Wednesday, March 15, 2017

SINAG MANILA 2017: Review of KRISTO: A Cockpit Chronicle

March 14, 2017

In Filipino, the title word "Kristo" means two very different things. The meaning familiar to more people is "Christ," meaning savior or redeemer, as in Jesus Christ. The second is more colloquial usage of the word to refer to "bet-takers" in the sport of cockfighting. It was supposed to have been given because these bet-takers always had their arms raised and outstretched when taking in bets from various gamblers.

In the opening scene of this indie drama, we see the first meaning of the title.  We were brought inside the carnival-like Good Friday rites in Pampanga, After a few minutes of seeing the bloody flagellation and crucifixion there, the rest of the film would be set in Northern Metro Manila, with most scenes shot in the Sta. Quiteria Cockpit Arena in Caloocan City, where the second meaning of title held sway. 

Boy Saging has four children with his hardworking and practical wife Annette. The couple run a stall in the Balintawak Clover selling bananas. His main occupation though was as a cockpit kristo. The whole film was set on one fateful day when his eldest daughter Jemjem is graduating salutatorian from elementary school. However, that day, his boss, the wealthy but cranky cockfight enthusiast Tonyo is also demanding Boy's time and services.

This film had many hallmarks of an indie film. The pace was very slow, with a dizzying shaky camera to shake up a sense of action where there was barely any. The cockpit dynamics among the kristos and bettors did not pulsate with excitement. The most mundane scenes were played out so lengthily without any apparent purpose in forwarding the plot. If not for the interminable graduation rites scenes (where we even got to hear the Philippine National Anthem sung almost in full), or those long and repetitive cockfighting scenes (some even in slow-motion), this would be a much shorter film with its simple plot. 

We witnessed quite a number of fighting cocks die during their fights. We even see the process by which these dead loser were dressed ready to be cooked for dinner. There was even a scene about one of those poor chicks we see with dyed feathers being sold to gullible and careless children. An ominous gloomy pall was cast over the whole film by these scenes even if they were happening to animals.

Lead actor Kristofer King was really raw and natural as Boy Saging, as if he were not acting at all. There were actually no big dramatic moments in his role. Everything was so matter-of-fact and straightforward, that was why it was so remarkable, a very real portrayal. King had been acting in indie films since "Babae sa Breakwater" back in 2003 (which merited a Best Actor nomination from the Gawad Urian no less). It was clear why he won Best Actor for this Sinag Manila film fest (in a tie with RS Francisco in the film "Bhoy Instik").

It looked as if veteran actor Julio Diaz was lazily acting in the role of the self-centered Boss Tonyo, almost like he was merely phoning it in. Yet even so, his effortless performance impressed the jury enough to give him the Best Supporting Performance award (this is overall, no distinction between male and female actors). Angela Cortez had a winning screen presence as Boy's wife Annette. It is just that she looked too young and svelte to be a mom with four kids.

Aside from the two acting awards, "Kristo" also won for Best Production Design, Best Editing and Best Sound, making it the second most awarded film in this festival. 

Director HF Yambao had more polish in his previous film, "Best Partee Ever," which coincidentally also won its lead actor JC de Vera the Best Actor award in the QCinema Filmfest 2016. However, "Kristo" is really not supposed to look polished. It had to look and feel raw and unstaged, like reality as it was unfolding in front of our eyes, grit, sweat, stench, rough corners and all. It had its merits, but I just wish the film as a whole, like good fried chicken, had more tasty meat in it than starchy extenders. 5/10.

*** Postscript: 

It was interesting to find out from an old blog post by director Jason Paul Laxamana (LINK) that there was already an older indie film also entitled "Kristo" which also tackled the worlds of cockfighting and Holy Week rituals of Cutud in Pampanga. This was a 2008 film by Jerwin Espiritu starring Jay Manalo. I have not seen that older one, but with its tagline "Life is a cockfight," I am guessing that the themes are probably similar. I am not sure if that first "Kristo" film was ever completed or released.


  1. Hi Fred! Thank you for the review.
    FYI: Kristo was shot a few months ahead of Best. Partee. Ever.
    - HF

  2. The movie sounds interesting. In India all sports involving animals are under a lot of scrutiny

  3. It seems like a boring Film. But I'm wondering why it garnered a lot of awards.

  4. I think that I won't watch for that kind of movie as it seems like it just shows mundane settings. Maybe I am just not a movie type of person. Your post reminds me that we are now in our Holy Season.

  5. I really like that Philippine cinema is trying to take a step back from cheesy romcoms nowadays. I guess they have a lot of figuring out to do especially with Kristo :O

  6. This movie sounds good and exciting! Want to watch it soon. Very interesting and quite pretty cool.

  7. The movie captures the Filipinos love for bets. My father also loved cockfighting when he was still alive. This can really show a portion of our culture.

  8. A movie about cockfighting, that's interesting! We have the sport here in India too! If possible do check out the Tamil movie called Aadukalam. A superhit movie that came a few years back on the same subject.

  9. I heard this movie from a friend. Yes, indie films has slow pacing but I think, that makes it more realistic.

  10. haha... is that sarcasm when you said "as if he were not acting at all."? Well, I'm not a fan of animal fights/ cruelty so this is probably not a film I will catch anyhow!