Movie Review of Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (We need more of these!)

The 37th MMFF (Metro Manila Film Festival 2011) is plagued by half a dozen movies that all aim for one thing- money. While most of these entries rehashed old MMFF movies (and actors) with tried and tested masa formulas, one movie tries to defy the norm. This year, Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story actually takes a shot at artistry and good story-telling.

But wait? Aren’t movie festivals supposed to be about those two things? Anyway…

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong-Salonga Story (2011) movie poster

The Story

Manila Kingpin profiles the life of Nicasio “Asiong” Salonga, a true-to-life badass from Tondo who lived several decades ago, back when gang wars were prolific in the notorious parts of Manila.

The movie shows Asiong at the height of his “career” and notoriety, and mixes it with an insider’s look on what it’s like to live like a true gangster boss.

The opening sequence shows how he had to fight his bloody way to the top of the ranks. He is shown delivering brutal revenge and is depicted a la Godfather, on how he treats his minions. The movie also takes a peak at his personal life. His pregnant wife always fears for his safety. His cop brother scolds him to take a straighter path. Even his parents show their disapproval of his lifestyle. As for Asiong, despite being fearless in the streets, he is wary of every knock on the door, packing a gun whenever someone enters his home, always ready to pounce on possible threats.

The film also shows his nobler side as Asiong tries to champion his neighbours and protect them from more abusive thugs. He gives alms to the poor, and even helps an old woman up as she falls down. Think Robinhood, but instead of a bow and arrow, Asiong uses a retro machine gun and some rusty daggers.

But of course, majority of the film showcases his badass fighting skills and uncanny ability to give ruthless orders not only to his friends, but also to his enemies.

Let’s Talk About Cinematography

scene from manila kingpin asiong salonga story in black and white

Black and white. It’s such a bold risk to have the entire movie in black and white. (although the effect was probably due to post production rather than authentic black and white film, that’s why they were able to put a slight tinge of blue on the effects) Choosing to do the film this way means that the filmmakers had to produce EXTRA effort in making each frame look nice despite the absence of color. This takes us back to the glory days of film noir where each scene has to be carefully planned in order to produce a shot that has depth and visual appeal despite being in just black and white. I noticed that Asiong used a lot of smoke and shadows to make shots look “thicker” in a way.

I really applaud the lighting for this film, especially for eskinita scenes done at night, where the actors are seen to go under a shadow, but still have their faces visible. I also liked the “Ingrid Bergman” attack they did on Carla Abellana’s big doughy eyes, where she was always facing the light in a certain way to illuminate her eyes better and make them “sparkle”.  It reminded me of Casablanca.

Manila Kingpin should also be given props for their costume and set design. Being a period film, they had to find locations which will pass for a story that happened during the 50s. This includes locations for bangketa, house and street shots. There was even a movie house setting which I really liked. There was also a lot of effort in the props, clothing and hairstyle. For the men’s fashion though I’m quite amazed that those looks seem trendy right now as we approach 2012. The gents in Asiong looked quite dapper!

The soundtrack was also top-calibre. The most brutal scenes are backed by eerie vocal arias and some choice scenes almost came out as haunting. Other low-key action sequences are backed with a modern rock soundtrack which also added to the sound appeal. Oh, and Eli Buendia made a camio there too, as a singer of course. The closing theme song “Hari ng Tondo” by Gloc 9, I didn’t like too much, but I will let it slip because Gloc 9 is a good rapper. :)

A few comments:

  • I wish there were more sweeping panoramic shots of old Manila. That would have added a bit of greandeur or epic-ness.
  • There was one scene were Asiong spewed a little too much blood that looked too watery to be true.
  • A few jumpy cuts here and there, very minor though

My favorite scenes:

1. Gun fight in the rain – Awesome action here, guys! Plus points for the slow-mo shots and the kickass choreography.

2. Asiong getting delirious inside a maximum security cell – This was the haunting scene I mentioned earlier

3. When Asiong’s would-be father-in-law found out that he was threatening THE Asiong Salonga with an itak (machete). Funny!

What about acting?

ER Ejercito AKA Jorge Estregan as Manila Kingpin Asiong Salonga

The cast of Manila Kingpin is a good mix of both young and veteran actors.

