Honestly, this was one of those films I did not plan to watch at first. The title did not interest me, thinking it would be just another one of those biopics about a young boxer, much like those films about Manny Pacquiao. However, since the Cinemalaya festival began, I only read good things about this film in social media. The enthusiastically positive word of mouth intrigued me, and actually pushed me to go see it by all means.
Eleven-year old Francis "Kiko" Arenas lives in a well-furnished bungalow and studies in a nice private school in Baguio City. However, since his mom had passed away, he is now only living under the care of his loyal nanny Diday, until his relatives in the US could bring him over there. When Kiko finds out that his long-estranged father George had come back to town, the boy makes an extra effort to reestablish a bond with the boxer.
Word of mouth is right about this film: "Kiko Boksingero" is quite a winner. The choice of beautiful Baguio City as a picturesque setting was a winner, captured artfully by cinematographer Marvin Reyes. The wholesome coming-of-age story was a winner, as written by Denise O'Hara and Ash Malanum. The smart choice of music in the score was a winner, as arranged by Pepe Manikan. That was one beautiful theme song over the closing credits. But above all, the precious performance of Noel Comia Jr. in the title role was a clear knockout winner.
I have seen Comia before in a couple of stage plays in Rep ("The Secret Garden") and Ballet Philippines ("Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko"). Both times, he stole the scene with his strong stage presence, verve and crystal clear singing voice. "Kiko" is his first time in a central lead role in a feature film, and he already acts like a veteran. Despite his stage background, his acting here is restrained, with his expressive face doing most of the work. His performance is powerful, confident, and carried the whole film well. If the jurors be fair, he should be considered for Best Actor.
Yayo Aguila plays the over-protective and loving nanny and guardian Diday. She played her smart and dependable, no traditional yaya caricature here. Yul Servo, as the father George, had a natural rapport with Comia. There is an uneasy distance at first, of course, but the steady development of their father-son relationship was believable and movingly portrayed. I was surprised to catch Angel Aquino in there in a small blink-and-you'll-miss-i cameo.
Thop Nazareno had worked as an editor in noted indie films like "Purok 7" (2013) and "Kusina" (2016) before, as he did also here. "Kiko" is Nazareno's debut as a feature film director and the promise is definitely there. He directed his actors well to deliver understated yet charmingly effective performances as an ensemble. While there may be moments of pain and bitterness here, this film stands out over most indie films because of its generally sunny disposition and positive message, delivered in delicate subtlety. 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."