Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (2011)

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story (2011)

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story is a film that is as hotly contested as post-war Tondo. The first film of what was hoped to be a peaceful collaboration between Laguna governor E.R. Ejercito (who uses the name Jorge Estregan, Jr. when acting in films) and acclaimed director Tikoy Aguiluz, the film quickly gained momentum when a seductively pretty trailer went viral in various social networking sites, giving an impression to most of who have seen the trailer that the Filipino action film, long dead because of the proliferation of the more lucrative romantic comedy in the market, is soon to be revived.

A month prior to its release, relationships suddenly got sour with Aguiluz insisting that his name be dropped from the credits of the film that was going to be released commercially and that he be given the opportunity to create and release his director’s cut, claiming that Ejercito shot several new scenes and re-edited the film behind his back. Ejercito, on the other hand, claimed that Aguiluz’s cut was too slow and subpar. Demand letters were sent, cases were filed in court, temporary restraining orders were issued, and eventually, Aguiluz got one half of his two wishes, and had his name stricken out of the film that he deems was bastardized by its producers. The bastardized film, actually, is not as bad as it seems.

Undoubtedly, Ejercito, who is well beyond his 40’s, is miscast as Asiong Salonga, who ruled the streets of Tondo as a benevolent gangster before being gunned down at the age of 27. Brooding alongside actors like Baron Geisler, Ketchup Eusebio and Yul Servo who are decades his junior, he sticks out like a fogey in the middle of an amusement park. Notwithstanding the very obvious attempt by Ejercito to evoke some sort of inner youth in his performance, he more or less communicates Asiong’s authoritative swagger with expert ease. Pitted against John Regala, who plays Asiong’s nemesis Totoy Golem with equal parts cunning and savageness, he impresses because of his vulnerability, his ability to ache and bleed.

Unfortunately, Asiong aches and bleeds in a story that is haphazardly told, jumping from either one action set-piece or one narrative milestone to another with hardly any rhyme or reason. Edited like a music video presumably for the sake of fast pacing, the film suffers even more. It is a film that desperately needs to breathe. Its many vivid action sequences could have been rendered more poignant with a pinch of quietude and serenity. Its documentation of lives enveloped by corruption and violence could be more meaningful with some intelligent characterization from the film’s writers. As it is, the spare and unimaginative story seems more perfunctory to the visual spectacle and the shameless grandstanding. It is definitely quite a shame because its present form shows shades of glory, traces of the film Aguiluz had in mind --- stylish but somber, brutal but human, and entertaining but artful.

Jessie Lasaten’s musical score is most of the time obtrusive. Carlo Mendoza’s cinematography, however, is quite sublime in its masterful use of monochrome. With only light and shadows to play with, Mendoza concocts images that are admirably composed and expertly framed, which lend the film that has been fractured by its disconnected storyline and lousy cutting reliable crutches to walk with. The production design is also quite notable especially with the efforts to recreate post-war Tondo from Ejercito’s hometown of Pagsanjan.

Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story is an undeniable mess of a film. Sometimes, it promises greatness. At other times, it sinks into an embarrassing slump reminiscent of the reason why action films have died in the first place. It seems to be ignorant of what it wants to be or what it wants to say about the testosterone-dominated world it vividly portrays. It is only during one vehemently illogical and anachronistic but miraculously effective sequence that the film, with all its chaotic storytelling and never-ending fistfights, knife matches, and gun battles, manages to say something coherent. Men fight men. Friends kill friends. And in the climactic, slow-motioned and revenge-fuelled orgy of sweat, blood, and bullets, it becomes apparent that the world we live in, as the glaring instrumentals of the pop song the film curiously borrows to set the scene’s action in music forces the audience to sing, is a mad world.

It’s definitely not an awful film. There are still hints of greatness in this haphazardly edited abomination to render it watchable, if not enjoyable. Now that Ejercito had shown the Philippines what he’s capable of, fairness only dictates that Aguiluz be given the opportunity to cut the film his way.

(Cross-published in Lagarista as 'The Strange Case of Asiong Salonga')


Anonymous said...

To those who saw this film, you just wasted 190 pesos of money that you could use to buy more useful stuff.

It should have not been included in the film fest. There is no room for filipino action films in the Philippines nowadays. The cheap lines and never ending gun battle are just to hard to swallow.

My score for this is negative 10 out of 10.

From Marvin of Taguig

avid said...

George Estregan playing a 20 something is too much suspension of disbelief for me, they could have tweaked Asiong's story to accommodate George but they had to keep referring to him as a young upstart... with all the producer vs director hulabaloo surrounding the film I think it was doomed from the beginning with the miscast.

Anonymous said...

waw sige marvin ikaw na magaling gumawa ng film! yeah you're the best!!!

Anonymous said...

It was the MMFF's 2011 Best Picture anyway...

Anonymous said...

ahh so you prefer enteng ng ina mo at panday rather than this??

then you have the stupidest taste in movies

this is the only film that is deserving to enter the Filmfest

and nowadays people should stop making nonsense corny movies like the neverending shake rattle and roll that i think will go on forever like shake rattle and roll 100 and the cliche movie enteng ng ina mo, even the fantasy stupidest film panday its only focusing on the CGI (graphics) than a good plot instead

kingpin is the only film that standout in every film in the film fest .. good story, good editing, great veteran director... just a movie with sense

Anonymous said...

Stupid Producers!!!! we need the directors CUT!!

Anonymous said...

To say that "there is no room for Filipino action films in the Philippines nowadays" is a bit rude, isn't it?


Noel Vera said...

Haw! Anonymous vs. anonymous. Would be nice if they posted their names as well, wouldn't it?

Anonymous said...

Ito lang yung pelikulang may sense sa lahat ng lumahok sa MMFF. I respect this blogger's opinion but I have to disagree.
And dun sa nagcomment...cheap lines? Seryoso? Mas cheap pa nga yung mga dialogue sa iba't ibang pelikula tulad ng Enteng e. And there IS room for Filipino action films...especially a great one. Better than those crappy comedy fantasy bullshit they put out. Ang tagal ng panahon na di tayo nakakakita ng ganitong kaganda na Pinoy film.

Oggs Cruz said...

That's the internets for you, Noel.

Last anonymous, you don't agree to give Tikoy a chance to have his director's cut. I don't disagree that it is a fine although problematic film. It is simply a film that could have been better, and let's see Tikoy give it a try since it is his original vision in the first place.

But I do agree that there's always room for action films today. There's room for fantasy, for horror, for melodrama, and whatever genre filmmakers may want to throw at us. What we don't have room for are awful films.

Anonymous said...

Basahin nyo ang review ni Mario Bautista sa pelikulang ito. Yun na yata ang pinakasimpleng review kung bakit katakataka ang "A" rating na nakuha nito mula sa Cinema Evaluation Board. Asiong's charater was inadequately written. Tama rin yata yung sinabi ni Direk Tikoy na ang final version ay parang naging music video. Nakakapagtaka rin na ang final version ay mas lalo pang humaba, samantalang ang complaint daw ng mga producers at ni ER Ejercito ay slow ang pacing nito. Maybe what they meant was they felt they should include more action scenes, to stress their goal of bringing action movies back and to highlight ER as the lead star. Who knows.

Anonymous said...

yung nag post ng ceap lines daw, eto lang masasabi ko sayo, IQ mo negative 10 of 10, napaka simple naman ur the kind of person na "mababaw" haahhahha..... ang ulo hindi lang ulo yan may laman yan sa loob "utak" ang tawag sa laman nan. gamitin mo pwede?