Wilson (Richard Yap) and Debbie (Jean Garcia) Wong celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with a lavish party. In complete attendance are their relatives, as well as their two lovely daughters Catherine (Jana Agoncillo) and Caroline (Janella Salvador). High, Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee) arrives scandal-ready, blabbering incoherently before collapsing on the cake. A few days later, his mother sends him to rehab, much to the chagrin of his father who thinks he is a failure. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Under the surface is a brimming stew of family issues ready to boil over anytime. After all, you don’t reach your silver wedding anniversary without dealing with the requisite challenges that characterize a marriage. Overlapping with unresolved matters of the past, the Wong family will have to work together to weather this storm out, but not everyone is in a cooperative mood.
The plot unfolds following the formula of a common Christmas film, where you witness the deconstruction of a dysfunctional family reassembled just in time for the holidays. Because it’s Christmas. Mano Po 7 goes the extra mile by destroying the family dynamics one more time before rebuilding it again, resulting in the final 30-minute stretch that comes off as too dragging and unnecessarily long. It makes the plot development rather inappropriate for the big screen. It could have been a good basis for a TV series, though, given the difference in terms of patience and attention span required by the two distinct sets of viewers.
The kids are okay. Dee is believable enough as the rebel son who feels unloved. Salvador satisfies the indispensable teenybopper factor, while Agoncillo’s character could have been scrapped altogether and no one would have noticed. Garcia effortlessly dominates her scenes without much competition. As the cheating wife taken for granted by her husband, she is without a doubt the heart of the film, with a single wince from her enough to make you feel her pain.
The same cannot be said for Yap. His stoic performance effectively matches the uptight image of the typical Filipino-Chinese patriarch, or at least the stereotype perpetuated by mainstream media. As such, his acting here is actually tolerable because he fits that profile quite well. However, not every scene is convincing. Take for example that one in which he reunites with his older brother Jason (Eric Quizon), who was shunned by the family and ran off to San Francisco because he is gay. Quizon’s exposure is rather short, but he comes prepared bringing his A-game. His facial expression with tears to match perfectly sums up the yearning a brother must feel for a sibling he has not seen for a long time. And then the camera focuses on Yap, who simply crumples his face as a response. But then again, comparing the two actors is a bit unfair. Yap is a relative newcomer, while Quizon has been acting for decades. It’s just that, if Yap wants to eventually branch out to other roles, he should expand his acting repertoire. That’s what workshops are for.
Perhaps the most important question to ask is whether another Mano Po film is necessary. The subplots presented here are not specific to the Filipino-Chinese community. You don’t have to be Filipino-Chinese to be such a dick to your wife. You don’t have to be Filipino-Chinese to cheat on your husband. You don’t have to be Filipino-Chinese to get addicted to drugs and be sent to rehab. You don’t have to be Filipino-Chinese to be sexually-harassed by your university professor. Taking the generic nature of these dilemmas into consideration, it makes you question the motives of the producer. There is a legit story to tell here, but why place it under the Mano Po umbrella? It could have been any other Filipino family. If you need to associate your narrative with a franchise with name recall, doesn’t that seem tantamount to lack of confidence in the project, as if it wasn’t capable of raking in cash on its own?
The first Mano Po was a good watch because you had three sisters representing the common Filipino-Chinese templates: Maricel Soriano’s dragon lady; Kris Aquino’s doormat wife; and Ara Mina’s rebel black sheep. The concept was also relatively new a decade ago, hailed as a decent take on the community. The sequel featured a new family and was still well-received somehow despite the storyline taking the backseat to give way to its star-studded cast. By the time the third one was released, it already seemed all too gimmicky, like they were just milking the franchise through the MMFF advantage. 4, 5, and 6 were unforgettable enough for people to care. There really is no clamor for another installment. Although Mano Po 7: Chinoy is not as bad as the rest, it doesn’t make it any less redundant. Perhaps it’s about time to give the series a much deserved rest.