What’s good, what’s bad, what’s meh at the MMFF

By Zsarlene B. Chua

Movie review
Ang Panday
Directed by Rodel Nacianceno

CARLO J. CAPARAS’ Ang Panday has been one of the most enduring — and oft re-booted — action-fantasy films in the Philippines since it burst onto the big screen in 1980 with Fernando Poe, Jr. playing the titular blacksmith Flavio whose duty it is to save the world from the evil Lizardo.

Flavio’s balaraw (sword) was passed on to Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr. who played the character in 1993’s Dugo ng Panday, in the 2009 GMA Films’ reboot, and in its 2011 sequel.

More than 30 years since Mr. Poe created the role, the country is again re-introduced to a new Panday, this time played by former indie darling turned formidable action star Coco Martin.

Simply titled, Ang Panday, the film is also Mr. Martin’s directorial debut (he uses his real name, Rodel Nacianceno, for his director’s credit; he also serves as one of the film’s executive producers) and unlike other Panday flicks which are set in fantasy worlds, his Panday is set in modern day Tondo, Manila — well, partly.

The story follows Flavio III, the grandson of the original Panday, who doesn’t know about his world-saving destiny. He was saved as an infant from hordes of aswang (shapeshifting monsters) by a kindly midwife (Jaclyn Jose in the flashbacks and Gloria Romero in present time). The attack cost the lives of his father Flavio II and his mother.

Flavio III lives in Tondo where he is, not surprisingly, a blacksmith, peddling saws and knives and using a pedicab — until his destiny catches up with him when Lizardo (Jake Cuenca) returns and tries to take over the world once again.

Now that we’re up to speed, here’s the review: Ang Panday isn’t as bad as this writer expected, and while it isn’t that good either, it is a decent movie for a first-time director who wants to make a commercial film and enter the film in the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).

The thing that makes the film surprisingly okay (remember: I went into the screening without expectations of quality) is that it reflects snippets of Mr. Martin’s background as an indie actor under auteur Brillante Mendoza — it’s there in some shaky camera shots among the filth and squalor, and in some of his dramatic scenes.

But the film is also unmistakably commercial in its numerous storylines: from coming out to your family as gay, to the incomplete love story between young lovebirds which is dropped and never revisited after the first hour.

It was also there in the forced jokes and exaggerated expressions when Flavio visits the Kaharian ng Liwanag and meets a diwata (a fairy played by Kylie Versoza).

One might say that the film is really a culmination of Mr. Martin’s long career trajectory, from his start as an indie actor to his becoming an action star.

And there were little feats of genius in the film, such as a confrontation between a demolition team and informal settlers that turns into a FlipTop rap battle, to the sudden music video featuring Flavio III and his gang of FlipToppers which includes rappers like Bassilyo (real name: Lordivino Ignacio). It was good fun.

For fans of Mr. Martin’s Ang Probinsyano (also a role originated by Fernando Poe, Jr.), Ang Panday is basically an extension of the Probinsyano world — from the action scenes (and numerous motorcycle scenes) to a funny parody of Yeon Sang-ho’s 2016 zombie hit Train to Busan as a PNR train to Tutuban under an attack of aswang.

If I were to nitpick, there are quite a number of things I would label as cons including Mr. Cuenca’s portrayal of Lizardo which came off as overacting instead of novel and slithery like the character’s name — he has been quoted in interviews as saying that his character peg was Jim Morrison of the Doors.

Then there is Mariel de Leon’s lackluster performance as the leading lady, Maria. She is practically wallpaper.

Finally I take issue with the fact that the action-fantasy film suddenly turned into a Hong Kong martial arts film in the last 20 minutes or so, with a training sequence reminiscent of Karate Kid and the aswang army turning into ninja warriors.

But after all is said and done, it is a laudable effort by a debut director wanting to recoup a P100-million film budget. It is good fun as long as you don’t look too hard.

MTRCB Rating: G