rolled their eyes in frustration or became giddy with excitement. Whether we like it or not – and I certainly don’t – Vic Sotto’s films have become an inseparable part of the Metro Manila Film Festival, either as a symbol of “squeaky clean” family entertainment or a form of crass capitalism that condescends to every ethnicity, class, or gender; even if his movies never gained any critical acclaim & aren’t the ridiculously huge moneymakers they used to be in the previous decade.

Meant to Beh may change all this, but only slightly. After years of tinkering what a Vic Sotto movie should look like in the 2010s by bringing in new directors & breaking out of the action-fantasy mold set out by Enteng Kabisote, they’ve finally made a movie that is actually, surprisingly good.

Ron (Vic Sotto) & Victoria (Dawn Zulueta) are two complete opposites married to each other. Ron is a down-to-earth manager of a car wash with tacky taste who enjoys danggit and salted egg for breakfast. Victoria is a classy, ambitious executive for a travel magazine who loves fine dining. Their marrigae isn’t perfect thanks to their communication issues & the reason for their union, but they unconditionally love their three children Christian, Alex, & Riley. 
But when all of their insecurities & problems erupt thanks to Ron’s close friendship with Agatha (Andrea Torres), his regular passenger after he became a driver for an Uber-like company, they decide to split up. Ron & Agatha start dating, while Victoria is courted by Benjo (Daniel Matsunaga), a famous model/actor/athlete she hired as the new face of their travel magazine. This sends her children in panic, doing everything they can to keep their family intact.

It seems like a set-up for a full-blown farce, but Meant to Beh does something very different that makes it stand out from Vic Sotto’s previous films. It presents us with a family with an interesting dynamic, while making room for jokes. Even the three children each have their own subplots. Christian (JC Santos) is an avid photographer who bonds more with his mother. He pretends to be someone else online when talking to his crush, since he’s too embarassed to talk to her. Alex (Gabbi Garcia) is a sporty tomboy who is closer to her father, trying to fend off the advances of his admirer played by Ruru Madrid. Riley (Baste Granfon) is a troublemaker with a penchant for making Rube Goldberg machines, whose idea of play is so rough none of his maids last long.

Their kids’ problems provide plenty of fodder for Ron & Victoria to break up, but it never does. One of the best things about the movie is for the majority of the film, it never takes the easy path in telling what could be a straightforward story. Instead of piling on one wacky external problem after another – either from their kids or Andrea – in order to create conflict, it opts for something more mature & emotionally true to their characters & their dysfunctional marriage, even as it falls apart. It gives Vic Sotto & Dawn Zulueta a chance to shine as a couple stuck in an odd marriage but still trying to make it work for their family, until it doesn’t. It gives them a chance to show off their underutilized skills, like Vic Sotto’s solid dramatic acting & Dawn Zulueta’s sharp comedic timing. Even Daniel Matsunaga & Andrea Torres are fine foils for their foibles. It even manifests in the way it handles product placement with care & subtlety, integrating it into the plot instead of stopping it completely for the heavy-handed commercials Vic Sotto’s movies are infamously known for. This means it moves slower than Vic Sotto’s older movies – even with the godawful product placement – but it’s much more rewarding that way.

The movie makes up for it by throwing as many gags as it can. What’s amazing is the movie’s hit ratio is higher than usual, since it cuts back on canned lines & heavy mugging for pure absurdity mixed with actual warmth. It’s also willing to subvert expectations for a joke heavily rooted in the characters. There are still references here & there – including one that feels like Dawn Zulueta is reclaiming a meme as her own – but it’s never intrusive & the cast sells the hell out of them. It’s the least mean-spirited & funniest movie Vic Sotto made in years.

Yet parts of Vic Sotto’s old style rears its head from time to time, often to its detriment. There’s the casual yellowface that segues into a plot where another woman throws herself into Vic Sotto’s arms, which thankfully gets resolved quickly. Canned lines pop up at times. And as soon as it gets closer towards the end, it flips back on the promise it presented for most of the movie for something happier yet emotionally false, which is the norm for his movies.
Not too mention the kid’s plots are duds – excpet for Riley’s maid problem – that take time away from Ron & Andrea’s marital problems, especially Christian’s creepy catfishing. That’s not a disservice to the actors who did great work – including Baste Granfon in his acting debut – but they don’t have the emotional richness of the main plot.

