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 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
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?
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.
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. :)