Jeorge Estregan, also known to the constituents of Laguna as Governor ER Ejercito, plays the lead role of Asiong Salonga in this movie. In all fairness, he really looked the part of a fearless siga sa kanto (neighbourhood gangster). His best moments are when he puts his serious war face on, and when he dons his crazy eyes that show merciless savagery. He should also be given props for his moments inside the prison cell where he squirms and writhes in agony. All in all, I’d say he’s a great candidate for Best Actor.

I’m a bit torn with Carla Abellana’s performance of Felipa (please correct me if this name is wrong), Asiong’s wife. Although she does look like the perfect contrast to Estregan with her innocent face and angelic features, she lacks intensity and fervour during dramatic moments. A few more face-wrinkling should do the trick.

Two thumbs up should be given to the rest of the male cast of Manila Kingpin. My favourite is John Regala who is always reliable for antagonist roles. As Totoy Golem, he delivers a confident swagger with just the right hint of crazy. His reserved way of throwing lines is also very effective in showing his authority over lesser creatures in villain-ville.

Commendation is also due Baron Geisler, Philip Salvador, Ronnie Lazaro, Dennis Padilla and Ping Medina. Great supporting actors.

My Verdict:

If you think that the movie trailer is interesting, you better watch the entire movie to see how awesome Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story really is.

I hope that this movie gets top awards tonight for the MMFF. I hope that more people watch it so that the Filipino people will get to taste an A-grade film that’s both artistically done, and thought-provokingly good. I hope that the Filipino movie industry will grow more and that our cinemas will stop getting saturated by sappy love stories and recycled drama premises.

I hope that after reading this review, you will go to the nearest cinema and actually WATCH this movie. :)

 

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UPDATE: Manila Kingpin sweeps 37th MMFF and bags major awards. Click here to see which awards it won.

15 thoughts on “Movie Review of Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (We need more of these!)

  1. Reese
    December 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm

    After reading your review, i got even more curious to watch it. :) I am also looking for a good film to watch this MMFF season..something that is WORTH to be IN a FILM FESTIVAL..;)

    Good job on your review!:)

  2. Ariane
    December 28, 2011 at 9:34 pm

    Mission accomplished then! Thanks Reese! Enjoy the movie. :)

  3. bubblemum
    December 30, 2011 at 11:37 am

    All thumbs up to this movie. I ve seen it last night not out of curiosity. Asiong is on my toplist among the MMFF entries, but my daughters insisted to watch Segunda on the opening day,I was right that we would only be disappointed in watching Segunda. In fairness to Segunda, it has also delivered a good story but not as good as Asiong. I am saddened by how are moviegoers pick the movie they would watch. Advertisement/promos do the tricks. Maintreams producers always have the potential to earn but they never give back Fipino audience quality movies such as Asiong.
    This is a must see movie. I am not a fan of pnoy action flicks, but right after watching Asiong I feel that our local filmakers can do like hollywood action films. I hope more pnoy would watch the movie and experience a quality movie that has never made in local movies in the past. Sayang, ER did not get the best actor award. Kris aquino’s campaign tricks did it for Dingdonmg, well dingdong portrayed it very well but for me ER Ejercito deserves the best actor award.Sulit at siksik …Congrats!

    1. Ariane
      December 30, 2011 at 12:53 pm

      Thank you so much for your comment bubblemum!

      I’m glad that this movie chose another path. And I do agree that if we give the right amount of effort, we can make really good films. Some of the action scenes in Asiong were really nice- mala-Hollywood na rin. (Like the gunfight in the rain).

      I haven’t seen Segunda Mano yet, pero let’s see. :)

  4. Hagire Kaname
    January 5, 2012 at 2:38 am

    Thank you for this. The people behind Manila Kingpin will surely appreciate this encouraging review, with them getting hammered by haters and their biased/nonsensical blogs and comments.

    By the way, the way you write…it’s clean and nice. No pretending to be a smart ass with hyphalooting words…constructive…simple.

    Keep it up!

    I’ll recommend this site to some of my friends if you don’t mind.

    More power!

    1. Ariane
      January 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm

      Hi there, Hagire Kaname!

      Thank you so much for your kind words. :)

      By all means, go ahead and share my blog!

      Your comment just made my day! Haha..

