Mano Po 7: Tsinoy is a Gorgeous, Overstuffed Movie Reeking with Blandness

TL;DR: Mano Po 7: Tsinoy is a bland, beautifully shot movie full of plots that couldn’t develop properly for two hours.

The latest entry in the long-running Mano Po franchise begins with so much promise. It tells the story of a seemingly perfect Chinese-Filipino family & probes in the cracks within. Debbie and Wilson Wong, played by Jean Garcia & Richard Yap respectively, have been married for 25 years. They have three children: Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee), Caroline (Janella Salvador), & Catherine (Jana Agoncillo). The celebration of their 25th anniversary is interrupted when Wilson Jr. gives a rambling speech while drunk & creates a commotion, causing embarrassment to his whole family. Wilson is having none of it, so he forces him to go to rehab once again. Inside, he meets a troubled woman named Jocelyn (Jessy Mendiola) that changes his life forever.

That’s not the only problem this family has. Wilson’s relationship with his family has been turbulent. He’s a cold, controlling man who focuses more on his businesses rather than his family & he forces his family to do what he thinks would be better for them instead of what they would rather do, because that’s the way he was raised, which we get to see in flashbacks. The lack of romance between Debbie & Wilson pushes her into the arms of a rugged, heartbroken man named Marco (Jake Cuenca). Meanwhile, Caroline has a passion for singing but instead studies the cello due to her father’s insistence. One of her classmates is Henry (Marlo Santos) which she finds annoying, and she starts to have a crush on her sleazy professor (Kean Cipirano). Amidst all of this, we also get to learn about Wilson’s relationship with her mother (Rebecca Chuaunsu) & his strained relationship with her gay brother (Eric Quizon).

Yes, it’s another tale set focusing on a multi-generational Chinese-Filipino family – it wouldn’t be Mano Po without it – but there’s a lot of weighty material to be mined here. Unfortunately, it wastes that opportunity, opting to go unsurprising places. This movie is drowning in cliches, from the strict Chinese father to the unloved wife, you can easily guess how the story will unravel.

This would’ve been fine if it told these stories with care, but that’s not the case here. There are so many stories not all of them can develop organically. The movie ends up moving to the next story beat because the plot demanded it. The casualties of this approach range from something little, like Debbie’s affair with Marco, since it hinges on Marco not having a single friend he can confide with his problems, to something offensive like Caroline’s story concerning with her professor & her classmate. The whole thing ends up bland & derivative, manufactured to induce emotions to the audience by being completely phony.

Still, the whole thing is tolerable to watch, thanks to the fine acting from the cast, which work well for a family melodrama. There’s no question veterans like Richard Yap, Jean Garcia, & Rebecca Chuaunsu can deliver the right performance for this kind of movie, but Enchong Dee & Janella Salvador can match them with the right amount of histrionics without pushing it over-the-top. Ian Loreños also deserves some credit from crafting beautiful images & sequences, like a single take taking us behind-the-scenes at the Wong’s 25th wedding anniversary, Debbie & Marco’s flirtation in the balcony which will lead them to the bedroom, & the family’s trip to Taiwan. And while the movie’s quick pacing botched every story in it, it does allow it to move smoothly from one scene another.

If only that were enough to turn it into something memorable. This is a bland, overstuffed family melodrama from another long-running franchise with a decent hook. This could’ve been wonderful, but the whole movie ends up nothing more than a shrug.

Kabisera is Just Fine, And That’s Fine For Now

TL;DR: Kabisera is an average, earnest drama about extra-judicial killings made better by its timeliness & an outstanding performance from the legendary Nora Aunor.

Kabisera couldn’t have come at a better time. Based on true events, Nora Aunor plays Mercy, the matriarch of a loving, highly respected family in a small town. Her husband Tonying (Ricky Davao) is a virtuous barangay captain with unshakeable resolve, willing to help out people in need. Both of them have raised five children, each with their own problems, from his son pressured to take up nursing at the behest of his father to his other son who accidentally got his girlfriend pregnant. Their lives start to unravel when Tonying becomes a target of assassination, and is subsequently killed by the police who burst into their home without warning. They claim he & his son are members of a gang involved in a string of bloody bank robberies, & he was shot because he supposedly retaliated from the police. Now, Mercy has to keep her family together while seeking justice for her husband’s wrongful death.

This is one of the few movies this year that deals with the subject of extra-judicial killings, an unfortunate facet of Filipino life whose incidents increased since President Rodrigo Duterte took office; the fact it was made this year is pure coincidence, since the script was originally submitted for MMFF 2015 and was snubbed. Its inclusion in MMFF 2016 is very welcome, seeing as the film festival didn’t have room for explicitly political movies in the past. This movie is solely needed, especially after how “The Super Parental Guardians” explicitly tackled the effects of Duterte’s drug war with terrible results.

However, there’s a nagging sense that it could be better. The movie is split between two halves: a courtroom drama & a family drama. While the former fares slightly better, the latter is bogged down by having too many characters who aren’t given equal opportunities to shine. Both stories are hampered by scenes that are either broad or schmaltzy, an overbearing music that wouldn’t be out of place in a primetime soap. It’s the outcome of its earnestness to show the toll of losing someone in a cruel fashion, which is good-intentioned, but it results on a movie intent on recreating real-life events without delving deeper into its characters, making a hollow movie out of a heavy subject.

