A first look at the box office results and it seems that Binoe’s latest action caper is like second to the last or something. But no! I believe this film should be seen by many since it’s well made. It’s not your average Pinoy action film mga beks. Anyway here’s my take on it na lang.
d. Joyce Bernal
p. Philippine Film Studios
sc. Teresa Barrozo
c. Robin Padilla, Bela Padilla, Carla Humphries, Michael De Mesa and basically a host of fine talents the country has to offer right now
Pitch: A senator about to disclose corruption details decides to run to Amsterdam instead and the story is his life as he was treated as a fugitive chenelyn chuvaness.
Catch: Script a bit didactic at times. But when one talks of corruption in Philippine politics/government/society, we all tend to wax poetic/speak in tongues/swear like there’s no tomorrow anyway, so what the hey.
Never mind that the film was loosely based on the life nga of Senator Ping Lacson as the producers and the PR said. Please overlook that “trivia.” And if you also want to enjoy this film, overlook na lang the fact that Robin Padilla sometimes overacts like he swallowed a “hey I’m a senator so I have to act this way” pill. Yes, some actors are burdened by roles like that: they don’t ingest and digest the role properly.
But what the hey. At least most of the time, we get to see the story unfolding around the senator protagonist. This is clearly a plot-driven narrative wherein the persecuted protagonist just goes with the flow of what happens, even if there’s this impression that the events transpire because he willed it. Anyway, scriptwriting talk aside, I like this film because the tightness of the script’s structure works for me. And it was in tandem with how the film was directed, shot, edited and scored. All of those major aspects working well in this film, working well together, I should add. No pabida effect. Not even the acting was pabida, meaning the actors knew their places and there was no outshining someone else, as they all were in character and played according to what the script/story/directing called for. Now that’s filmmaking at its finest. Like what I’ve always taught my students, filmmaking is teamwork, and I saw that here, clearly.
And yes, I should commend this because this is rare in Philippine cinema — or at least rare in the last decade or so. To see a film na pinag-isipan bago pa man ito mag-roll sa day1 shoot, that’s really something I admire. You would sometimes detect if a film was just treated in the usual “bahala na shoot” where shots appear tentative, dialogues appear trite and putting the film together appeared like such a chore for the editor. Dito, hindi. I think it helps that we have a director who’s sensitive to how a film will be edited, since Bb. Joyce’s original training was that of an editor kasi. Ito ‘yung may pulso. Kaya kailangan, alam din niya ang tirada ng camera, saan ito ipupuwesto para ‘pag niyari sa post, madali at smooth, mas madali pulsuhan ang edit.
And that’s what happened here. Most sequences had your usual invisible editing style wherein shots flow smoothly kahit cut to cut lang. Magic of filmmaking at its finest and most classic in approach. No fancy edits or paarte shots needed if you know your basics of filmmaking and you know how to harness the tech stuff well. But I also love the way they mapped out the senator’s escape sequences because they were also playful here. The dynamic way of shooting it was seeing the action thru CCTV cams interspersed with the usual stalker-type shots. Then edit them together and present them in multi-frame playback in one frame, but creatively, and you get a good and well-edited thriller that I haven’t seen in a long time in Philippine cinema. Oo, I really have to emphasize that because I love cinema and I love Pinoy ingenuity, and I hate how some producers or film outfits prioritize profit over ingenuity in this “business” cum artform. Hayst but that’s another blogpost na lang hane…
Mataas pati ang overall production value ng film na ito. It’s smooth and clean, well-lit and well-scored. Sakto ang elements sa pacing ng action as it unfolds. I admire the Amsterdam shots and they’re very lucky to have that creative freedom to shoot around town. Kahit ‘yung Pinas scenes naman malinis kaya like I said, mataas ang production values ng film so kudos sa producers ito. So yes, this is not you run-of-the-mill Pinoy action film but it’s more of a drama thriller with action sequences, let’s just put it that way. Action was a necessity only when the senator had to fight off villains after him. I appreciate the martial arts moves, the boxing and muay thai techniques shown “quietly” by Robin here, meaning parang fight sequences siya na totoong puwedeng mangyari in real life. So it’s not your exag x 50 action star acting. Sakto lang, and that works perfectly well for the drama it’s trying to unfold.