Clearly, Meant to Beh is an instant standout in Vic Sotto’s oeuvre because of the ways it updated his proven formula for today’s audiences. And yet both of its feet are standing between the past & the present, stepping forward & backward until it ends up weaker from where it started. If this is what Vic Sotto’s movies would look like from now on, we’re off to a good start. We still don’t know whether they’ll continue in this direction, or push it even further, but for now, let’s enjoy the fact that when families flock to Meant to Beh, they’re going to have a wonderful time.

List: MMFF 2017 Entries Ranked By How Likely It Will Last in Theaters

The 2016 edition of the Metro Manila Film Festival was an unheralded critical & commercial success, all thanks to a simple yet critical rule change: Only finished films are allowed to be included in the film festival, where it will be judged by a selected jury if they are worthy of being included. In previous years, only scripts are submitted, which are still subject to changes, & while there’s a criteria as to what kind of films get selected, it’s basically useless since easily marketable movies headlined by famous stars like Vic Sotto & Vice Ganda are prioritized. (You can read a detailed look at these shenanigans here.) People are discussing the movies themselves, instead of whether it made a ton of money in the box-office.

And because we live in the Philippines, any whiff of progress that shuns powerful gatekeepers & lessens corporate profits will be stopped. That’s what happened this year, where a compromise was made: there will be four slots alloted for script submissions & finished films. Unsurprisingly, MMFF mainstays who were shunned last year got their spots back. However, a bunch of promising titles were also included in the lineup.

But being included in the MMFF lineup isn’t a guarantee that your movie will be seen. Theaters are very eager to pull out underperforming movies from their cinemas even on the second day of the film festival, just so they could open more theaters for box-office hits. Allowing more commercially viable films under the guise of accepting them as script submissions is going to make this problem worse. Regardless of quality, all of these movies have a right to be seen for the duration of the film festival.

As a sign of where things are headed, I’ve ranked all of the entries for MMFF 2017 based on how likely it will be pulled out in theaters. These movies will be ranked based on star power, the success of the movie’s genre during the film festival & educated guesses based on my experience watching movies for this film festival. Quality is not an important part of the ranking, but it is still considered; depending on the early reviews & the track record of the people who made the movie.

While ensuring that all of these movies will be screened for the entirety of the film festival would be better, seeking out you’re selected movie entry as soon as possible is unfortunately the best course of action. And unsurprisingly, the first half of the list are finished film submissions, while the last half are script submissions, which will not have any problems securing theaters for their movies.

1. Ang Larawan

This film adaptation of Larawan, The Musical – which itself was also adapted from National Artist of Literature Nick Joaquin’s The Portrait of the Artist as Filipino – is the most fascinating of the bunch; which means it’s not long for this world. It tells the story of two unmarried sisters trying to stay afloat during the onset of World War II, when their father, a famous painter, stopped producing artworks. However, his self-portrait has attracted the curiosity of journalists & pretentious art critics, & it might be their way out of their financial mess. This historical musical has already premiered at the Tokyo International Film Festival, where it got a rave review from Variety, but that may not be enough to pull in audiences. Historical movies aren’t huge moneymakers during the film festival, but the novelty of being a musical might pull in the right audience. It needs to build positive word-of-mouth as soon as possible or it will not make it to the end of the film festival.

How long will it last: For malls with a lot of cinemas, it will survive until the end of the film festival. But if the reactions from critics & audiences are muted, it will be screened 2-3 days in the film festival. Afterwards, malls will pull it out in favor of more profitable entries.

2. Siargao

Paul Soriano tackles the romance genre for the first time, with a love triangle set in the gorgeous island of Siargao. It looks very promising, since it’s written by Anj Pessumal – who co-wrote English Only, Please & worked on some of Star Cinema’s biggest hits like Starting Over Again – & Paul Soriano bringing the technical prowess his previous movies have shown in his latest movie. The footage from the trailer alone is jaw-droppingly beautiful. However, there’s another romantic movie in the lineup with a similar looking tone – composed of MMFF standbys – so it might not stay long in theaters.

How long will it last: It will make it until the end of the film festival, but its theater count will decrease every day. It needs to have vocal support from critics & audiences so it can survive the entirety of the film festival. It could even have an additional week or more in theaters after the film festival, if audiences flock to it.

