Movie Review: Sakaling Maging Tayo is a Charmingly Awkward Road Trip Around Baguio

TL;DR: Sakaling Maging Tayo (If We Fall in Love) may shuffle along with a somewhat inorganic, chill plot, but it’s got sincerity, charm, & awkwardness to spare.

Sakaling Maging Tayo (If We Fall in Love) concerns two people who are stuck in different ways. Laya (Elisse Joson) is a college freshman about to leave Baguio for Manila after her philandering ex-boyfriend broke up with her. But before she does, she wants to speak to him for she thinks she might be pregnant & she didn’t have sex with anyone else. However, her only proof is she hasn’t had her period for more than a week. Pol has always had a crush on Laya ever since she handed her a handkerchief during enrolment, but he never had the guts to talk to her. He’s satisfied pining for her from afar.

Both of them are knocked out of their comfort zones in a single night. Pol borrowed his father’s taxi – which he often drives himself to earn some quick cash – for a fun night out with his best friend at a music festival scattered around the city. After a contentious meeting with her ex that left her in tears, she enters Pol’s taxi, unknowingly thinking he was on duty tonight. Pol relents & soon they find themselves knowing more about each other. On a whim, they decide to accomplish a series of dares Laya wrote with her friends & kept on a pouch, roaming around Baguio while Pol hopes he can tell her how she really feels.

Young love is often portrayed as a dizzying, energetic rush of emotions, where people rush headfirst into a relationship consequences be damned. Sakaling Maging Tayo is different. Laya & Pol are both on the cusp of adulthood & it shows in their interactions. They put up facades of inner strength for others when deep down they are as anxious & awkward as everyone else. They are afraid of what the future holds for them – either due to its possibilities or its limitations – & would rather run away from their problems. Embracing the status quo is much easier.

J.P. Habac bakes all of this uncertainty into a coming-of-age road movie that sputters gently as it moves. It hobbles from one event to the next, with the only connecting tissue being Laya & Pol’s burgeoning attraction throughout a single night. Some of the obstacles don’t feel organic, which makes it feel sluggish than it should be, but it can be easily ignored thanks to its relaxed vibe. It also portrays Laya & Pol’s interactions as realistic as possible. Everyone in the film speak like ordinary people do, and it relishes on the stiff interactions fueled by doubt & jitters, familiar to anyone trying to learn more about a person they like a lot. It savors every forced laugh, every knowing glance, & at times allowing the silence to hang in the air.

This isn’t as cringe-inducing as it sounds. It’s smothered with a charming innocence that’s alluring instead of abrasive, just like J.P. Habac’s previous film I’m Drunk, I Love You, it also has a fantastic, bittersweet soundtrack underscoring their emotions bubbling underneath the surface. Of course, the main couple sell all of this in its awkward glory. With his look alone, McCoy de Leon can pine for someone with equal infatuation & heartbreak, while Elisse Joson can easily shift between confusion & confidence. Even with his brief appearance, Bembol Roco is also outstanding as Pol’s father. His poignant scene with de Leon where he gives him the advice he needs to hear stands as one of the best father-son scenes I’ve seen a while. Sakaling Maging Tayo may enjoy going off course, often to its detriment, but it knows that you can’t run away forever from your problems. Sometimes, you need to make the first few moves.

Metro Manila Film Festival 2017: Ang Panday is Filipino Blockbuster Filmmaking at its Finest

TL;DR: Ang Panday is a maximalist masterpiece of Filipino cinema, delivering a fresh, sincere, goofy take on the franchise.

Everything about the inclusion of the latest iteration of Ang Panday (The Blacksmith) in Metro Manila Film Festival 2017 seems to embody the worst aspects of the festival.

It was one of the first four entries selected based on their scripts, which wouldn’t be suspect if it weren’t for the fact that the selection process for scripts was a ploy to sneak in commercially viable movies & well-known properties into the festival. It is another adaptation of Carlo J. Caparas’ seminal comic book series – a fantasy epic about a blacksmith who forges a dagger made from a meteorite that fell from the sky to defeat the evil Lizardo – which has been adapted & rebooted numerous times on film & TV, most famously portrayed by The King of Filipino Cinema Fernando Poe Jr. This one also stars & is directed by Coco Martin, currently known for starring in the long-running & ongoing television reboot of FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, which continues to be a ratings juggernaut.

But Ang Panday is far from a lazy retread. It is a loud, entertaining blockbuster that finds ways to be weird & subversive, pushing this tired franchise into new, exciting directions.

