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Screen shots | Hugot, Vice and MMFF: Pinoy cinema in the 2010s

The recent run of the Metro Manila Film Festival or MMFF proved that it has been the same old racketeering gamer as it served the familiar Pinoy staples headlined by Vice Ganda, Vic Sotto and Coco Martin, undoubtedly, three of the most bankable Pinoy celebrities. What also remains unchanged is the propensity to misspell titles probably in an attempt to be cute and familiar as with the case of Sotto’s (Mission Unstapabol) and Martin’s (3Pol Trobol) films.

This story appeared on Page 10 of the January 26, 2020 issue of Mindanao Times. Click the image to download a copy.

And with its mission statement of sorts—to be “family friendly”—it meant cashing out as much as possible from the pocket of every family member, there is something for everybody. The MMFF, after all, has become the template festival since it has evolved into a sinister, money-making machinery in the post-EDSA, neoliberal economy. Aside from the variations of comedies, there is sure to be a horror film, and a love story, and sometimes the genre is weaved into period, family or historical dramas. And just to balance things out, and also as a way of making itself lip-service relevant, a socially-relevant film.

But in a surprise twist, neither the three big-named celebrities clinched the top blockbuster status. It went to the Pinoy remake of a beloved popular Korean drama, Miracle in Cell No. 7, which starred Aga Muhlach in the lead. Though not necessarily a game-changer, it was nonetheless a shakeup in the current Pinoy mainstream cinema status, and hopefully, is an indication that outputs in the future would be a little more different and exciting.

The attempt at reform in 2016 did little to change the existing norms and viewing habits, practically because one year and one MMFF can barely do that. That edition’s selection was not a total turnaround, and one does not expect so, but it introduced films like the documentary Sunday Beauty Queen, a neglected genre in mainstream Pinoy cinema, to be given a voice in a popular platform (the film ended up winning the best picture that year).

You can say that year was a mid-decade blip in a period marked by the narrowing of Pinoy TV and cinema culture into one that continues to be celebrity-obsessed while we rushed forward along with the shifts brought about by digital technology that spawned online streaming services like Netflix, iFlix, and the local iWant, among a host of other streaming platforms. It continues to shape viewing habits of audiences and raised important issues related to discourses in cinema culture, e.g. the cinema vs. content debate, that has pitted master filmmakers like Scorsese against the purveyors of the prevailing culture of consumption in movies and pop culture.

Pinoy cinema in the 2010s continued to herald Pinoy independent filmmaking with the flourishing of filmmakers from the regions that took off with the rise of digital filmmaking that preceded 2010. The Visayas, more prominently Cebuano cinema, and Mindanao, figured quite significantly in the landscape of our national cinema. Regional cinema became an identifier, but not many years since its heralding via the Cinema Rehiyon (a project started by the NCCA), it is now in itself undergoing its own problematization, a blurring of lines that may be attributed to the dynamism of the cinematic art form, or sadly, as Mindanao filmmaker Teng Mangansakan raised, can fall into a ploy to further agendas.

Not to dismiss the many great works of this alternative Pinoy cinema, but the decade saw the rise in popularity by Vice Ganda. 2010 heralded his brand of comedy via the remake of the Roderick Paulate classic Petrang Kabayo and catapulted his name into stardom in just a few blockbuster hits that regurgitates the same kind of humor he is known for—movies that are now some of the highest-grossing in Pinoy movie history.

Then came the dominance of Pinoy hugot cinema that spiraled into a kind of hugot culture, which brought Pinoy sentimentality and sensibility to the millennial generation. The mania can be attributed to the success of That Thing Called Tadhana, which anecdotes One More Chance (the oft-quoted John Lloyd-Bea film which can be said is the progenitor of the current hugot film). Tadhana, which was part of a film festival that showcases edgy works and out-of-the-box ideas, kind of paved way for the explosion of romcom films that can be classified as hugot that are capitalized by both large studios like Star Cinema, and the then-rising TBA Studios. And yes, a hugot film does not necessarily have to be romance or comedy, it can be in the form of a historical drama like TBA’s Heneral Luna.

We ended the decade with a film that supposedly signals the entry of the Philippines into the age of Netflix. Though not the first Filipino film to be acquired by the streaming giant (earlier this year Netflix acquired Pedring Lopez’s Maria), it is reportedly the first one to be produced, premiering last December 1. The film, directed by current favorite Mikhail Red, is very characteristic of the content flooding Netflix, a lackluster work of millennial pandering doused in trademark hot neon lighting.

We also ended the decade in Pinoy cinema with Brillante Mendoza’s brashly titled Mindanao, the “socially-relevant” film in the roster of regurgitated MMFF products, that is sadly another pandering work of gross simplification and regressive cultural appropriation. With the Bangsamoro transition process underway, it is unfortunate that the film comes to fruition, and following last night’s multiple wins, a possible misguided championing, at a time when Mindanao, the island-region and its peoples, are once again at the threshold of reclaiming their histories and narratives.

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