Metro Manila: A heartless city well portrayed

Metro Manila: A heartless city well portrayed
Jake Macapagal is rice farmer Oscar.

Review: Thriller


115 minutes/Opening on Sep 26, 2013

The story: Rice farmer Oscar (Jake Macapagal) is forced to take his wife Mai (Althea Vega) and children to Manila to find work after rice prices collapse. He falls prey to various scams until he lands a job as a security guard on an armoured car because of his military experience. He becomes close to his partner, the veteran Ong (John Ancilla), but just as things seem to be looking up, Oscar suspects that he is once again being set up for a fall, in a heartless city that feeds off the desperation of the poor.

Move over South America. South-east Asia is now where it is at for slum thrillers, surreal arthouse violence and gunplay dramas.

The region's cities - and especially its poorer districts - are where Western film-makers cut loose with images of special forces cops and gangsters waging war with fists and bullets (Jakarta in The Raid - Redemption, 2011); where sword-wielding policemen dispense rough justice on the streets (Bangkok in Only God Forgives, 2013); and now, where everyone in the city has an eye on the cargo in an armoured car, especially the staff trusted to protect it.

The trend rides on equal parts seedy glamour, foreign exoticism and the exciting aura of lawlessness that pervade some cities, even if it is all more perception than reality.

Metro Manila's British writer-director Sean Ellis, like British film-maker and Jakarta resident Gareth Evans (The Raid) and Danish-American Nicolas Winding Refn (Only God Forgives), sees Asia through a lens thickly fogged with romanticism, but as long as the product is entertaining, one really should not mind. After all, we all create myths about our own cities, why should an outsider not be allowed the same privilege?

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