Movie Review: Kusina Kings May Be Undercooked, But Will Fill You With Laughter

TL;DR: Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) is heavily flawed, but it succeeds just by being funny.

Victor Villenueva’s follow-up to the sweet Cebuano dark comedy Patay na si Hesus (Jesus is Dead) & his first film for a mainstream studio is sadly a disappointment. It suffers from a lot of problems that for some reason plague most Filipino mainstream comedies. And yet, Kusina Kings (Kitchen Kings) plows through all of these problems by being flat out funny.

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Its premise is way too complicated than its trailers let on. Benjie (Empoy Marquez) realizes his dream of opening a restaurant with the help of his longtime best friend Ronnie (Zanjoe Marudo). Unfortunately, no one patronizes their business & soon find themselves scrambling their way out of bankruptcy. Benjie joins the Kusina Kings challenge out of desperation, where he can fight renowned chef & restaurateur Gian Nyeam (Ryan Bang) for money & glory. However, if Benjie loses, he has to forfeit his restaurant to Gian. Even Benjie’s sister Jenny (Nathalie Hart) returns to help out but her lack of cooking skills & experience in restaurant management causes more harm than good. Meanwhile, Ronnie invests most of their money in a fraudulent pyramid scheme thinking it will help the restaurant. Benjie is furious after he found out what Ronnie did & they both get into a huge fight that ends with Ronnie walking out of the restaurant. In the middle of all of this,

On his way back to the restaurant, Ronnie catches a cockroach that stuck to him & unknowingly flings it inside the restaurant. It causes a huge commotion that leaves Benjie in a coma after a refrigerator lands on his head. Injured & hospitalized, Benjie’s soul is now stuck in limbo, and the only way for him to return to his body is to literally take care of his unfinished business & ensure that they won’t lose the Kusina Kings challenge. He can’t do it on his own – since he is a literal soul – so he enlists the help of Ronnie, even if he’s still mad at him, disapproves of his total disregard for following the recipe & loathes his attraction to Jenny. Ronnie partly does it out of guilt for causing Benjie & Jenny so much trouble & it won’t take long for them to find out what really happened.

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There’s so much stuff going on in the film as it piles contrived situations to put its characters in its setup that the clumsy plotting feels like a bunch of ideas smushed together. There are some attempts at giving both Benjie & Ronnie their own arcs, but it’s shoved aside in favor of focusing on their main goal to rescue the restaurant. Its attempts at slapstick humor whenever Empoy Marquez forcibly moves Zanjoe Marudo’s body doesn’t work because both are just too stiff & awkward to pull it off. Add the fact that it sometimes succumbs to lazy joke writing by substituting pop culture references for punchlines & overexplaining jokes, & the end result is a mediocre effort from one of the most promising film directors working today.

However, there’s no reason to doubt Villenueva’s talents & instincts as a director, because once it settles down into a rhythm, the loose, ridiculous plot becomes a vessel for a barrage of inspired silliness & endearingly dumb dirty jokes. It’s a live-action cartoon full of absurd gags & daffy wordplay, tossing it to the audience as fast as it could while often badly explaining what the joke was. The dirty jokes are achingly sincere & childish in nature, it’s easier to embrace them even if some of these are more likely to induce an eyeroll rather than a laugh. Everyone in the cast carries the material they’re working with & clearly having a blast, which translates to the film’s warm, lighthearted vibe. It’s definitely a flawed film, but comedies are supposed to make you laugh & this one definitely did the trick. Sometimes that’s enough.

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Movie Review: Fun, Trashy Sin Island Just Wants to Get Your Blood Pumping

TL;DR: Sin Island may be dumb & ridiculous, but that’s only part of what makes this sexy, trashy erotic thriller so much fun.

It’s still shocking to think that Star Cinema would release Sin Island as their Valentines’ Day offering. Instead of a lighthearted romantic comedy, they decided to bankroll on something darker & sexier; it’s their first sexually charged movie since Ang Lalaki sa Buhay ni Selya (The Man in Selya’s Life) released in 1997. While we could only theorize the reasons behind this move as either influenced by the success of the Fifty Shades trilogy, an act of commendable risk-taking, losing out on a bad bet, or something else entirely, this is a laudable effort that doesn’t prepare you to how trashy it’s going to be.

