And so it is about Oscar Ramirez, a rice farmer from the north, crippled by rural poverty, who decided to take his chances in the country’s capital, Manila. Together with his wife and two young kids, Oscar braved the notorious streets of Manila (Dan Brown would certainly agree) and the family’s adventure in the gates of hell begins!
Being victims of one scam after another, homlessness, hunger, in short, utter poverty led Oscar’s wife, Mai Ramirez, to finally take in the job of a prostitute. It not only allowed her to bring her two children to work while on duty, it also enabled her to have their daughter’s nagging toothache treated by the doctor who tested her clean for diseases as part of the job. That same day, Oscar got a lucky break and he was immediately hired as a security officer. He was to collect, transfer, and guard large sums of money inside an armored vehicle into safekeeping. His partner, Ong, a generous albeit mysterious officer personally picked him for the job.
One by one, questions about Ong’s character unfold and he becomes central to the movie’s storyline. As Oscar’s character traverses the life of a poor but decent father trying to make a good and decent living for his family, he is tightly caught (even trapped) in the motives of the people around him as reflected by the overall context of the city itself. But as it will turn out, Oscar is not your typical poor but decent father trying to make a good and decent living for his family.
The reason why and all the details in between make this movie worth one’s dime and time, Filipino or not. Lovers of Manila (like me), or not (like Mr. Brown).
Happy Ending Marks the X
To its immediate defense, Metro Manila’s trailer should not lead anyone to think of it as a stereotypical poverty movie about a third world country. I know, we’ve seen this and that before – prostitution, slums, crime. But Metro Manila, a movie set in the Philippines shown now in selected theatres over here in Europe (France, The Netherlands, Belgium), depicts a reality that is skillfully sewn to come up with a believable, compact and thoroughly exciting movie. And for a bit of change, it has an unpredictable ending that would lift your spirits up, since you would find yourself rooting for Oscar, the protagonist, right from the start.
We Like Accurate Surprises
Metro Manila is a surprisingly accurate picture of the Philippine capital by a foreign movie outfit with a highly thrilling plot, coherent script, and a superb cast headed by Filipino veteran actor John Arcilla as Ong, together with the sympathetic Jake Macapagal as Oscar Ramirez, the natural probinsyana charm of Mia Ramirez portrayed by Althea Vega, the heart-wrenching endurance at such a young age of Ana Abad Santos who played the elder daughter’s role of Oscar and Mia, and Miles Canapi and her purely unintentional comedic character as “mamasan” Charlie.