Even before it was shown in theaters on Christmas Day, the Metro Manila Film Festival movie MANILA KINGPIN: THE ASIONG SALONGA STORY was already making showbiz headlines — not because of its good reviews from critics — but by a feud between the film’s director Tikoy Aguiluz and its producers. According to Aguiluz, the producers and the lead actor, Governor E. R. Ejercito (a.k.a. George Estregan Jr.), had re-shot and re-edited some portions of the film and also did changes to film’s score. The famed director has filed suit against the producers in the Intellectual Property Office of the Philippines for violation of Republic Act 8293, and has also requested for his name as director to be removed from the film’s credits and advertisements. I saw these changes reflected after seeing the film this afternoon.
I anticipated this film due to the fact that the story of Asiong Salonga is one which has eluded my historical knowledge for a long time, and also due to reports that it is going to provide some fresh look on Philippine action cinema (being shot in neo-noir style and directed by Aguiluz). Knowing Philippine action cinema to be full of clichés (such as womanizing heroes in lead roles with a bunch of goofy friends/henchmen, sinister antagonist also with a bunch of goofy henchmen, lead actors who seem to be bullet proof until the film’s climax, and all that), I was expecting something better from Asiong.
For a cliché Philippine action film, this is a good one. I could say its way better than the films made by Ramon “Bong” Revilla or Robin Padilla in the 90s and early 2000s because of two things: the cinematography and musical score. Being shot in black and white and in high quality helps a lot for the film to be nominated Best Picture in the MMFF. The slow paced action scenes (especially between Salonga and Pepeng Hapon in the rain) really had me at awe. It almost looked as if its in 3D. The musical score is also new and remarkable for a Pinoy action film, although, the use of Tears for Fears’ Mad World at the closing fight scene really surprised me a bit (Governor Ejercito must be really a fan of the song), but I think it had a good effect on that scene.
However, in terms of story, it still retains what’s cliché in Philippine action films. Turong Pajo shoots the entire Salonga gang, and yet they still survive even as bullet holes went through the drinking table. Salonga’s policeman brother (played by Philip Salvador) gets shot by Totoy Golem’s men through the plastic sheeting and still survives. The timeline was a bit sketchy as noted by my surprise upon seeing Fidela Salonga (played by Carla Abellana) having first to third child in no time, or by the fact that Jaycee Parker was also another of Asiong’s flings without the audience knowing when and how. I didn’t even notice that Vice Ganda was in the film (a comfort gay in the bar Asiong frequents, apparently). I also feel that Governor Ejercito and Carla Abellana (and even Jay Manalo as prison mayor) are not a match in terms of age (the real Salonga was 27 at his death). It’s either both Carla and Jay should be replaced with actors closer to age with the governor, or the other way around.
The story was not faithful to actual accounts as well; while Salonga was indeed a rabid Liberal Party sympathizer, it was not mentioned that the actual circumstance behind his death was his sudden change of allegiance to the Nacionalista Party (“Gang Rivalvry Ends the Career of Toughie”. The Manila Chronicle. October 8, 1951). While Ernesto “Erning Toothpick” Reyes was indeed the one who assassinated the kingpin, the film portrays Salonga’s disappointment and Reyes’ removal from the group as the catalyst towards the former’s death. I am also disappointed that the production company opted to hire a Thai stunt coordinator when we have a lot of Filipino martial arts experts who’ve worked in Hollywood films before.
Governor Ejercito, in an interview with Boy Abunda in Bandila last December 23, announced that the film will herald the return of “quality action films”. In terms of innovation, I agree with the governor; but in terms of story, not quite. In the end, the film reminds me of the original 1961 Asiong Salonga starring Joseph Estrada, but instead of a Thompson M1928, Asiong — with the same cliché kingpin attitude — uses a Heckler & Koch 41 to rain fire on his enemies (if you know what I mean). But who knows, the film can be a test case for more quality Filipino action films to come. With veteran directors Tikoy Aguiluz and other, and a promising breed of talented Filipino actors and actresses, we have something to look forward to.
Originally published in: http://pilipinas360.blogspot.com/2011/12/review-manila-kingpin-asiong-salonga.html