Last December, we saw the usual “bad” Pinoy movies storm our country’s theaters, courtesy of MMFF 2021. It’s become a tradition already; although this time – people were livid. Spider-Man: No Way Home couldn’t be shown in theaters.
Instead, Pinoy Marvel fans were greeted with the usual lineup of corny comedies and cheesy rom-coms. It sparked thoughtful-yet-pretentious debates in social media, mostly about Philippine cinema becoming worse compared to other countries. But following the trail of drama, however, one thing was reliably consistent: it seems as if nobody watched the films themselves!
So what if someone told you that these “bad” Pinoy movies are the best thing for Philippine cinema moving forward?
Well, you have to take a look at how well the lineup did to find the answer.
1. A Hard Day
Directed by Law Fajardo
AWARDS: MMFF 2021 3rd Best Picture, Best Editing, Best Sound
‘A Hard Day’ is a local adaptation of the 2014 Korean film of the same name. It was supposed to be part of MMFF 2020 but was canceled due to the pandemic.
This noir movie is highly reminiscent of the works of renowned director Erik Matti, whose narratives consistently dabbles with the greyness of morality. It begins with a corrupt detective named Villon (Dingdong Dantes) who runs over a homeless man. Villon then tries to hide the body in his mother’s coffin on the day of her funeral. Eventually, grievous problems arise for our anti-hero when Lieutenant Alas (John Arcilla) comes in and says he saw the said collision.
Now, Detective Villon must choose between keeping his secret or losing his job. It is up to him to decide how far out he will go.
SCORE: 8.75 out of 10
2. Big Night!
Directed by Jun Robles Lana
AWARDS: MMFF 2021 Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Musical Score, Best Actor in a Leading Role (Christian Bables), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (John Arcilla), Gender Sensitivity Award
‘Big Night!’ had a literal BIG NIGHT in this year’s MMFF. Taking home eight awards (including the highly sought-after Best Picture), the movie mercilessly annihilated all its competition. It essentially proved itself to be the champion of Filipino cinema last 2021, and most probably will be a ‘classic’ for years to come.
It follows Dharna (Christian Bables), a gay hairdresser from the slums who suddenly finds his name on the barangay ‘watch list’. For those who don’t know, a watch list is a document of suspected drug addicts and pushers who often became targets for summary executions.
Immediately, Dharna goes on a journey towards proving her innocence knowing that she did nothing wrong. But as we traverse through its jolly narrative, we’re also navigating the societal structures where being gay, poor, and persecuted only leads to unwarranted prejudice.
SCORE: 10 out of 10
3. Huling Ulan sa Tag-Araw
Directed by Louie Ignacio
AWARDS: MMFF 2021 Best Original Theme Song
Starring Rita Daniela and Ken Chan, the movie is a romantic comedy that follows Luisa (Rita Daniela), a sexy dancer, and Luis (Ken Chan), a seminarian, who fall intimately in love with each other.
The film opens with Luis, given leave by the seminary to dutifully prepare himself for priesthood. He has to tie loose ends, so to speak. Later, he unintentionally disrupts Luisa’s transaction with a client. Luis then pays her money, in exchange for going with him to his parents’ house in Pagsanjan for compensation.
‘Huling Ulan sa Tag-Araw’ is not your usual cheesy rom-com. Rather, it bravely juxtaposes the moral principles our conservative Filipino traditions are rooted in and shakes them to their core.
SCORE: 7 out of 10
4. Huwag Kang Lalabas
Directed by Adolfo Alix Jr.
AWARDS: MMFF 2021 Best Float
Important note: MMFF isn’t complete without horror movies.
‘Huwag Kang Lalabas’ is a Philippine horror anthology separated into three episodes: ‘Kumbento’, ‘Bahay’, and ‘Hotel’. You might as well say that this is a new and rebranded ‘Shake, Rattle, & Roll’.
However, it is unique in a sense that other than the overwhelming terror it provides, ‘Huwag Kang Lalabas’ is also laced with a recurring theme of hope, serenity, and perseverance.
