January 3, 2012
"Manila Kingpin" is a very good-looking movie. The remarkable black and white photography is very sharp and striking. The camera angles were very well-placed and dramatic in composition. The period costumes and set design were meticulously planned and paid attention to. All the supporting characters, from Asiong's policeman elder brother Doming (Phillip Salvador), his wife Fidela (Carla Abellana), his gang mates (Baron Geisler, Yul Servo, Dennis Padilla, Ketchup Eusebio, Amay Bisaya) to his arch rival Totoy Golem (John Regala), everyone looks and feels right for their respective parts. The action sequences, be they gun battles or fist fights, were quite well-choreographed and executed.
However, the main problem about this film is the lead actor himself, Jeorge 'ER' Ejercito. He did not have the right look nor charisma to pull off this lead character. He tries his best, but there seemed to be difficulty to fit. He did not project well in his scenes with Salvador, Regala, as well as those with Jay Manalo, who played his protector in prison, all of whom can dominate the screen much better than Estregan. His scenes with Abellana had an unfortunate DOM ("dirty old man") feel to them, instead of sincere marital love. These problems can be explained when it was revealed at the end that the real Asiong died at the young age of 27! Ejercito must be twice that age already by now, hence the very tight fit. At the very first scene, it did not look and sound right when Asiong was told that "may gatas ka pa sa labi" ("you still have milk on your lips") at Estregan's age!
Overall though, the hard work and sincere efforts for excellence can be felt while watching the film. Director Tikoy Aguiluz certainly seemed to have nothing to be ashamed of with this final print we saw in the theaters, so I am also very curious what these controversial re-shot and re-edited scenes were that caused him to want his name stricken off the project. My one suspicion would be the final gun battle-royale in the rain, which was very well shot, but was curiously scored with the slow version of "Mad World" of Tears for Fears. I felt this score was inappropriate and awkward to the time period and to the culture. An original Filipino sad melody would have been better. Anyway, that is only a minor quibbling observation. This nostalgic film is worth watching especially for fans who miss traditional Filipino action films. It deserved all the awards given to it during the recent MMFF awards night -- Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Supporting Actor, Cinematography, Production Design, Editing, Sound, and Theme Song.