3. Deadma Walking

This movie already won an award before it got made. Based on a Palanca-winning screenplay, it tells the story of a gay man who fakes his own death & throws an early funeral with the help of his best friend, after he’s diagnosed with cancer. This looks like a great alternative for those looking for a comedy starring gay men that doesn’t involve Vice Ganda, but that may be its downfall as they face off against Vice Ganda. It does have potential to become the sleeper hit of the festival, if critics & audiences will enjoy its mix of farcical hijinks & heartwarming moments about friendship & mortality.

How long will it last: It will get a complete run for the entirety of the film festival. There’s a chance it could even stay for at least another week in malls, if reactions from audiences & critics are ecstatic.

4. Haunted Forest

Regal Films may have allowed the Shake, Rattle & Roll franchise to die for now, but that doesn’t mean they stopped making horror films for the MMFF. They now have Haunted Forest to provide scares for the audience during this season. A father & his daughter visit their province at the worst time possible, since their small town is being attacked by a creature called sitsit, who targets women & killing them. It looks like Regal Films is banking on this one to become a profitable crowdpleaser, just by looking at the film’s impressive special effects, production design, & cinematography. They have good reason to do so, since the very similar looking Haunted Mansion was the surprise hit of MMFF 2015. And there’s no reason to doubt it, since audiences are always looking out for horror movies at this time of the year, & being the only horror movie – one that looks this slick – makes it stand out in the lineup.

How long will it last: There’s no question it will retain its theaters for the entirety of the film festival, and its life after will likely be fruitful too. It could stay for at least one week in cinemas after the film festival, before it gets swallowed by new releases. By then, it would have probably made a bunch of money.

5. Meant to Beh

Formerly known by its more cringeworthy title Love Traps: #FamilyGoals, Vic Sotto & the rest of the Eat Bulaga Acting Troupe – as I’d like to call them – are back, trying hard to capture their box-office dominance before Vice Ganda swooped it from them like a thief in the night. Their latest attempt now includes Dawn Zulueta, reuniting with Vic Sotto after more than 30 years & last worked with him in Okay Ka, Fairy Ko! Both of them play a married couple who decide to split up & date other people, while their children try their best to bring them back together. It looks like the same, formulaic shtick Vic Sotto has doled out in recent years, which caused them to lose their hold with audiences. These movies aren’t widely praised by critics either.

In fact, last year proved they need the MMFF more than it needs them. When Vic Sotto & Vice Ganda’s entries weren’t included in MMFF 2016, they released both movies on November 30, 2016 alongside Moana & other Hollywood movies. Vice Ganda’s Super Parental Guardians grossed ₱75 million on its first day alone, while Vic Sotto’s Enteng Kabisote 10 & the Abangers (ugh) kept their total box office gross to themselves. The closest data I could gather was they grossed ₱4.4 million on all SM Cinemas around 3:00 PM on their opening day. I even remember the theater count for Enteng Kabisote 10 & the Abangers dwindling every week. During the week before Christmas, the movie was already dropped in Ayala cinemas; which is how I ended up watching it on SM Megamall.

But now that they have their spot back, there’s a ridiculously high chance they can earn their money back & then some. They have already carved out a space for themselves during this film festival by presenting themselves as the choice appropriate for the whole family; even if their previous movies have been homophobic, colorist, or sexist. For those who deem Vice Ganda movies as too risqué for kids – and they are – they will flock to the good-natured charms of Meant to Beh.

How long will it last: Thankfully for Vic Sotto, it will get to complete its festival run. While their box-office performance last year was terrible compared to the previous years, they have a chance to pull in more audiences, which might ensure it will have at least one week after the film festival.

6. All of You

We should be thankful that Derek Ramsey, Jennylyn Mercado, & director Dan Villegas have carved a space for romantic comedies in the film festival, with the surprise hit English Only, Please, & they seem intent on carrying that tradition. Their latest movie focuses on a loving couple finds out how hard cohabitation can be. This would have to be offensively horrible for it to become a huge commercial flop. Villegas’ brand of mixing emotional honesty with romantic comedy tropes has always been a hit with critics & audiences. Looking at the trailer alone, it seems like they have another great movie in hands that will pull in huge audiences.

