By Joseph L. Garcia, Reporter

Mang Kepweng: Ang Lihim ng Bandanang Itim
Directed by Topel Lee

MANG Kepweng: Ang Lihim ng Bandanang Itim, shown at this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival, had no right taking my P250 and wasting my time. Frankly, I feel that they owe me money for letting me watch that.

Look, I’m no snob. I laugh at Toni Gonzaga. I laugh at Vice Ganda. I laughed exactly once while watching Mang Kepweng (a reboot of an old Chiquito movie, itself based on a komiks franchise), and that was at a scene where a cursed nun chases Vhong Navarro’s Kepweng under a bed, rolling conveyor belt-style. Okay, and I laughed at the witch too, but she appeared during the last 15 to 25 minutes of the film. Otherwise, there were jokes about women with male characteristics, ugly women, and boring chase routines. What is this, 1988?

I watched this movie with three of my friends, who took bathroom breaks during the one hour and 47 minute-runtime of the film. They told me not to bother pausing the film for them, and sometimes begged me to fast-forward through it. I don’t blame them: a demon played by Joross Gamboa steals a black scarf able to cause illness. This bandana is the foil to Mang Kepweng’s healing red scarf, which is losing power because he used the scarf (a relic from the original Mang Kepweng) for fame and fortune. To restore its powers, his friends, played by Benjie Paras, Ion Perez, Ryan Bang, and Barbie Imperial, have to go through a quest: go to an old fairground to enter the realm of kapres and get a cigar, go to a convent to enter a portal to a lake with mermaids, then collect a toenail from an aswang. They gave those ingredients to a witch, who was making soup (that’s why I laughed). There’s a final battle between the handsome demon and Vhong. Vhong wins. Otherwise, I hardly smiled all throughout the film, and I even recall calling Jollibee delivery during the haunted convent scene, because I’ve seen this chase scene at least seven times before, and knew I wasn’t about to miss an important detail. Unfortunately, the ending hints at another sequel, possibly forming a trilogy (this film is a sequel to 2017’s Mang Kepweng Returns).

Barbie Imperial looks far too young to serve as Vhong Navarro’s leading lady — Kris Aquino falling in love with Rene Requiestas in Pido Dida seems more likely than these two doing so. They gave too many lines to the main actor, while the rest of the cast were a few degrees funnier. Only one of my friends actually laughed out loud during the movie, and that was because of Benjie Paras. I can’t say I even like the film visually: they’re not exactly going for Gawad Urian here. The costumes were bad, and the jokes were flat. They shot the throne room scene with the fairy queen (played by Ritz Azul) in what looked like either a recycled set, a backyard gazebo, or a village clubhouse.

One good point though: the CGI was much better than expected. If you squint hard enough, it looked like Harry Potter, though the animators haven’t quite mastered blending in human figures and CGI backgrounds seamlessly.

Should you watch this? No. You can get your cheap comedy thrills somewhere else. You can even find it in the cooking YouTube channel of actress and chef Judy Ann Santos, in the episode where she makes sandwiches out of holiday leftovers. We laughed, as a group, six times in 30 minutes (that’s a laugh every five minutes) while watching that. Imagine that: an actress cracking jokes while cooking was funnier than Mang Kepweng, with all its movie stars, a script, CGI, and comedic history.

Because of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, the Metro Manila Film Festival is being held online, with the entries screening via The festival is ongoing until Jan. 7.