Last year, action movies starring male stars failed to fly with the critics and at the box office.
Meanwhile, action movies featuring the most unlikely female stars were on a roll. First, Anne Curtis rocked as a fearless drug enforcer in "BuyBust." Soon after, Erich Gonzales was a tough movie stunt woman in "We Will Not Die Tonight."
This year, it is the turn of sexy actress Cristine Reyes to become an action star. The first two films were top-notch, both earning high ratings from me. Curious to see how Reyes will continue the trend.
Maria (Reyes) led a happy and content home life with her husband Bert (Guji Lorenzana) and daughter Min-min (Johanna Rish Tongcua). Her secret dark past as a hired assassin Lily finally caught up with her when her former boyfriend and partner-in-crime, Kaleb (Ivan Padilla), son of notorious crime boss Ricardo de la Vega (Freddie Webb), spotted her in a crowd and wasted no time to raid her home, turning her idyllic present life upside-down into bloody chaos.
This was one hell of a jaw-dropping, no-holds-barred action film. The violence was all-out and in-your-face, challenging the limits of its R-16 rating. (There are some cinemas showing the Director's Cut, rated R-18.) The shock value started from the very first action sequence, and later was sustained with various mercilessly sadistic ways to kill people.
Director Pedring Lopez knew that people can already watch gunfights for free on TV in "Ang Probinsyano." Action films need to go beyond what they can do on TV so people will go watch them on the big screen, and that is precisely what "Maria" did.
A couple of whistleblowers were hung with hands over their heads, then shot to death point-blank. A baseball bat was used to shatter a person's skull. A teenager was tortured with pliers even as he was already begging for mercy. A man was tied down on a block of ice and tortured with a drill. A pretty head was smashed onto a marble countertop, and stilletto heels were used to complete the kill.
The imagination of fight choreographer Sonny Sison (same guy who worked on the stunts of "BuyBust" as well as various Hollywood films) certainly worked overtime to come up with all of these thrilling hand-to-hand combat or curved-knife fight scenes, mixed with gunfire and explosions for more excitement.
Reyes went over and above my expectations of her. Despite how delicate she may look, she was very credible as a kick-ass action star. As wife and mother Maria, she was all-feminine in dress and manner. However, when pushed to a fight, she faced her enemies head on with her deadly skills in fighting and with weapons. She could wipe out an entire swarm of bad guys with her bare hands or whatever random items she can get her hands on, even in a dress with high heels. As Kaleb said, she is more deadly than his entire troop of goons put together.
Freddie Webb had a better time portraying a ruthless crime lord Dela Vega here than in the dramas I had seen him recently. Ivan Padilla (who actually had a career on US TV under the name Germaine de Leon) and KC Montero played his two English-speaking brat sadist sons Kaleb (the favored yet unreliable son) and Victor (the less favored yet more reliable son). Padilla was a sick hateful impulsive mess of a guy as Kaleb, while Montero in contrast was calmer and restrained. Comic relief was provided by Maria's retired mentor in the assassin trade -- old man Greg, played by Ronnie Lazaro.
The film itself was technically very clean and top-notch, with a slick world-class look. Cinematographer Pao Orendain worked very well balancing light and shadow for a classy dramatic effect. The editing of the fight scenes by Jason Cahapay worked very well with the hard rock-flavored musical score of Jesse Lasaten to whip up an atmosphere of frenetic energy. The sound effects mixing literally took your breath away as you can feel each punch hit hard with bone-crushing force. The promise of a sequel at the end was uncommonly audacious for a Filipino film, and I for one, am rooting for it to come to pass.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."