David (Xian Lim) is a passionate photographer who found success shooting magazine covers & weddings. He’s married to a flight attendant named Kanika (Colleen Garcia), & both of them have a loving, passionate marriage. But when he’s forced to close his business due to his assistant’s mistake, he spirals toward despondency & loses his self-esteem that goes on for two years. Meanwhile, Kanika is becoming more attracted to Stephen (TJ Trinidad), one of the pilots she’s working with. It’s obvious that Stephen feels the same way, but it’s only physical & she never crosses the line; even if her best friend goads her about it. David figures this out & they have a huge fight. At the request of his friend, he decides to go on an exclusive resort on Sinilaban Island; or Sin Island as it’s also called. That’s where he meets Tasha (Natalie Hart), a broken-hearted swimsuit designer who decided to take a break when her husband cheated on her. Both of them had an awkward start, but once they slowly get to know each other, it sets off a series of events that will endanger his current marriage, & their lives.

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Let’s circle back to the inciting incident that caused David to ruin his life. His assistant carelessly put a bag containing all of their SD cards they used for the wedding beside the fountain, which was subsequently kicked by a kid into the water while the assistant was taking a picture. They couldn’t recover any of the images in the SD cards. The client sued them for ₱ 10 million. His brother, who’s also a lawyer, tells him he has no choice but to take the deal. The incident caused him to lose all of his clients, compelling him to close his business.

The movie asks us to believe that a man like David, who runs a successful wedding photography service, did not have any emergency contingencies just in case something like this would happen. It also asks us to believe that his supposedly skilled brother couldn’t find a way to retaliate against the couple or lessen its impact on the business. Finally, it also thinks that this sole incident will cause David to lose his clients. This is just a taste of how unbelievably stupid this whole movie is going to be. It has lots of moments where people are acting like incompetent idiots so the movie can reach its next plot point, or the supporting characters encouraging the leads’ bad behavior & castigating them for following their advice to create conflict without probing the reasons behind it. It also embraces toxic monogamy culture in the way it explores a spouse’s attraction to people who aren’t their partners & the jealousy that results from it without examining the behavior nor its effects on a relationship.

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That’s fine, since it’s the furthest thing from the movie’s mind; & the only thing it has on its mind is a pulsating id. Star Cinema & director Gino M. Santos made a melodrama focused on infidelity with flashes of camp that turns into a trashy erotic thriller, that feeds on our insatiable desire to watch conventionally attractive people with gorgeously toned bodies to fight & fuck each other out of love – often in ridiculous ways – with the high production values that’s expected from the studio. It’s a very racy film oozing with sex, violence & style, presenting it without any shame, & maximized to titillate audiences without going over the R-16 rating; which include the torrid sex scenes that spreads the pleasure & objectification to both sexes & a “cheat day” discussion with Stephen that ends with him eating a mussel while Kanika & him exchange sordid looks as David realizes what is happening. While it focuses solely on the internal struggles of David & Kanika’s marriage without blaming it on their sex life, it’s not above embracing the tropes of the genre; which are often problematic & clichéd. That’s only part of the charm, since the movie dives headfirst into it with gleeful relish.

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You can even see it from everyone in the cast. Xian Lim may be lackluster when he deals with David’s downward spiral, but he works best when he’s embracing the movie’s sleazy tone. Colleen Garcia reveals the depth of Kanika’s sadness & disappointment to David, & she gets a chance to join in the movie’s shenanigans too. But the center of the movie’s jagged, seedy heart is, well, Nathalie Hart. She is funny, charismatic, & sexy, using her charm to hide her cunning, nutty self. She will try her best to hide it, but once the facade drops, she will snarl, seduce, or strike anyone if it will help her get what she wants.

But what elevates this to something special are the stylish visuals shot by Mycko David & the spot-on production design by Aimi Geraldine R. Gamboa. The sets switch from extravagant to intimate without toning down the movie’s excesses. Mycko David spruces it up with low-key cinematography that relies on fewer light sources that often cast shadows on the actors’ faces, or backlighting the actors to turn them into silhouettes, creating a sense of mystery & danger that boils under the surface until it explodes in the third act. He also captures every knowing look, sensuous touch & deep moan within the constraints of its movie rating. It just emphasizes how much of the movie’s pleasure are skin-deep, which is fitting for a movie filled with naked bodies. While there are trashier movies out there, that doesn’t make this any less fun. It’s completely upfront to what it is & executes it with such style, it’s hard to resent it. It only wants to please your primal instincts, & if you give it a chance, there’s a chance you couldn’t resist its charms.

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