Monday, August 10, 2009

Manila (2009, Raya Martin & Adolfo Alix Jr)

‘Sir, black and white po iyung pelikula,’ reminded the ticket seller at the movie theater. Cineplexes must have received complaints from avid fans of Piolo Pascual during the first few days of the film's screenings. I bought a ticket and went in to see this two-part film. Lo and behold! There were just a handful of moviegoers at the movie theater. This is the only Piolo movie I’d seen that failed to bring in the crowds at a theater.

More than the black-and-white images of Manila, I thought the junkie role of Piolo must have turned off fans. Manila’s Day segment, helmed by Raya Martin, takes off from the last few scenes of Manila By Night. Drug addict William (Piolo Pascual) is able to elude cops chasing him and Cherie (Aleck Bovick). He spends the night at Luneta. He wakes up and loiters aimlessly. The rest of the segment, which shows William being rejected by people, is entirely new material based on a script by Ramon Sarmiento.

I didn’t like the Day segment of Manila. Martin took a big risk creating a sequel to what he considers the best Filipino film of all time, Manila By Night, directed by Ishmael Bernal. The time frame is too short to give some meat to the story. The acting and casting are not that good. Cry-baby Piolo is not credible as a hopeless druggie. He is simply too healthy to portray a young man desperately hooked on drugs. Rosanna Roces seems too young to portray his mother. John Lapus is no match to Bernardo Bernardo.

Martin knows every sequel or homage film will pale in comparison with the Bernal classic. I think his real objective, then, is to espouse the original, pre-censorship ending of the Bernal classic. As far as I know, the ‘happy epilogue’ ending, which was tackily attached to the DVD version of Manila By Night, was a concession made by Bernal to censors. In his Day segment, Martin rejects the ‘happy ending.’ He posits a bleaker ending for the character played originally by William Martinez.

The Night segment, directed by Adolfo Alix Jr., is based on another film classic, Jaguar by Lino Brocka. Never did I imagine liking an Alix film over a Martin film, but, in this case, I loved the Night segment more than the Day segment. My minor complaint with the segment is Philip (Piolo Pascual) was too much of an idiot. Director/scriptwriter Alix should have given the character stronger reason for blasting away. There is a major difference between this segment and Jaguar. Alix veered away from the latter’s ending. Just like Martin, he presented a bleaker ending.

The two segments present a dark, almost one-dimensional portrait of the city of Manila. The bleak endings give a scary, heartless picture of the city. There is nary a tinge of hope left for the main characters. The beautiful black-and-white images of police road blocks, flooded streets, mounds of garbage, and filthy ocean trap the protagonists looking for the exit. Death seems to be the only way out.

It is a good thing that jazzy and cheesy segments involving a film shooting were inserted at the middle and end of the movie. The film City of Love is an over-the-top romance story between a nurse and her remorseful boyfriend. The cheesy reconciliation of the couple happens in the middle of the night at the Ospital ng Maynila. The funny romp was a nice ender to an ambitious but uneven project of producer Piolo Pascual.

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