"Mano Po" is a series of movies dedicated to telling stories about the Filipino-Chinese (or Chinoy) community. I had seen that first one in 2002 that starred Maricel Soriano and Kris Aquino as sisters. That one swept the Metro Manila Film Fest awards that year, if I am not mistaken. I had seen some of these sequels, but the following films did not really match the critical and box office success of the first one.
Prior to this one, the "Mano Po 6" starring Sharon Cuneta was shown back in 2009. It is Regal Films 50th Anniversary this year, so the Monteverdes wanted this latest episode to be their entry in the Metro Manila Film Fest, like the others before it. However, due to changes in judging parameters, this one (directed by Ian Lorenos and written by Senedy Que) did not make it to the Magic 8. Regal decided to release it a week before the festival instead. I'm not sure why they subtitled this one "Chinoy", when all the films in the series were already about Chinoys.
I wanted to watch this film because for once a real Chinoy actor is in the lead, Richard Yap. I thought this would certainly up the authenticity of the film, which did not always do well previously due to casting of talented but obviously non-Chinoy actors, like Vilma Santos, Sharon Cuneta, Zsa Zsa Padilla, or Angel Locsin as leads. As a result, the Fukienese Chinese dialog, one of the unique features of this series, sounded stilted and awkward.
The Wongs have been married for 25 years. Wilson (Richard Yap) has been too engrossed with his upscale real estate business, and his wife Deborah (Jean Garcia) feels she is being ignored. The eldest child and only boy, Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee), is their black sheep, a bum and drug addict who frequently brought shame to the family. Their daughter Carol (Janella Salvador) is a music student majoring in cello at the university, but really wanted to take up voice instead. The subplots about Wilson's wife and children unfortunately felt generic and contrived, and not uniquely Chinoy. These issues have been tackled in many other local films before.
Richard Yap gets to speak not only Fukienese here, but also Mandarin. Even if the character he is playing is the stereotype cold Chinese businessman, I feel this is the best performance I have seen him in, thanks to his connection with the language of the script. I usually see him as stiff and uncomfortable in his TV roles. But here, his scenes with his Chinese co-stars playing his mother and his auntie were all on point.
Garcia, Dee and Salvador do well, but are limited by the way their characters were written. They all had dramatic highlights which they performed well, as we have seen them play on TV. I felt it was a waste how Dee was not made to deliver lines in Fukienese as well. I think this would have made their father and son confrontation scenes better. I guess this is also to show how the younger generation is losing touch with their Chinese heritage, even in strictly traditional households. The role of the youngest daughter Catherine (played by a miscast Jana Agoncillo) did not seem necessary at all.
The roles played by Jake Cuenca (as Deborah's customer Marco) and Kean Cipriano (as Carol's music teacher Denver) were obvious from their first scenes, as with Marlo Mortel (as Carol's classmate Henry). We have seen them play these characters on TV before. Jessy Mendiola felt totally wrong in her role as Jocelyn Lee, a girl Wilson Jr. met in the drug rehab facility. Her sexy scenes with Dee were out of place in the film. Eric Quizon, though, connected very well with his role of Wilson's estranged older brother, Jason.
For me, the best performer in the whole film was the incandescent Rebecca Chuaunsu, who played Wilson's mother, Erlinda. I do not think I had seen her act before on TV or other films, but her screen presence here was simply so radiant, outshining her other more famous co-actors. I recognize several strong Chinoy senior ladies I know and love in her effective and moving portrayal of her dignified character and in her delivery of those lines brimming with wisdom. She never became over-melodramatic, which was refreshing.
Those flashback scenes in sepia still resonate with nostalgic effect, as they did in previous "Mano Po" films. With the number of films in the series, there are already repetitions with regards to the Chinoy customs shown, like the engagement ceremony. Those scenes of the family visiting the elaborate Buddha Memorial Center in Kaoshiung, Taiwan felt like a travelogue only with no distinct dramatic purpose in the storytelling.
Overall though, I still liked this film basically on the strength of those beautifully-scripted scenes involving Wilson and his mother Erlinda. These scenes were written in the Fukienese language, and for the first time in "Mano Po" history, we hear the lines in the dialect authentically delivered by the actors. The emotional impact of these scenes are very strong and touching. These scenes elevated this movie and gave it a special flavor. 6/10.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."