And the drama is where the didactic elements enter. Unavoidable, as I said, because the film is about the senator revealing who in the past and present government is in on the corruption stuff that he knows and discovered during his policeman days of fighting kidnap-for-ransom syndicates. Of course this means corruption that reaches the higher echelons of the ruling class in the country, from generals to high politicians yadda yadda yadda. Yes, alam na alam na natin itong mga storyline na ito, bilang Pilipino na sumusubaybay sa bawat corruption scandal na sulpot nang sulpot na parang kabute sa balita. At lahat tayo, may opinyon sa mga kaganapan, pedestrian man o “expert.” Kaya minsan, ‘yung mga linya sa pelikula, ganyan din ang tunog. Kaya didactic. Pero dahil madrama naman talaga tayong mga Pinoy in general, we forgive it.
And being didactic nga is unavoidable, especially given the kind of protagonist you have. If you really look at the heart of it, the story is about how an idealistic person still believes in the rule of law and abhors the corrupt who tarnishes it, because he loves his country so much. But it also discusses nuances that will make you think. Like for example, I like the way they were discussing when to reveal what they know. If I remember it right, there was a line there that said “sa tamang gobyerno/administrasyon” lang nila ilalabas ‘yung alam nila, timing para kalabanin ang matataas at malakas. And that’s very interesting for me. Kailan nga ba tamang oras maging tapat na Pilipino? May panahon pala ito, may oras? Kung whistleblower ka, kailan ka hindi mabibilaukan ng pitong ikaw mismo ang pumito para marinig ng lahat? Sadly, if you’ve been watching the news, you’ll know the answer to this already, to the point of being numb to the issues. Aminin, nakakapagod na. Pero nakakatuwa rin kapag may efforts tayong nakikita para baguhin ito, kaya tayo mismo ay lumalarga at nakikialam na, sa paraang kaya at alam natin. Hello Million People March Against Pork Barrel nga, di ba? There you go, people power Philippines, there you go.
But back to the film. Commendable are the actors here who played their roles well, regardless of how big or small they might be. As I blogged about in my media+pop culture site, I was lucky enough to be part of this year’s MMFF Most Gender Sensitive Film Award jury, so I’ve seen this film way before its Christmas release. And to tell you a secret, this film I voted as my number 2 choice for this particular award, simply because I like the mix of how women were portrayed here. A great revelation for me is Bela Padilla who looked like your “average” pretty broadcast journalist/reporter who turned out to have a chip off her shoulder which made her do the things she did in the story. She pulls off the role believably well, as she reminds me of colleagues and friends in the industry who indeed act and talk like that at work and at home, mga matatapang na palaban pero smart-ass din hehe. This girl should have more meatier roles in the future. Philippine showbiz, please be kind to this talent. At ilabas niyo nga sila ni Bea Alonzo sa isang pelikula hehe bagay silang mag-twin bill starrer teh! Magka-peg sa talent at ganda at aura hehe. But that’s just me.
I also liked the way women were pivotal in the life of the senator. Carla Humphries’ role in the Amsterdam portion was also good as she played this parang espionage-like maiden who was sophisticated enough to maneuver around town to legally/illegally help the senator, at the same time passing off as “just another person in town” to help conceal her true identity and the identity of the senator eklavu. Basta, it worked for me. Good characterization always works for me.
I’m just not happy with the two other women roles here, particularly the Philippine president role played by Bibeth Orteza. But hey, we know presidents could be corrupt, yes? Even if they’re women, yes? Okay, I’ll just leave that thought there.
As for the other woman, it’s Mylene Dizon who plays the senator’s ever-supportive wife. How I wish this character were a bit stronger in trying to pull her act together to keep her family left behind. But on the other hand, I also understand the vulnerability that such a burden would do to a woman like her. Mabigat, at masakit sa loob na sinusumbatan din siya ng anak na lalaki sa isang banda. I wish this character were stronger, but maybe it needed to be weak, to show how the male sons were struggling to be strong din. Hit and miss for me, but I understand the characterization nonetheless. So there.
So that’s my takeaway on this film. The moment the screening finished, I was happy to note that this film is way better than an action film they were touting as great earlier this year. Ahmsareeeh I think this is relatively better, lamang ng sampung paligo ito teh! Also happy to note that some of my former students (both formal and “informal” hehe) also worked in this film pala. Gujab guys! I’m so proud of you, as always. ‘Wag lang lalaki ulo, ha. ‘Yan lang naman bilin ko lagi sa inyo from day1 hehe.
So I do hope you catch it, and I do hope it wins awards on Friday. Let’s see. Goodluck and kudos!