In 'La Luna Sangre,' can kilig and kilabot come together?

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The Kathniel starrer “La Luna Sangre” builds a new world out of the combined mythologies of ABS-CBN’s “Lobo” and “Imortal.” Illustration by CARINA SANTOS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Good things come in threes, and “La Luna Sangre” is the third installment that rounds out ABS-CBN’s “Lobo” (2008) and “Imortal” (2010) franchise. It picks up from where the previous two series left off.

The “werewolf vs. vampire” trope (unofficially “Fur Against Fang”) isn’t new, at least, not in a Western sense. “Twilight,” the series that made Kristen Stewart a household name, probably comes top of mind. But there’s also the Kate Beckinsale-led “Underworld” franchise, which added context and depth to the conflict, and T.V. series like “Being Human,” “The Vampire Diaries,” and “True Blood” (based on Charlaine Harris’ books “The Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries”). Further back, there are mentions of the antagonism in deep J.R.R. Tolkien lore.

 

There were no mentions of vampires in “Lobo,” but in Chito S. Roño’s “Imortal,” the rift between werewolves (in this case, lobos) and vampires in the Philippines was introduced and explained.

Literally translating to “the blood moon,” “La Luna Sangre” aims to further explore renewed animosity between the two parties, created in part by a malicious and powerful vampire “Supremo,” played Richard Gutierrez, who just recently became a kapamilya.

La Luna Sangre John Lloyd Cruz and Angel Locsin reprise their roles as Mateo and Lia from 2011's "Imortal." Screencap from ABS-CBN ENTERTAINMENT/YOUTUBE  

Perhaps to connect previous installments and as a preamble to the main story, the first week of “La Luna Sangre” was dedicated to establishing the current state of things where Angel Locsin and John Lloyd Cruz reprise their roles as Lia and Mateo from “Imortal.” Both considered to be powerful individuals of their kinds (lobo and vampire, respectively), they have turned into mortals and are living as humans, with a daughter, Malia.

Under Frederick (Victor Neri), the lobos and vampires continues to honor their alliance, through council La Liga Unida, and aim to coexist with humans. However, a breakaway group of vampires led by “Supremo” wants nothing to do with the truce and seeks to destroy the council.

La Luna Sangre New kapamilya Richard Gutierrez plays Sandrino Imperial, a.k.a. "Supremo," the big bad of "La Luna Sangre." Screencap from ABS-CBN ENTERTAINMENT/YOUTUBE  

After learning of “the chosen one” — that is, ang bagong itinakda, the last great hope — who many believe to be Lia and Mateo’s offspring, Malia, through a prophecy prompted by her coming into contact with a boy named Tristan, “Supremo” goes on a rampage, killing many vampires, lobos, and their human allies: Lia, Mateo, and to his knowledge, Malia, among them.

With their numbers down and suffering from a huge loss, La Liga Unida goes into hiding. Biding their time, the group of rebel vampires infiltrate the human world and turn powerful politicians, businessmen, and cultural icons into vampires, planting the seeds of their eventual world domination. Unbeknownst to “Supremo” and his coven of vampires, Malia is still alive, preparing to assume her role as their kind’s last savior when she comes of age.

La Luna Sangre Tristan and Malia coming into contact with each other leads La Liga Unida's seer, Jethro (played by Dino Imperial), to make a prophecy about the "itinakda." Screencap from ABS-CBN ENTERTAINMENT/YOUTUBE  

As far as world-building goes, “La Luna Sangre” does a pretty good job (if you’re not too particular with vampire and werewolf specifics), perhaps with the advantage of already having both “Lobo” and “Imortal” as its starting points. What’s interesting in this iteration is that it isn’t just a “book two” deal, where the stories of the main characters are merely extended, a common practice of the network if the franchise proves to be a popular one. Rather, “La Luna Sangre” builds on established foundations and creates a new story from them. We leave the last series’ main characters behind and turn to a new chapter. It’s interesting, too, how the creative team has chosen to develop Malia’s story arc.

Having grown up with the knowledge that she is her kind’s last great hope, Malia (Kathryn Bernardo) trains in combat, but displays no visible signs of super strength or powers. She has assumed her role as the itinakda, whether reluctantly or resignedly, and doesn’t run away from it.

On her 21st birthday, the day believed to be when her powers take a more visible shape, she somewhat embraces her role and her otherness only to be seemingly proven wrong when she doesn’t change into anything or acquire superhuman powers.

La Luna Sangre Kathryn Bernardo plays one of the series' leads, Malia: the last great hope of the lobos and vampires. Screencap from ABS-CBN ENTERTAINMENT/YOUTUBE

At the end of the ceremony, she is just a girl with legendary parents, failing to live up to her similarly, if perceived, legend, and surrounded by the disappointed faces of the family she grew up with. She finds her way out of their refuge and somehow reunites with Tristan (Daniel Padilla), whom she met briefly as a child.

In “La Luna Sangre,” Cathy Garcia-Molina, who was previously at the helm of “Lobo,” also returns as director, along with Richard I. Arellano. A Garcia-Molina-directed, tried and true love team, Kathniel, additionally buoys the story, where two seemingly tangential paths unlikely to intersect do.

The audience roots for Malia in her resolute desire to do good and be the hope her people want her to be (despite her apparent powerlessness), but Padilla’s Tristan has charm so palpable, you sometimes forget that they’re in the middle of a blood war or that he’s in the middle of growing out a badly styled haircut.

La Luna Sangre Daniel Padilla plays Tristan, an orphan who Kathryn Bernardo's Malia met as a child, leading to Jethro's prophecy. Screencap from ABS-CBN ENTERTAINMENT/YOUTUBE  

Tristan is uprooted from his family after the death of his father at the hands of vampires. He’s adopted by three shrewd aunts, his dead mother’s sisters (one of whom is masterfully played by Desiree del Valle), in the guise of providing a better life and an education for him. In between driving a jeepney and being a mechanic, Tristan is also out for blood. When news of vampire sightings become more frequent, he gets ready to avenge his father’s death.

This seems like a lot of things going on all at once (it is described as a “horror-action fantasy drama”), but the story is executed well, written by Adam Cornelius Asin (Kathniel-era “Pangako Sa'Yo”) and Mary Pearl Urtola (“Dolce Amore”). It’s also backed by an amazing director, untraditional teleserye cinematography, passable fight scenes that don’t make one want to cringe and dissipate into the ether, and a surprisingly well-acted ensemble cast.

La Luna Sangre,” with all its convoluted components, seems destined to fail, but for all its forgivable faults (e.g. vampire fang placement, extra extras, questionable lore, super dramatic vampire production design, super dramatic vampires), it does seem to be going along well the third week in, with a more or less engaging plot, sufficiently threatening conflicts, and a love team meet cute that doesn’t take a month or two to happen.

Despite the richness of Philippine folklore, there isn’t a lot of fantasy- and mythology-driven popular media to go by. “La Luna Sangre” is far from perfect, and though it borrows heavily from the West, it curiously explores our mythological roots and makes for a more compelling watch than the tired teleserye tropes. Time — and ratings — will tell if the momentum can be sustained, foreseeing all the usual teleserye pitfalls like haphazard scripts, prolonged unnecessary storylines, and a return to teleserye shot compositions, but things are looking good under the blood moon, so far.