The film begins with a shot of feet walking barefoot in the mud and rain while men are watching a bloody brawl as nightly entertainment. These were very artistically and aesthetically shot with innovative camera angles. We knew by then that we are going to watch a Filipino film of outstanding quality. The opening sequence alone already portends that this is not going to be an ordinary biopic.
Coming into the film, we already knew that this film was going to be about the "National Fist" Manny Pacquiao and his rise from abject poverty in a war-torn Mindanao to a world-renowned multi-billionaire champion boxer. Back in 2006, there was once a biopic by Joel Lamangan which starred Jericho Rosales as Pacquiao. Just last year, we witnessed an excellent documentary "Manny" where the actual real-life characters told their stories. We already have an idea about his inspiring story of hurdling incredible odds to achieve impossible dreams. This film tells the familiar life story again, but Director Paul Soriano manages to tell it again in a gritty and realistic style which will connect with most audiences.
The grittiness and realism of this film is rooted in the casting of an relatively unknown young actor Buboy Villar, who actually looks like one of those lean sinewy amateur pugilists we see in undercard fights. Villar's acting skills were impressive as they have a raw unforced quality. His athletic ability was also evident in those shadow boxing scenes, hauntingly executed so that it looked as if we were watching Pacquiao himself. He was also excellent in those recreations of Pacquiao's early fights -- very excitingly choreographed and edited.
Alessandra de Rossi continues to impress with her acting prowess. Fresh from her award-winning performance in "Bambanti", de Rossi takes on the character of Pacquiao's equally iconic mother, Dionisia. Though this may fall into caricature in the hands of a lesser actress, de Rossi was more subtly funny as we see in her young Dionisia the beginnings of the brash and feisty Dionisia we all know now. And you know how de Rossi can really kill those dramatic scenes.
Alex Medina plays Pacquiao's negligent father Rosalio. Cesar Montano plays Sardo, Pacquiao's uncle and first boxing coach and manager. Jake Macapagal plays Dizon, Pacquiao's trainer who helped him win bigger local competitions. These actors make the most of their screen time in effective and nuanced performances. Teen star Khalil Ramos plays Eugene, another promising boxer and Pacquiao's friend. I felt though that his matinee idol looks somehow distracted from the realism of his performance, especially beside Villar's vivid performance.
The corny-sounding title may be a little off-putting for those who do not know that this was actually Pacquiao's first fighting alias. The name comes from his uncle's favorite drink Vino Kulafu, which was a very popular Chinese wine in Mindanao, a contemporary of Sioktong. However, this film should not be judged by its title alone. This is actually a very well-made, first-rate inspirational sports movie that is well-worth the price of its admission. It will move you. 8/10.
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."