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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Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2017: Patay na si Hesus is One of the Best Filipino Comedies Ever Made

> TL;DR: The headline is not a hyperbole: Patay na si Hesus is easily one of the best Filipino comedies ever made, just by being ridiculously funny & heartwarming.

Patay na si Hesus (Hesus is Dead) is a breath of fresh air. Initially released as part of QCinema 2016 & had a successful commercial release in this year’s Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino (Feast of Filipino Cinema), it was a surprising gift from Cebu, one of the growing regional film communities in the country, & a rebuke to the usual mainstream comedies we get from major studios.

Iyay (played by Cannes Film Festival Award for Best Actress winner Jaclyn Jose) is a single mother who has raised her three children on her own. When she finds out her ex-husband Hesus has died, she asks her children to visit their father’s funeral. Except for her son Bert (Paul Vincent Viado) – who has Down Syndrome – none of them wants to visit their father. Her son Jay (Melde Montañez) would rather be a lazy bum at home & deal with his girlfriend, & her trans son Jude (Chai Fonacier) would rather stay at home & take care of his girlfriend’s daughter. But Iyay would rather have her children pay their respects to their father – even if he was a horrible one – so she forces them to go on a road trip full of detours & obstacles, literally & figuratively.

Anything can happen on the road, & it’s pretty much the same with Patay na si Hesus. It has a loose, freewheeling sense of humor that allows it to toss different kinds of gags without distracting from the story, all thanks to its structure. It is at turns dark, raunchy, & surreal mixed with that snappy Cebuano wit. There’s also care in framing a shot to maximize a joke’s impact, which is still a rarity in our shores. Not all of the jokes land, but most of the jokes hit & they hit hard, with a force that can bust a gut. Even if a joke doesn’t work, another one that will is sure to come by.

Amidst all the chaos, it never loses its respect & affection with its characters. It’s so easy turn these characters as the butt of the jokes, especially since two of them are considered outliers in our society, yet it resists that impulse & even allowing these characters to join the fun. It manages to stand out just by treating its characters with warmth alone.

Those characters are portrayed by an excellent cast, who understand the movie’s loopy yet grounded wavelength. Jacklyn Jose is more known for her dramatic roles, but she proves that she has the versatility to do comedy as well. Her Iyay is resilient & easily annoyed in dealing with her children’s hangups – except for Bert – while trying her best to hide her exhaustion. The rest of the cast playing Iyay’s children are equally entertaining in their roles. The standout role has to be from Mailes Kanapi as an unhinged nun who livens up their trip. It’s a role that pushes the movie’s reality toward outright lunacy yet it works, thanks to Mailes Kanapi slowly showing how insane the nun is without pushing it to desperate mugging.

All of this combine for one of the most satisfying Filipino comedies ever made. It’s a heartwarming dark comedy that goes for broke without losing what makes its characters tic. It may not work all the time, but the highs are higher than most Filipino comedies could dream of.

Being made outside imperial Manila is significant. Most of our entertainment still come from Metro Manila, the central hub for Filipino media. Movies like Patay na si Hesus continue to prove there are voices outside Metro Manila that are needed to be heard. Ongoing support for movies like it will not only mean new stories for audiences, but slowly democratize our distribution systems to include movies made in other regions, redefining what a Filipino film is & what it can be. The fact that Patay na si Hesus is hilarious is gift in itself, but what it means for Filipino cinema is huge & shouldn’t be taken for granted.