Regal’s franchise began less than 15 years ago with Ara Mina, portraying the rebellious granddaughter of a wealthy Filipino-Chinese tycoon, parading her exposed butt cheeks during a formal reception. From there, the film hurriedly navigates its way through the various stories of each of the family’s members in the hopes of portraying the Chinese diaspora in the most melodramatic way possible.
Diminishing charms and strengths
In a way, the first Mano Po movie sets the tone and intent for all of the films that would carry the name of the franchise. It is, however, problematic. Having ripened into formula, the Mano Po movies have become utterly predictable. Their weaknesses are all the same. Their charms and strengths diminish every time a new movie is released.
Aside from the frustrating repeat of themes and plotlines, the films also never graduate from treating the culture they exploit as a cesspool of stereotypes. The films always have a rags-to-riches story of a stern patriarch who migrates from his homeland to the Philippines, a frowned-upon cross-cultural romance, brushes with corrupt politicians, and crime.
The franchise’s representation of the diaspora it seeks to explore is myopic, grounded not on authentic experiences but on what the mass market perceives the Filipino-Chinese experience is through decades of media misrepresentation.
So how do you solve a problem like Mano Po?
Ian Loreños’ Mano Po 7: Chinoy doesn’t exactly change the rules of the franchise. It is still a multi-faceted narrative that dwells on the not-so-unique experiences of a Filipino-Chinese family living in Manila.
Wilson Wong, Sr. (Richard Yap), the family’s patriarch, is another stern tycoon who was forced to build his real estate empire from scratch. His wife Debbie (Jean Garcia) is again the submissive type whose passions are repressed by her place in the family. Their young adult children, Wilson, Jr. (Enchong Dee) and Carol (Janella Salvador), are wrestling with problems that are all too familiar.
However, despite the crippling allegiance of Senedy Que’s screenplay to the formula, the film manages to feel somewhat fresh, at least for a franchise that is hopelessly repetitive. Loreños treats his material with dignity, crafting a film that bestows all of its stereotypical characters with facets that render them more human than before.
In fact, some of the individual dramas are genuinely affecting. For example, Debbie’s thread, which exposes the weaknesses of an emotionally caged housewife, has moments that are lovely despite its fealty to the convenient flows of an infidelity drama.
Unfortunately, Mano Po 7 suffers from its insistence on holding on to multiple narratives. Carol’s story, which seesaws between her inability to decide what course she wants to take in college and an indefinite romance with a schoolmate, is slight and distracting. Similarly, Wilson, Jr.’s plot, which has him trying his best to start anew after brushes with drugs, is thin on romance and loud on exposition.
Making most of the formula
Loreños doesn’t really solve the problem of Mano Po.
He, however, makes most of what the formula can provide. He acknowledges the limitations of working within the rules and narrow expectations of a franchise that has represented a culture through stereotypes and repetitions for almost 15 years. He doesn’t reinvent the wheel. He only makes sure that it works and does not offend by lazy crafting.
Mano Po 7 is fine melodrama. Sure, it can get uneven, especially when it starts rushing towards an unsurprising conclusion after indulging on exploring the different lives of each of the family members. Overall, the film is a solid effort in carving something entertaining and worthwhile from a mold that has been rendered feckless by abject inauthenticity. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas’ ‘Tirad Pass.’ Since then, he’s been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.
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