mon 24/06/2024

Metro Manila | reviews, news & interviews

Metro Manila

Metro Manila

The big city corrupts in misguided Filipino thriller

Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal), his wife Mai (Althea Vega) and their daughters arrive in the big city in 'Metro Manila'

The malign influence of the big city on countryside folk has fuelled filmmakers since cinema had the means to produce feature-length productions. In 1927, with the America-made Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, F. W. Murnau brought the disruptive forces of the urban to a farmer in the form of a woman. Following her back to city, he suffered the consequences.

In this tradition Metro Manila, filmed in the Philippines, has nothing affirmative to say about the islands’s capital city.

Oscar Ramirez (Jake Macapagal) is a rice farmer in the Philippines’ Banaue Province with a wife and two young daughters. On selling his annual crop, the money he realises isn’t enough to buy the seed to sow for the next year's. He decides that the only way his family can survive is by leaving for capital city Metro Manila where he plans to find work. On arriving, at a job agency he meets a man who takes to him and his family to a block where he says they can rent a room. Oscar hands all his money over as rent, but he’s ripped off – it’s a squat and everyone in there is soon turfed out by the police.

Metro Manila John Arcilla OngLuckily, after being recognised as an army veteran, Oscar gets a job working for a security company which runs armoured trucks ferrrying cash. His partner, charged with training him, initially seems paternalistic. Soon, it’s revealed that Ong (John Arcilla, pictured right) has plans for the naïve Oscar and wants his help in setting up a raid on the truck. It goes wrong and Oscar is pushed to his limits, taking desperate action to help his family.

When Oscar and his wife Mai (Althea Vega) first arrive in the city their older daughter, seduced by the bright lights, asks, “Daddy, is this the place we come to when we die?” Metro Manila is not heaven though and, as seen in an overused and offensive visual metaphor, the family are as vulnerable as new-born kittens.

Everyone they encounter is on the make, on the take or out to use them. When they move to Tondo, the city’s slum area, a neighbour helpfully gives Mai the contact details for somewhere she may get a job. She becomes a hostess in strip joint where women work as prostitutes. Mai leaves her children in the changing room while she sits, forlorn with a painted face, waiting for a client she can cajole into buying drinks (pictured below left). She is corrupted. So is Oscar. The lawless city is brutal.

Metro Manila Althea Vega Mai Although Metro Manila is filmed with a fine eye for detail, and Macapagal and Vega draw their characters sympathetically, this is an impossible film to warm to. The one-sided take on the Philippines’ capital is wearing, as is the faux-documentary style which rat-tat-tats headache-inducingly in action scenes

Kudos to British director and former fashion photographer Sean Ellis for making it in the Tagalog language, but aside from the acting and Robin Foster’s atmospheric music nothing convinces in this shallow cartoon.

Ellis has said the inspiration was seeing two armed armoured truck drivers arguing with each other by their truck while he was on a visit to the city. He was also motivated by the tragic story of Philippine hijacker Reginald Chua, who had to close the family business after his father was murdered by a local criminal gang. Ellis’s motives may have been sound, but in practice the sledgehammer unsubtle result is a form of cultural tourism which leaves a bad taste. It premieres in the Philippines in October. The reaction there will be of interest. 

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Overleaf: watch the trailer for Metro Manila



Metro Manila has nothing affirmative to say about the Philippines’s capital city.


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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