Still, it rises slightly above competence with the help of its stellar cast, headed by the always dependable Nora Aunor. She gives the movie the subtlety it needs to succeed, even when she’s saying obviously written dialogue. The rest of the cast follows suit with this approach, especially veteran actors like Ricky Davao playing the role of a good-natured, principled father that’s been one of his specialties. The rest of the cast comes this close to overcoming the script, but often flounders. But when the performances are in sync with the movie’s big moments, the results can be magical; where it finally nails its mix of broad theatrics & sincerity. It can be hard not to look away & get swept up by it.

This whole review might make the movie worse than it is, but that’s not the case. It’s a fine movie we sorely need right now, made better by outstanding performances from some of the best Filipino actors working today. Filipino pop culture will certainly deal with this topic in the near future, but for now, it will satiate the needs of those wanting to see horrid state of politics & justice in our country in front of a big screen. It achieves its goals, but it would leave you wanting for more.

Movie Review: The Super Parental Guardians Makes Light of Duterte’s Drug War But Fails Miserably

In the movie’s final moments, Arci (Vice Ganda) grabs Paco (Coco Martin), lifts him up, spins him around, & asks out loud why they weren’t included in this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival. The movie was infamously shut out of the festival this year, along with other MMFF mainstays like Enteng Kabisote & Mano Po, due to an overhaul that valued artistic excellence over commercial viability.

After watching the movie, the answer becomes clear: it was shut out because it was terrible. It’s a shocking drop of quality after Beauty & the Bestie, the action-comedy that first teamed up Vice Ganda & Coco Martin with enjoyable results.

The problems start with the complicated, poorly structured plot. Arci is an assistant of a famous fashion designer Marife dela Cruz (Assunta de Rossi) who dreams of becoming a fashion designer himself & living in South Korea. Paco works as a stuntman who’s a magnet for trouble thanks in part to his street gang. When his sister Sarah, Arci’s best friend, is killed after witnessing an extra-judicial killing late at night, Arci is entrusted to take custody of her two children Megan (Awra Briguela) & Ernie (Onyok Pineda) to grant Sarah’s dying wish. Neil is reluctant at first, but because of his concerns with his nephews, he eventually agrees. He moves in along with his nephews in Arci’s “mansion,” which is really Marife’s house & Arci is just the caretaker. With Arci & Neil living in the same house, they try their best to raise the two kids & find out who murdered Sarah.

It’s a politically charged conceit loaded with a bunch of promising storylines, but the movie couldn’t service all of them in an orderly fashion. The complex plot moves in zigs & zags, advancing whenever the script demands it, instead of allowing it to come out organically. Vice Ganda’s movies are just better when the plot is simple, making it easier to add a ton of jokes & references.

It doesn’t help that it splits its characters into different groups for most of the running time, cutting down the opportunity for Vice Ganda’s signature barbed lines. When they do get a chance, it’s wasted on badly written references to Pokemon Go, Train to Busan, & Ang Probinsyano, & second-rate one-liners. Of course, there are a few funny jokes, but all of them were shown in the trailer.

The movie tackling Duterte’s drug war & extra-judicial killings might have made it more interesting, but it wastes its opportunity to comment on it.If you’re expecting either a scathing indictment or unwavering support for the drug war, you’re going to be very disappointed. By the movie’s end, it all fizzles out to deliver a happy ending by dropping certain storylines. It only uses the drug war as a backdrop & nothing more, trying its best to be apolitical about it. It’s a decision oozing with either sheer laziness or inability to say something so they couldn’t offend its audience.

Even if the jokes & story fall flat, at least it is shot well. The production values for Vice Ganda’s movies are certainly getting better. Bb. Joyce Bernal handles the action scenes with a style ripped straight from Ang Probinsyano – shaky cams, zoom-ins, & jump cuts – but it is more comprehensible & less prone to dramatic stings compared to its inspiration. The use of drone shots rise slightly above “gimmicky” too.

However, the mix of comedy & action is another reminder of how bad it is. The jokes in the action scenes just aren’t funny & the pacing is off, since the way Bb. Joyce Bernal uses Ang Probinsyano’s aesthetic isn’t conducive for comedy. It sucks the air out of already terrible jokes & doesn’t allow the comedians to have room for their performances.

At least, everyone in the cast is great. It is already well established that Vice Ganda has a sharp comedic timing & Coco Martin can go toe-to-toe with him, especially if you’ve seen the much better Beauty & the Bestie. Awra Briguela is given a bigger spotlight here & he takes full advantage of it. Yes, he’s another stereotypical gay kid, but he can spout his snarky lines with the ferocity of a cynical adult. Onyok Pineda is very young & it shows in his performance. It’s understandable. He delivers his lines like he’s reading out of a children’s book. Even the movie is aware of this, giving him fewer stuff to do compared to the rest of the cast, but making sure that he makes an impact. I hope he gets better with age.

Unfortunately, this movie will never be good. It’s a movie built on a premise with the potential to speak out on our current political climate, but only uses it to deliver a sloppy story filled with unfunny jokes. It’s the worst kind of entertainment: incompetent & inoffensive to the point it becomes offensive.