How long will it last: If this movie connects with critics & audiences the same way English Only, Please & #WalangForever did, it will have a long life in theaters. It will get at least four weeks in theaters, including its festival run, & it may survive the onslaught of Hollywood releases in January as its theater count slowly dwindles.

7. Ang Panday

Coco Martin continues his quest to mold his image out of Fernando Poe Jr. until Da King himself will be irrelevant & forgotten, lost to the sands of time, as he headlines & directs the latest reboot of Ang Panday; the credited director is Rodel Naciaceno, which is Coco Martin’s real name. Shifting the locale from a small provincial town to the streets of Tondo, Manila, Coco Martin plays the grandson of Flavio Batungbakal, who needs to become the rightful heir of the legendary sword in order to defeat Lizardo. What’s most striking about the latest reboot is it cribs numerous aspects from FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, like the shaky, handheld camerawork, the focus on family, shooting on gritty locations, the explosive action scenes & pairing Coco Martin with a beautiful woman who will certainly be put in danger. There’s no reason to doubt it will be a huge hit, considering it fills the gap left by Enteng Kabisote & its novel take on the Filipino classic might make it more attractive to audiences. It’s also catnip to fans of FPj’s Ang Probinsyano, which continues to be the highest-rated weekly primetime show in Philippine TV & currently renewed up to 2018; running a new episode five days a week without any breaks & beating out its competitors in the same timeslot.

How long will it last: This will be one of the biggest moneymakers in the film festival, so not only will it get to complete its festival run, but it will probably get an additional two weeks in theaters after the film festival is over.

8. Gandarrapido: The Revenger Squad

There’s no doubt this movie will become the highest grossing entry in the film festival. Super Parental Guardians is the highest grossing Filipino movie of all time, earning more than ₱600 million; it helped that this movie was playing in provinces during MMFF 2016 eyeroll emoji. It proved Vice Ganda can pull in ridiculously huge audiences that he can break box-office records he previously set. This doesn’t look any different, as Vice Ganda is using his acerbic, reference-laden brand of comedy to take on the superhero genre, with Daniel Padilla & Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach by his side. Judging from the trailer, Bb. Joyce Bernal might have a better handle on mixing comedy & action scenes. The special effects look so much better compared to what we see in Filipino films. All of this could add up to the biggest moneymaker in the film festival. Don’t be surprised if the movie you’re planning to watch is removed to make room for this one.

How long will it lastThe question isn’t whether if it will survive in theaters, but how long will it retain its theaters. It will have additional two weeks in theaters after the film festival. Afterwards, its theater count will slowly deplete, where it will hold for at least two weeks in malls with a great number of theaters, before it’s ignored for newer releases by February.

Tingin ASEAN Film Festival Coverage 2017 Part 1: Or Why This Landmark Film Festival Makes a Convincing Case for Its Existence

Featured image is taken from Davy Chou’s Golden Slumbers, one of the movies selected for the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival.

If you live at major cities in the Philippines, especially in Metro Manila, there’s no shortage of film festivals running in your nearest malls, cinematheques, microcinemas, & premiere local universities.

We’re not just talking about private Filipino independent film festivals like CineMalaya & Cinema One Originals, or film festivals organized by the government like QCinema International Film Festival, Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Feast of Filipino Cinema), & the Metro Manila Film Festival. There are also film festivals that feature films specific countries, regions, & classic movies – done with the help of foreign embassies – which are often free to the public. We have the famous Japanese film Festival Eiga Sai, the Silent International Film Festival, & a film festival featuring countries from the European Union called Cine Europa; and as of writing, United Kingdom is still part of the film festival, amusingly enough. Not to mention there are even film festivals showcasing movies from certain countries in Europe, like the Italian, Danish, & Swiss Film Festivals.

For film buffs like me, it can be exhausting. Even Dr. Patrick F. Campos – an independent critic, a famed scholar of Southeast Asian cultures, faculty member at the University of the Philippines, & the main moderator of the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival – is aware of this. During one of the open forums scheduled for the film fest, he talks of “film festival fatigue,” & if there is a need for another film festival in a ridiculously crowded market. In fact, the Danish Film Festival & the much-awaited QCinema International Film Festival will begin the week after the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival.

