Manila Kingpin: The Untold Story of Asiong Salonga. A bad review

This isn’t a full movie review. Look elsewhere for the professionalism.

*WARNING: SPOILERS*

I had high expectations for Manila Kingpin. I wasn’t looking for a deep movie, or a dramatic one. I wanted to be entertained by an action film with sufficiently epic scenes, and I wanted a narrative I could lose myself in.

The movie’s action scenes didn’t disappoint. They were brutal, the choreography was done well, and there were many creative set-ups along with more conventional ones (such as “gunfight in warehouse”).

But this movie loves its action too much. They keep coming and coming and coming. Running to the bathroom means missing two gunfights and one hand-to-hand. You’ll have one scene of dialogue, and then suddenly the camera cuts to a completely different scene and a massive gunfight breaks out. Cut to another scene, say Asiong Salonga talking to his wife, and then the next scene is a fistfight. The cuts are so abrupt that the story loses all coherence. Unfortunately, this takes away from the action scenes as well. Part of the reason why epic action scenes are epic is because there’s some sort of lead-up, a little bit of suspense. But the action scenes are thrown in so fast and so frequently that they start blending into one another. As a result, the final gunfight wasn’t any more exciting than the first one. I could certainly appreciate its artistry, but none of them had any raw emotional pull.

Nevertheless, I found myself impatiently waiting for the next spray of bullets or brandishing of knives, because the plot was so chopped up and had so many missed opportunities. The biggest problem with this movie is that it struggles to be cohesive, and that’s no mean feat when the plot is so simple. They threw in lots of little expository scenes in order to flesh out Asiong Salonga’s character, such as him being a family man yet being prone to infidelity, or his protection racket being a relatively kind one compared to others’. But there are just too many scenes in this movie, little snippets of dialogue, many of which don’t add anything significant. It’s as if they split the exposition into tiny pieces and scattered them throughout the whole movie (even as late as in the last 30 minutes) because they were afraid that if they didn’t show an action scene every 2 minutes the viewers would get bored.

The film is called Manila Kingpin: The Untold Story of Asiong Salonga, and so obviously you expect that the highlight of the movie should be Asiong Salonga. But Asiong was a one-dimensional character through and through: never in the film did any kind of tension occur, never did Asiong ever have to struggle with himself in making a decision. There were lots of opportunities for tension: there was an infidelity angle that was quickly thrown away after two scenes, and a political angle whose setup was completely unbelievable. A prospective Liberal Party councilor hands Asiong a pamphlet and tells Asiong that they’ll help the people in his territory out and boom, Asiong is a hardcore party stalwart. No attempt to explore Asiong’s motivations is made, and never does the film even imply what possible benefit LP affiliation brings him. You get the feeling that the only reason they tossed the LP scene in was because they were trying to make a historically accurate film but didn’t have room to shove everything in. So you get a scene where Asiong stoutly declares “hindi ako balimbing!” before chasing the Nacionalista Party off his porch, and you wonder whether you missed that critical scene that explains Asiong’s loyalty.

I can’t help compare Asiong Salonga with Don Corleone in The Godfather. Although Don Corleone’s character was presented in a more subtle way, he was also ultimately a one-dimensional character, all about family and respect for his community, and just like Asiong Salonga, those principles played a large role in his undoing. But Don Corleone wasn’t the main character of The Godfather. The main character was his son Michael Corleone, and the movie was ultimately about Michael’s conflict between leading a straight-arrow life and following in the footsteps of his father. The titular character, the Godfather, became a side story.

The problem with Manila Kingpin is that Asiong Salonga is the main character, and thus the movie suffers from its focus on him. The script could have deepened Asiong’s character. Or if, say, the movie had given Asiong’s policeman brother a larger role – developing the tension exhibited in his character between his family and his duty much more – then the final scene would have the huge emotional resonance it was desperately trying to elicit. That was the biggest wasted angle of all.

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