Thursday, December 29, 2011

Manila Kingpin: Asiong Salonga Story A Review

Watching the Manila Kingpin: Asiong Salonga story is the one thing that I enjoyed while on holiday. The film is really different. As a student of communications, however, let me give my reactions to the film.

The life of an ordinary King starts with his birth, and his claim to the royal bloodline. Then it goes on his training for the Kingship. And it proceeds to his struggle against pretenders to the throne, annihilating any opposition to claim ultimate monarch-ship. Then,his coronation.

Asiong Salonga was considered as the "King of Tondo". All of the stages of being a King was portrayed in the film.

His claim to the royal bloodline was his leadership skills in managing a young yet closely knit gangster group that takes care of the community rather than suck them dry. He tried to annihilate some of his enemies, but failed to really conquer the entire Tondo because several survived him and even went on the extent of betraying him and killing him eventually.

Died when he was just 27 years old.
The first half failed to tell us when did the people vested him his kingship. Was it during his jail fight with Ventura when he was proclaimed king? Or was it in the early aspects of the film when he shot and nearly killed Waway? Yes, his own people proclaimed him as King, but,honestly, he was still a pretender to the throne because most of Tondo were still being ruled by Totoy Golem’s group who was larger and more lethal than his.

If the first half lacks context, the second half redeemed our frustrations. It is quite evident that two strands of thought was applied to the film, and the producer tried his darn best to give us a tightly spunned story.

In my estimation, he failed. He should have allowed just one strand of thought to prevail in the movie. Likewise, let me say to all Filipino filmmakers—the essence of a good film is in the storytelling. All others are just supports used by the filmmaker in trying to make his story understood by his viewers.

The film starts with a man, fortish looking, being beaten to a pulp by another man, in a darkened room somewhere in the world. While the scene is being shown, it is juxtapose by several scenes showing some people sharpening their balisungs (knives of the Filipino) and pana (arrowheads, used in local slingshots). Nothing wrong with the opening scene, except that, if I'm not familiar with the story of Asiong Salonga, I probably would have difficulties situating myself in there.

He looked like Asiong had he outlived his untimely death at 27
The first scene is a creative rendition of how this man, was introduced into the world which he chose--the world of the gangster. That scene which shows him being beaten and threatened not to take part in this world because he's still "nursing from his mother's milk" and those scenes showing others sharpening their knives were allegoricals.

It is an allegory because it shows that this man is trying to enter a world where there are numerous other gangsters like him in the territory. Those scenes show that this man, Asiong, has already penetrated some of those areas being ruled by others

But, is this historically accurate?

How young did Asiong really rule Tondo or a greater part of it? A Manila Chronicle article says that Asiong died on October 5, 1951, a few days before his birthday on October 11th. He was just 27 years old. Meaning, he was born 1924. Obviously, he probably did not rule Tondo as a legitimate gangster during his teens because he probably spent it during wartime. So, the only time he could have probably ruled tondo was during the period 1946 up to the time he died. Or probably even less, because he was arrested and jailed. Asiong must have ruled as the ultimate king for two years or even a year before he died.

Again, Asiong Salonga died at a very tender age of 27 years old.

So, there. If you don't know anything about Asiong, you would accept that he looks "fortish" and probably that era was well in the 1950's, which is historically incorrect.

Why the confusion? Because the first half of the film failed to give the story some context. Audiences have probably asked themselves during the screening, where in time did all these things happen? Where is Tondo? Why was Tondo poor at that time? Nothing of that sort was provided.

The first half dismally confused the audiences in terms of the true character and identity of Asiong and the environment that he was in.

There is some confusion also if Asiong was indeed, a gangster par excellence or just a young thug who portrayed himself as a neighborhood Robin Hood.

There was no explanation as to how Asiong get his money. Did he get it from stealing? Did he get protection money from numerous businesses which sprang from Tondo post-war?

The two scenes which suggest that he did neither was when he intercepted a smuggling operations of one his enemies, Ventura. Ventura, as the story goes, was one of the members of the Totoy Golem group.

Ventura was eventually killed by Asiong in a jail fight. His other enemies, while he was in jail, tried to kill themselves for the honor of being the ultimate siga in Asiong's territories.

"Our local version of the fight in Faceoff is better--
cinematographically that is
Highlights of this film were those artistic shots of street and gangsta fights involving Asiong. I was moved in the scene where Asiong was fighting Hapon played by Joko Diaz in a gunbattle. That scene alone deserves an award, although it is quite similar with that scene in the movie of Nicholas Cage in Face/Off.

Equally great was the scene when Asiong was killed. It was another allegory on how a king was betrayed by his own friend during a feast. There was some aspect of biblical allegory as prior to this dinner killing, Asiong already said that Ernesto "Toothpick" Reyes would be used by his enemies in killing him, and Toothpick indeed killed him. (Likened to the Last Supper of Christ).

There was a scene, quite disturbing, about the death of Erning" Toothpick" Reyes. In a news article, Toothpick surrendered to the police. He surrendered the 38 caliber pistol revolver he used in killing Asiong Salonga. Yet, never mentioned what happened to him afterwards. The movie said, he was killed in a ritual killing by his own friends in a cemetery. How true? 

(Totoy Golem in the fictional movie played by Anthony Alonzo in "Totoy ng Bangkusay" claimed that Golem was Asiong's gunman. That is farther from the truth. Totoy Golem was the real gangsta boss in those times, even eclipsing Asiong in notoriety. Fact is, Golem ruled Tondo before Asiong and when Asiong was killed, Totoy Golem continued wrecking havoc in Tondo before, as the legend says, he was killed by Asiong's brother in a street fight)

" Okey film. But, I think they should show
the director's cut. Maybe it's better. Dunno.
The last scene was probably inspired with the carnage shown in the film, “ The Gangs of New York” of Martin Scorsese. By the way, most of the artistic shots done by the director were not originals. Some were either inspired by Scorsese and others by Michael Bay.

Manila Kingpin won ten awards during the Metro Manila Film Festival. It bagged Best Production Design, Best Editing, Best Sound Recording, Best Original Theme Song, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay, Gatpuno Villegas Cultural Award, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director and Best Festival Picture.

I don't know about the editing of the first half, but, overall, I agree with the jurors in giving the awards to this film. I encouraged other film outfits to do some historical research first and try to outdo this film in terms of tight storytelling. But, I’ll watch this and even buy the DVD of this film instead of the others.