Introduction to Filipino Movies
I cringe every time I see a trailer for a nationwide Filipino movie. I am a Filipino that was born in the Philippines but raised in the United States. Just like anyone else, I am proud of my country, culture, and heritage but I am super embarrass of its film making abilities. It's as if Filipino movies were written by Friedberg and Seltzer; the American dynamic duo that make terrible movies year after year with the same generic storyline and character.
Filipino movie tropes consist of a rom-com storyline where boy meets girl (or vice versa) with very melodramatic acting, slapstick comedy in the usual form of a bakla (gay) comic relief. Usually one or both main characters are ultra rich and/or super gorgeous and have disapproving parents / authority figure. Then, everyone learns a lesson, love conquers all, and then there is a wedding.
Typical Filipino Movie
Now, it may seem like I hate these kinds of movies and I do, regardless if they are Filipino or not. I will admit though, that there must be an audience for these type of movies and that they may be a guilty pleasure for some.
There are plenty of Filipino filmmakers that have been globally recognized such as Lino Brocka and Ishmael Bernal, two of the most globally recognized names of Filipino directors. The typical Filipino movies I addressed are the popular ones. Philippines have an indie film culture that makes a lot of award winning films. This duality can be described as the same in the US. Popular American films follow their own predictable formula and rare gem of a film can be found in the indie circuit. So I know it is not just the Philippines that make corny movies but amongst Filipinos who want something more from their filmmakers, here are three recently created films that gives Filipinos, especially me, hope that the Philippines can make quality films with original storylines, intriguing setting, and dynamic character development that are not so predictable.
OTJ: On The Job (2013)
A crime thriller that depicts the corrupt practice of using inmates, temporarily released, as assassins. Cops and inmates are pawns in the game of politics.
Trailer with English Subtitles
On the Job (2013) can be summed up in three words: straight up gangsta. It is equally comparable with The Departed (2006 US), Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005 Korea), Outrage (2010 Japan). The three aforementioned movies are all great storytelling, superbly acted and finely directed. On the Job can easily be included in that list of movies about vengeance and betrayal.
The film stars a couple of famous pinoy actors mostly known for their looks and making those formulaic Filipino romantic comedies that I loathe. When I saw who the stars in the film, I immediately thought it would have terrible acting because of the pretty boys but I was proven wrong and if I was flexible enough, I would have put my foot in my mouth. Piolo Pascual did a fine job as an idealistic officer. Gerald Anderson, also a handsome young man, which didn't help portray an image of an incarcerated hitman, acted remarkably despicable and charming at the same time. The elder hitman was played by Joel Torre and he was the best of the cast. He made me feel the agony and the necessity of his life of crime.
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The pacing of the movie was well done. Erik Matti, the director, knows how to create tense moments and emotional distress that makes the audience think twice about who is really good and who is really bad. That fine line of moral balancing makes the movie even more intriguing.
The scenery in the film played as much of an important role as did the actors and the director. The movie depicts Manila as a seedy, violent but jubilant city. The streets, the prison, and city hall all made the movie come alive. I never thought Filipinos were capable of making such a thriller with a stab at corruption and politics. I thought Filipinos were forever imprisoned in the rom-com genre but Eric Matti sharpened a shank and gut checked the rom-com genre to make room for crime thriller. Like I said, straight up gangsta.
Metro Manila (2013)
Having no luck making a living in the provincial part of the Philippines, a family man decides to put all his family's hopes on moving to Manila in search of a better future. With no job prospects, he eagerly takes a security guard position for an armoured truck company.
Trailer with Subtitles
I really like this movie. Metro Manila (2013) was a very surprising, well crafted movie. Though this movie didn't have big name star power unlike the previous movie reviewed, the acting was still top notch by all cast and crew. Jake Macapagal plays the lead, Oscar Ramirez, a desperate husband and father who makes sacrifices to make sure his family meet the necessities in life. Macapagal is an extremely talented actor and you feel all the pain, anguish and triumph that he goes through. His moral compass is strong and it shows in every word he speaks and actions he takes.
The supporting cast are great too. The wife, played by Althea Vega, made her own sacrifices to make sure her husband and son have easier lives but becomes a victim of Metro Manila. John Arcilla, the security guard partner of Oscar, provides opportunities and advice to Oscar but always seems to have an agenda.
Though the director is not Filipino, Sean Ellis directed a Filipino film. He is a very talented writer and filmmaker as evident with his previous film, Cashback (2006). As with On the Job, Ellis's Metro Manila captured some honesty about living in the Metropolitan. It can be dangerous, it can be seedy, and it can give hope.
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Online Streaming Clips
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A humble, hardworking father, who is a driver for a questionable politician, must track down his daughter who was wrongfully kidnapped.
Trailer with Subtitles
I'm not so sure if the movie takes place in Manila but it was filmed there. This movie was very solemn. Out of all three recommended movies, Graceland (2012) must have been the most depressing one.
The story seemed all too real and the acting was very believable by all players. This movie deals with greed and violence by the poor and desperate, child abduction, child trafficking, organ trading, and corrupt government officials. You know the everyday things that happen in a developing country but gets swept under the rug by the mainstream media and government.
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The main actor is Arnold Reyes, a veteran Filipino actor. He played his role believably convincing. It feels like you are right there with him with every decision he makes and any mishaps that occur. Another important role in the film went to Menggie Cobarrubias who played the sheisty politician. Cobarrubias acted so well that you wanted to kill the guy yourself.
The director, Ron Morales, has only made two films including this one but he is not a notice. He has helped filmed as part of the film crew several big budget films such as Spider Man 3 (2007) and The Departed (2006) as well as many beloved indie films like Nick and Norah's Playlist (2008). With all the experience surrounded by big name talents, Morales absorbed their knowledge and created a great crime thriller.
The Filipino film industry is flooded with corny rom-com. I know that the three films that I recommended were all crime thrillers but each movie dealt with very different subject matters and had some glimpse of truth in the seedy parts of Manila. All these negative views of the Metropolitan are an anti-thesis to the superficial romantic comedies. They were all well made and captivating, providing insight to an underworld that mainstream Philippines try to overlook. Filipino filmmakers and actors are talented and have much more to offer than a predicable love story.
Ken (author) from Seattle, WA on February 25, 2015:
Yeah the other two are great, definitely worth watching
David B Katague from Northern California and the Philippines on February 25, 2015:
I enjoyed reading this hub. I have only seen Metro Manila, but looking forward to see On the Job and Graceland. Good Day!