  5. January 7, 2012 at 6:55 pm

    You weren’t bothered at all that Asiong looked older that everyone else who was referring to him as a younger person? The opening he was being beat up by a guy who he looked older than yet that person was going “may gatas ka pa sa labi!”

    1. Ariane
      January 8, 2012 at 12:42 am

      Hi Mr. Avid!

      Well, to tell you honestly, I’m not the biggest Jeorge Estregan fan either but in this movie, I think he did okay for the most part. As for his age, he did seem a lot younger than the dude who beat him up on the first scene, and that the “may gatas ka pa sa labi” was just to emphasize that the older dude was the currently reigning top honcho.

      Pero, buti na lang rin siguro at may oldies sa gang ni Asiong (Dennis Padilla, Amay Bisaya…) so at least, medyo papasa na rin.

      Although, I do admit na medyo na-awkwardan ako sa kissing scenes nila ni Carla Abellana. Hehe. :)

      I appreciate your comment! Thanks.

      PS: I follow you on Tumblr!

      1. January 8, 2012 at 2:26 pm

        How about the Mayor in the prison? He related to Asiong as a younger person. And his father looked almost as old as him. The story of Asiong (upon research) is about an upstart young gangster. He died at 27 @_@ George Estregan is almost twice that age. While watching the film I kept thinking how great it wuld have been if it were Baron as Asiong. Also the film is scary in the fact that it’s a political vehicle for Gov. Estregan. And what is teh film saying… taht aman who broke the law, killed people, cheated on his wife,is somehow stll benveolent, & the champion of the people? Ehe it’s scary that an actual politican portrayed him, because their lives are not so diffrent. The film has wellcrafted visuals, but I’m glad that it wasn’t a big hit.

        And oh, thanks for following on Tumblr…I meant to make a review of the film, but I’m just bouncing about peoples blogs about it : )

        1. Ariane
          January 8, 2012 at 11:03 pm

          Hello again Mr. Avid!

          Hmm… You have a point there with the his shady values and all. But I think it just shows that nobody is inherently evil, and that the character has many facets to his personality.

          As for Baron playing the lead? Hmm.. I don’t think so. I think he’s better off playing bad guy roles (very convincing). Perhaps Coco Martin? :)But I’m pretty okay with Gov. Ejercito because his crazy eyes suit the action scenes….

          What about Sen. Revilla? I think that’s a bigger crime, with him doing movies YEARLY, plus TV roles on the side, instead of busying himself crafting laws or something. His movies are more self-serving, as they always portray him as a hero.

          Great visuals? Yes! I agree on that.

          PS: On Tumblr, yeah your works there are witty and interesting! :)

  6. bogarth
    March 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm

    nice blog ariane,

    i myself avoided watching tagalog action movies because of sloppy acting, plot and the way they shoot their guns.
    but this one, I really can’t wait for the release of the dvd. i’m going to buy the original how much it may cost.
    its really worth keeping for my collection.

    mr avid,

    it’s a pinoy action movie 4.c.s., watch it again and set aside the true ages of the actors/actresses and see the difference. anyway you put it, ER portrayed the role very well, and nobody but ER can do the role that good, he is even better than the ERAP version. everyone made a very impressive job.

    it’s really a big improvement for filipino movies. the cinematography was a little bit uber, but its better than a sloppy magic or agimat movie who rely on special effects and colors.

    1. Ariane
      March 7, 2012 at 8:43 pm

      thanks a lot bogarth! :D i appreciate your comment.

  7. Bong Romano
    May 14, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    I Just Watched Manila’s Kingpin: Asiong Salonga really too late, but it’s a worth waiting, and for me it’s a very nice film. The casts, clothings, locations, soundtracks, cinematography, scenes and acts are perfectly good. Far better than filipino fantasies that’s always coming out during MMFF.. No wonder that Asiong won and nominated the most from the film critics and award giving bodies… a great movie.. yes you’re right we really need more of this..

    1. Ariane
      May 15, 2012 at 10:41 am

      I’m glad that you liked it as much as I did, Bong! Thanks for commenting. :)

  8. Bong Romano
    May 14, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    @bogarth yes you’re right the way ER play the role is better than those earlier versions, his physical attributes helped a lot and made him suitable for the role regardless of what age the true Asiong was. A true image of a “siga” and “hoodlum” doesn’t need to be macho and good looking like the ususal lead roles on today’s pinoy films.

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