Thursday, January 4, 2024

Penduko

♣♣♣/♣♣♣♣♣

Gifted with supernatural abilities, Pedro Penduko (Matteo Guidicelli) lives his life as a bum despite having good potential, using his powers for what would be considered as petty crime if discovered. Things change for him when he is stalked by a recruiter working for Hatinggabi, an agency hosting an underground magic academy and providing income opportunities for people like him. Headed by enigmatic Gat Blanco (Albert Martinez), the school consists of instructors teaching the likes of sensing spirits, creating talismans, and healing those who are maliciously attacked by other gifted individuals that use their abilities to inflict harm. Pedro trains with strong willed Liway (Kylie Versoza) who becomes his buddy as they transition from students to field agents. Meanwhile, their other classmate Saki (Arron Villaflor), who has dark inclinations, fails to graduate and is hired by competing agency Takipsilim, also headed by Blanco but conceptualized for more sinister purposes. In the end, Pedro comes face to face with his father Apo Tisot (John Arcilla), a powerful gifted individual who prefers to help rural indigents instead of capitalizing on his gifts.

I was ready to give this film four stars because I put more weight on the screenplay as well as the style of storytelling. Penduko’s plot unfolds just like any other magical adventure that involves a hero who taps into his potential after squandering it. Even the themes and conflicts are oddly familiar, which means this movie could have been great, had they played their cards right. Unfortunately, two aspects just draw away from that potential: the mediocre CGI that makes everything look cartoonish; and lead star Guidicelli thinking he could overact his way out of this without us noticing. Surprise, Matteo. We noticed. You were distracting AF.

It starts off with ticks and nuances that are a bit annoying but initially dismissed as character flaws. At least that’s how it is during the first half. And then everything just devolves into overacting as he reaches the second half. Guidicelli has several scenes where he just yells out of the blue resulting in an awkward execution that is just so out of place. As a viewer, you can feel that the director has something in mind as to how Penduko should be, and then Guidicelli tackles it in a way where their respective visions simply don’t meet. Since he plays the main character and he is on screen all the time, there is no escaping from it.

More workshops or hiring an actor with more depth could have solved that issue. As for the special effects, it is not bad per se, but not something you would like to see on the big screen. It looked like it was just a notch higher from fantasy soap opera VFX, meaning we wouldn’t be having a lot of complaints had this been a TV series shown on a local channel. This is a movie, though, so the points of comparison, and there are so many of them both local and foreign, would just be hard to evade. Better effects would’ve made this movie a little more epic but as mentioned, it ended up looking a bit cartoonish.

As for the storyline, it is always fun watching such a premise but localized to give tribute to the country’s folklore and mythology. Superstitions and the like are the enemy of progress so we usually frown upon this in real life. Despite the negative view, these still form part of our rich heritage as a nation and the best way to preserve them is through film, literature, and TV. AS FICTION. As such, it is nice to witness how the writer/director really laid down the mechanics for whatever magic was involved and have us watch them over and over. This material would’ve been better off as a TV series so they could’ve expounded even more. I'd watch.

As for comparisons with old renditions of the character, I’m afraid I’ve never really seen any of them. I know that a character called Pedro Penduko exists, but I have zero knowledge about his lore. With the absence of comparison, I must say I still enjoyed the film because there is a serious attempt at legit storytelling here, and very Pinoy to the core, to boot. At least they tried, despite knowing that this might just be dismissed as a ripoff of this or that Hollywood franchise. I also really loved the "what-if" concept of "old school Pinoy witchcraft meets modern-day capitalism."

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