Saturday, October 12, 2013

Metro Manila (Sean Ellis, 2012)

The vision of Lino Brocka is heavily felt in the early parts of the British film Metro Manila. We see traces of Brocka's city of Manila. It is still pretty much the same through the years. Its neon lights continue to lure rural dwellers onto its hellish pit.

The start of the suspenseful film shows farmer Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) and his family embarking on a long trip to the city. Oscar, just like Julio Madiaga, gets his first job loading rocks. He also gets exploited by heartless contractors.

The claws of the ruthless and nefarious also nabs Oscar's wife Mai (Althea Vega). She ends up, just like Ligaya Paraiso, in the red light district. The owner of the bar she works for is named Sir Chua, which is a nod to Chua Tek, the husband of Ligaya Paraiso in Brocka's Manila: In the Claws of the Neon.

Other Brocka characters, imageries, and dialogues referred to are the security guard (Jaguar),  the Black Nazarene procession (Bona), and the 'kapit sa patalim' dialogue (Bayan Ko).

Ishmael Bernal's Manila by Night is referred to in the balcony scene with Daniel Ong (John Arcilla) showing Oscar a majestic view of the city after dark. But, it is those two other Manila films, namely Brocka's Manila and Raymond Red's Manila Skies, that are the ones given nods by the British film. Put in Red's Cannes winning short film Anino in there, too. The short feature is Red's own tribute to Brocka's Manila. 

Metro Manila, though, is not a mishmash of Filipino films. If the film's vision of Manila is familiar it is because the city has not changed much. Local and foreign filmmakers, young and old alike, will see the obvious traffic, clutter, shanties, and shadowy characters of Manila. Bourne Legacy has them. Metro Manila has them, too, and more.

It is the inside stories that differentiate one film from another. Metro Manila puts the viewer inside an armored van driven by Oscar Ramirez. His string of bad luck ended when he gets hired to drive the vehicle. The training segment has a wonderful scene with Ong playing an opera piece sung by Maria Callas. He says it soothes his soul, and also the viewer's mind as well. It is a welcome respite from the deluge of ills and evil deeds befalling the family. It gets too heavy and draining to watch after a while.

Farmer Oscar Ramirez belatedly realizes that although life in the picturesque Banaue highlands is hard, it is heaven compared to infernal Metro Manila. Will the family savor heaven once again?

The film Metro Manila is a suffocating slow burn in the early parts but once it gets going, it is an enthralling thriller. Just like the epic boxing match Thrilla in Manila, you never know who will win. 

The clear winners, though, are the main actors. The fantastic John Arcilla is more memorable here than his stint as a security guard in Bourne Legacy. Jake Macapagal is perfectly cast as as a caring father and husband, Oscar Ramirez. 

One thing that played a big factor in their engaging performances is that they were given a free hand to translate the English dialogues on their own. Hence, there is no awkward moment when they are talking. I like to think that Oscar's bar joke is a creation of a Filipino. If it isn't then the scriptwriters truly has a feel for Filipino humor. Maybe they can do a comedy about Filipinos as well?

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