What to expect from Metro Manila Film Festival 2017

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 21) — The Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) is just around the corner.

The festival, which has been running each holiday season since 1975, has a mixed reputation. It has been criticized over allegations of corruption, rigged entries, and acquiescing to formulaic films without substance but are guaranteed box-office successes. The MMFF has also carried some of Philippine cinema's classic titles.

Related: 14 classic Filipino films you didn't know were in the MMFF

After the critically acclaimed line-up of films in 2016, the MMFF's approach to the 2017 festival was scrutinized by critics. Its first four entries — "Gandarrapiddo: The Revengers Squad," "Meant to Beh," "Ang Panday," and "All of You" — were selected based on their script. The next four entries — "Haunted Forest," "Deadma Walking," "Siargao," and "Ang Larawan" — were selected based on the finished films.

Related: MMFF announces complete lineup for 2017

MMFF Executive Committee Chairman Tim Orbos said the selection process was to assure there was no discrimination between commercial and independent films, although the move was criticized by some moviegoers as putting box office earnings over substance.

Acclaimed "Batch '81" director Mike de Leon, who was directing his comeback film "Citizen Jake," slammed the selection process as "anomalous," and boycotted the festival. "Citizen Jake" was assured of a festival slot, which De Leon said he refused. The film stars broadcast reporter Atom Araullo as a journalist in a political family.

Related: 'Citizen Jake' director Mike De Leon criticizes MMFF for corruption

Critic Tristan Zinampan, Editor-in-Chief of the blog Film Police Reviews, sat down with CNN Philippines' The Source to talk about what to expect from the eight upcoming entries.

All of You

"English Only, Please" co-stars Derek Ramsay and Jennylyn Mercado make a comeback in Dan Villegas-directed "All of You." Their new characters meet online and date, but later butt heads on love and marriage. After three years together, they wonder where their relationship is going.

There could be "rom-com fatigue," because of an influx of romantic comedies in the industry. Zinampan believes that for the film to work, it must bring something new to the table.

"How do you use [rom-coms differently]? Modern romance, that's been tackled so many times before," he said.

Ang Panday

"Ang Probinsyano" star Coco Martin takes on the role made legendary by the late and revered action king Fernando Poe, Jr. in "Ang Panday." This time, the film is also set in modern-day Manila as much as in the fantasy universe.

The remake must give a different spin to the old hero, and the movie will "really play on the script, the story, the quality," said Zinampan.

"The concept of legacy, even in foreign heroes, is very rife. What happens is, how do we adapt this to other settings or make the character more relatable?" he said.

Ang Larawan

The festival's only musical entry is based on National Artist Nick Joaquin's play "A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino," which has since been adapted for the stage and screen by Rolando Tinio with music by Ryan Cayabyab. The story follows the Marasigan sisters, who are being pushed to sell a painting by their renowned artist-father to ease their financial troubles.

The film a "prestige project," given the weight of names from two National Artists — Joaquin and Tinio — and a star-studded cast from both the film and theater industries. The film "[elevates] the MMFF," Zinampan said.

"How do you make people want to see a film that's historical," he added. "That will be the challenge."

Deadma Walking

Based on a Carlos Palanca award-winning screenplay, this comedy drama stars Joross Gamboa and Edgar Allan Guzman as two gay best friends who stage the death of Gamboa's character.

The film has been likened to the previous year's MMFF entry "Die Beautiful," which likewise featured two gay leads and elaborate funeral set-ups.

However, Zinampan points out the premises are different: while "Die Beautiful" deals with the life and death of its lead, "Deadma Walking" tackles the character's emotions that compel him to fake his death.

"I think it's very timely, tackling the LGBT. Given they're considered a minority still, how does a minority see himself after death?" he said.

Haunted Forest

From the studio that brought the Philippines the seemingly enduring "Shake, Rattle and Roll" franchise comes "Haunted Forest." The plot takes off after women in a village get lost and are found dead in a forest. Raymart Santiago plays the lead who tries to protect his daughter, Jane Oineza, who is in danger of falling prey to a creatured they call the "sitsit."

Director Ian Loreños "knows how to draw emotions," but he hopes the suspension of disbelief due to the use of computer graphics don't get in the way.

"Aswang as a concept...very benta siya. At the same time, you're discussing the mysticality of a forest... [it's] unchartered territory," Zinampan said.

Meant to Beh

This family comedy stars Dawn Zulueta and Vic Sotto as parents who decide to separate, as their kids try to get them back together. Sotto, well-known for his lead in the fantasy comedy "Enteng Kabisote," said the film is his first "serious" comedy. It is directed by the 2011 Cinemalaya Best Film "Ang Babae sa Septic Tank" director Chris Martinez.

Zinampan says the film could make for "good commentary on modern family dynamics" if the characters are written and performed with depth.


Directed by Paul Soriano, "Siargao" is the latest in a series of local films set in the backdrop of the Philippines' top tourist destinations. Jericho Rosales plays a burned out musician who returns to his hometown of Siargao, where he meets a video blogger fresh from break-up (Erich Gonzales) and an old love (Jasmine Curtis-Smith).

Zinampan observed the tropes had been used in other films before, but hopefully "Siargao" could give a new spin to the idea.

"It's a very antiquated story... If it does the right combinations, maybe it will be good," he said.

Gandarrappido: The Revenger Squad

Vice Ganda makes a comeback to the MMFF with a sequel to "The Super Parental Guardians." The comedy features a ragtag team of superheroes, with supporting roles by Daniel Padilla and Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach.

While Vice Ganda's movies have reeled in money at the box office, they have also been criticized for being formulaic, following his previous slapstick comedies like "Petrang Kabayo," "Praybeyt Benjamin," and "Beauty and the Bestie."

"I don't want to pre-judge [Gandarrapido], but it looks like the plot is there to string the memes and jokes, that are at times, counterproductive," said Zinampan.

He would like to see the "It's Showtime" host star in a film with social commentary.

"I'd love to see Vice Ganda do something [different], like 'Die Beautiful' or 'Deadma Walking'. I don't want to discount the tastes of people, but I'm hoping they're able to use this kind of film to elevate the cinematic literacy of people," he added.