To be honest, this movie would score higher if we rated each chapter individually. Some chapters are stronger than the others, but for fairness’ sake, it’s rated the way it was meant to be.
SCORE: 5.75 out of 10
5. Kun Maupay Man It Panahon (Whether the Weather is Fine)
Directed by Carlo Francisco Manatad
AWARDS: MMFF 2021 2nd Best Picture, MMFF Jury Prize Award (Daniel Padilla), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Charo Santos), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Rans Rifol), Gatpuno Antonio J Villegas Cultural Award, Best Production Design, Best Visual Effects
‘Kun Maupay Man it Panahon (Whether the Weather is Fine)’ came into our lives like the storm that ravaged its setting. Coming off from its stellar and captivating trailer, this film garnered the most anticipation out of all the films in the lineup.
Moreover, the movie’s set to compete in a litany of international film festivals such as Switzerland’s Locarno Film Festival and the Toronto International Festival. It also won numerous awards including ‘Best Director’ at the London East Asia Film Festival.
The film follows young Miguel (Daniel Padilla) as he struggles to survive and cope in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda. Cold, alone, and starving, he searches for his girlfriend Andrea (MNL48’s Francinne Rifol), and his mother Norma (Charo Santos-Concio).
Now, he must choose whether to rebuild their lives in Tacloban or leave the city for greener pastures.
If you’re itching to see what the future looks like for Philippine cinema, look at this movie. Sure, there may still be horrible films, but ‘Kun Maupay in Panahon’ will always blow it all away with its gritty, sympathetic, and nuanced narrative.
SCORE: 10 out of 10
6. Love at First Stream
Directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina
‘Love at First Stream’ is directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina, whose ‘Hello, Love, Goodbye’ is the highest-grossing Philippine film of all time. Garcia-Molina is well-known for her deeply nuanced verses in romantic narratives, and this “digital tale” offers a fresh look at traditional romantic tropes.
Set in a world where life has become widely digital, it follows Vilma (Daniela Stranner), an up-and-coming streamer looking for her big break. This coming-of-age story is about a group of friends who explore love and friendships online as a form to escape their largely dull, or problematic realities.
Though, of course, there will come a time where these two realities (online and offline) will subsequently force their way into each other. And it’s wholly up to these teenagers to decide whether it’s worth the risks or not.
SCORE: 7.25 out of 10
Directed by Lester Dimaranan
From director Lester Dimaranan comes this suspense drama dedicated to our healthcare workers. ‘Nelia’ is another one of the numerous political narratives included in MMFF 2021.
Fun fact: Lester Dimaranan and his team did extensive research about schizophrenia in order to properly depict its effects.
The film revolves around the mystery behind the deaths of patients admitted to the hospital’s Room 009, as well as the employees working inside the building. Largely following a schizophrenic nurse, ‘Nelia’ is a narrative about the relationship between the objective truth and the human psyche. It is a gripping tale of terror, mystery, and mental well-being that touches more on the psychological elements of the story rather than the apparent narrative.
SCORE: 8.0 out of 10
8. The Exorsis
Directed by Fifth Solomon
Lastly, the final entry to the 2021 Metro Manila Film Festival is ‘The Exorsis’.
This horror-comedy slash parody of The Exorcist will see Toni and Alex Gonzaga appear in the same movie since 2018’s ‘Mary, Marry Me’. Toni and Alex play sisters with a strained relationship, but they must put their differences aside when Alex’s character gets possessed by a demon.
‘The Exorsis’ is a heartwarming movie that is deeply rooted within our Filipino values and principles about family.
SCORE: 4.25 out of 10
Well, there you have it! For those who watched them in theaters, were they as “bad” as you thought they’d be?
While it’s true that Philippine cinema is still a long way from attaining the stellar credibility like Halyuwood (Korea) has, it sure is a step towards something better. Judging from this lineup, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve marginally improved from non-substantial comedies, overused clichés, and shallow narratives.
But ultimately, it’s up to you if you want to help our local film industry get that glitter back from the times of Ishmael Bernal and Lino Brocka. However, if you’re willing to, always remember that helping our industry grow only takes a cheap and simple step:
You just have to buy a ticket.