Sunday, January 8, 2012

Manila Kingpin: The Untold Story of Asiong Salonga


Nicasio “Asiong” Salonga (Jeorge Estregan Jr) makes a name for himself by forming a gang of his own, clashing with other gangs, and giving whatever is left of the loot they have shared among themselves to their neighbors in need. Their existence is tolerated by the system, as evidenced by various politicians trying to win their favor. Of course his wife Fidela (Carla Abellana) does not approve of the said lifestyle, as if her opinion mattered. Asiong will eventually piss someone off, and that someone is Totoy Golem (John Regala), the kingpin of the rival gang who hatches a plan to get rid of his new nemesis, slowly but surely. Welcome to 1950’s Tondo! I’m so glad I’m in 2012. These gangs should all rot in hell.

The entire movie is in black and white, which makes everything seem more epic than it should be. Some dialogues and the way by which they are delivered are cheesy, although it would have been cool if we were in the 50's. It is still tolerable though and you forgive this because of the special effects which would make you rethink if it is indeed a Pinoy action movie you are watching. Most Filipinos would simply dismiss the good production values in lieu of the disbelief that we could ever produce an action movie oozing with excellence in terms of technical aspects. Could we really blame ourselves, though?

I grew up with the notion that a Filipino action movie has Cesar Montano in it. Everything begins with a choreographed chase scene in ancient Toyota Corollas. He is alone and a dozen men are chasing him, but somehow his gun kills them all. Somewhere along the dénouement Bayani Agbayani will appear to crack a non-sense joke, which would be followed by a playful hit on the head signaling the audience to laugh. In the end the beautiful leading lady is dragged into an abandoned warehouse where more gunfire ensues. The PNP will arrive late as usual. And they all live happily ever after. See you again in six months when we change locations and replace Sunshine Cruz with Dayanara Torres! Nostalgic.

In a way, Asiong uses the same template but has to modify some things due to the timeline. Instead of car chases, they ride “kalesas” while shooting each other. They also rob warehouses, but they shoot each other in slow motion. When they take it outside it would always be raining. Tikoy Aguiluz is really  making a statement here with how he shot those scenes. In short, kinareer niya 'to. No wonder he is pissed off. I would love to see his version. Still, you would be satisfied with the visual aspects. It is the story that is kind of lacking. In fact, the fight scenes get repetitive after a while but you enjoy watching them anyway because of the way they are rendered onscreen.

I would never understand the violence involved in the way of life portrayed here. You have a world dominated by good-for-nothing bums who survive from day to day through their inherent preference for violence. And people laud them for it? WTF. And this person actually lived, and died at age 28. Rockstar lang? Some scenes seem like electoral campaign commercials though.

Estregan is an unknown name and face to the new generation and this automatically puts the film on a disadvantage. I only have a vague recollection of this guy as one of the goons in old action movies. However, to be fair to him he is not that bad. Erap is probably the peg, which is just apt since he apparently originated the role. The good thing? He benefits from the good ensemble acting with none other than Philip Salvador to back him up. Carla Abellana does not do much here but looks regal in black and white. The gang members are credible, what with casting Baron Geisler as a thug. John Regala is also okay as the rival kingpin, although I would have given the supporting actor award to Salvador instead, also for this movie.

Does this movie deserve all the awards it raked in at the recent festival? Yes. I would even go as far as to say that  it also deserves the box office returns the reigning top two are enjoying at the moment. It is not a perfect film but among the entries this year, coming from someone who has seen six out of seven,  I would say that this is the best among the bunch if every factor is taken into consideration.

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