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Flavio Batungbakal, the original wielder of the dagger forged from a meteorite & the man who defended the world from the evil Lizardo, was planning to give his dagger to his son Flavio II. He refused, since he wants to live a peaceful life with his wife. It’s going to be short-lived, since their home was attacked by aswangs sent by Lizardo while her wife was giving birth. None of them survived except for their son, also named Flavio, who managed to survive the attack thanks to the midwife who took him away from the province to the streets of Tondo.

However, he grew up to be a good-natured but troublesome man making & selling blades & saws, often causing trouble due to his insistence in fighting for what’s right. He’s fallen in love with Maria (Mariel de Leon), a beautiful singer whose parents have plans to marry her off to someone rich. That person turns out to be the reincarnated Lizardo (Jake Cuenca) who grew up to be a rich, shady entrepreneur with plans to conquer the world. With the world hanging in a balance, it’s up to Flavio to find the dagger & save the world.

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It’s not as straightforward as it sounds. It takes a while to set up its convoluted mythology while making room for other stories, such as the blossoming romance between Flavio’s sister Rowena (Elisse Joson) & her suitor, & his brother Diego (Awra Briguela) trying his best to hide his true sexuality to the rest of his family; the latter of which isn’t played for cheap laughs & offers a somewhat neat parallel with Flavio’s arc. All of it is told with the same broad, goofy sincerity as FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano, but adding fantasy elements to spice up its urban setting & getting rid of its occasional self-seriousness, embracing the ridiculousness of the situation. The whole approach works better in a movie about the ultimate showdown between good & evil than a cop show full of political intrigue & conspiracies. The shaky cam aesthetic makes the colorful, fantasy elements stand out while its conflict fits better with its tone, something FPJ’s Ang Probinsyano has a problem with when it dumbs down important topics like corruption, policing & the drug trade. It offers a completely novel direction for the franchise that never turns stale.

This movie even apes the show’s fondness for shaky cam full of quick cuts & close-ups, but gets rid of the excessive zooms & dramatic sound effects. It’s very noticeable in the gripping action scenes, which expands what was capable in the TV series & gives it more finesse, with the help of a bigger production budget. It’s an energetic blur that’s easy to follow, but never giving the audience a time to rest or to take in the scenery. It’s an exhilarating feat that makes it harder to look away, especially when it has Coco Martin riding a motorcycle, killing off aswangs & stopping robberies with the power of his dagger.

But that isn’t enough for the movie. It also takes weird, entertaining digressions like a segue to a music video & an ensuing fight between police officers & squatters that turns into a rap battle about land rights. What ensues is an exhausting, overstuffed smorgasbord, with plots fighting for space in its nearly 2 1/2 hour runtime. It results in a lot of plotholes, jam-packed material the movie doesn’t even know what to do with, & it goes on a mad rush towards the end, but the overall effect is mesmerizing to behold; even if the sound mix makes it hard to distinguish the dialogue at times. It offers the audience almost everything imaginable to keep you from getting bored, & doing it in the broadest, most genuine way possible, without pushing the material towards utter incomprehensibililty.

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It helps that the movie doesn’t ignore even the most rudimentary emotional beats nor the mythical roots of the story. It keeps everything grounded & easy to understand, even as it moves away from the franchise’s usual formula. It’s also filled to the brim with a cast who deeply understands how to navigate the movie’s tricky tone that not everyone is given a spotlight. Awra Briguela is given a chance to show off his excellent dramatic acting. Jake Cuenca is magnetic & sleazy as the current incarnation of Lizardo. But the absolute star has to be Coco Martin. He is the connective tissue that holds everything together. He’s like the movie itself: earnest, dopey, a bit corny but wholly endearing. He can sell a man like Flavio killing aswangs with a dagger while riding a motorcycle & telling what has to be one of the corniest jokes in Filipino cinema, but his enthusiasm & how funny he thinks the joke is just beams off the screen, you can’t help but laugh.

In fact, that quality is what makes Ang Panday one of the best movies of 2017. The motives behind making this movie may have been cynical, but it doesn’t reflect the final movie at all. It’s been made by people who knows there’s nothing bad about being entertained, but delivers a movie brimming with such pure-hearted passion, rigourous craft, a willingness not to take itself seriously & giving its audiences what it wants without succumbing to outright pandering, to the point it becomes excessive, it’s hard not to fall for its charms. It just wants us to have a good time at the cinemas – which isn’t too much to ask – & Ang Panday confirms you can do so without sacrificing quality.

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