Nevertheless, the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival makes a convincing case for its existence. In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Philippines’ membership in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) & since the Philippines will be hosting this year’s ASEAN summit, the National Commission of Culture & Arts organized the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival: Southeast Asia Through The Eyes of Cinema at Shangri-La Plaza Mall in Mandaluyong last Oct. 11 – 15, 2017. It aims to capture the state of Southeast Asia through each of the country’s movies. It will showcase movies from all ASEAN nations selected by their respective governments, & a Tastemaker’s Section, a group of ASEAN movies selected by actor & producer Piolo Pascual, producer & screenwriter Moira Lang, & Dr. Patrick F. Campos himself. There will also be forums led by various scholars, producers, & artists.

This is a huge deal. Foreign Southeast Asian movies are a rarity in our country. There are Southeast Asian movies featured in other film festivals like CineMalaya & QCinema, & a few weeks ago we got the excellent Bad Genius from Thailand, but they feel like aberrations more than the norm. Our current market features more American movies compared to local ones. We also get Japanese movies if they are based on famous franchises, & a few Korean movies headlined by Korean stars familiar to Filipino audiences for their marketability.

Judging by this film festival, this is a ridiculous travesty. We are missing out on a lot of cinematic treasures from our neighbors, thanks to a mostly non-existent distribution methods.

The movies featured here are proof. These movies either tell stories that are indigenous to the area told in inventive ways or indigenized versions of familiar genres – some of which are done for the first time in their own countries – where we can see well-known tropes tweaked for their local audiences. It’s an eclectic bunch, from a playful documentary about Cambodia’s Golden Age of Cinema & the rise of the Khmer Rouge to the first feature-length horror movie in Brunei – which was made in 2016! – demonstrating the variety & breadth the region has to offer. Even if some of the movies included in the film festival are lackluster, it’s always interesting because this is what their corresponding governments deemed worthy to represent their countries & the cultural, historical, & political contexts they come from are fascinating in itself. These movies are also very hard to find through legal & illegal avenues, which means this festival may be the only chance we’ll get to see them.

Grouped together, they form a cohesive whole that connects & contrasts each other & the countries they came from. As Dr. Patrick F. Campos posits in the first open forum called Overview of Contemporary Southeast Asian Cinema, the idea of a Southeast Asian Cinema isn’t that far-fetched. The birth of contemporary cinema of most Southeast Asian countries began in the 1990s, started by small film collectives making short films with digital cameras, while slowly gaining momentum & acclaim for local & international audiences. Southeast Asian countries also have similar cultures, social mores & class structures, from our conservative values to the practice of enslavement that focused more on debt bondage. All countries have featured some form of communication even before Westerners colonized the region through business & trade. And strikingly enough, our shared histories of violent dictatorships; messy political upheavals; class struggles; communist uprisings; exploitation & discrimination of women & minorities; migrations from urban-rural areas & vice versa, that continues to reverberate throughout our region.

And he’s right. Watching these films as an adult middle-class Filipino living in the city, all of these stories feel like crossing an uncanny valley, without the discomfort inherent in the concept. They are familiar enough to resonate, but full of details that make them slightly alien to me & my culture.

This is important. According to the ASEAN’s founding document called the ASEAN Declaration, one of the organization’s aims is “to accelerate the economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region through joint endeavors in the spirit of equality and partnership in order to strengthen the foundation for a prosperous and peaceful community of South-East Asian Nations.” The Tingin ASEAN Film Festival helps with this goal, allowing audiences to view Southeast Asian movies with some of the artists & filmmakers present for Q&As & join open forums addressing the needs of the region. It fosters unity through cultural development & exchanges, allowing us to delve into the issues that are important to us & help each other out. The word “tingin” is reflective of this, as it both means “look” & “vision” in English.

While making movies in itself will not solve our problems, it does plant the seeds for us to work hard for a brighter future. It humanizes the problems we’re not familiar with, and as cheezy it may sound, it highlights the old, tested idea that we are much more alike with our neighbors than we realize.

Currently, there are no plans to have another iteration of the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival, but it would be a huge mistake to end it immediately. The whole festival is proof that even with 50 years of ASEAN, we still have lots to learn & share with our neighbors.

The second part of my coverage of the Tingin ASEAN Film Festival will feature the films I’ve seen from the festival. Unfortunately, I missed a few movies in the lineup, but I have seen almost all of them, & they are illuminating & fascinating in different ways.