Homosexuality, drug addiction even infidelity (by the wife), these things occur in the real world. MANO PO 7: CHINOY has everything any Filipino-Chinese family would be hard pressed to talk about. The confrontation of the issue with drug addiction is particularly courageous considering the War On Drugs by the Duterte administration. Whether you are of Chinese descent or not, there are still a number of gay men and women out there who struggle for acceptance even from their own families.
The story by screenwriter Senedy Que captured the conservative attitude in the community. Director Ian Loreños has consistently told the Filipino Chinese experience in his previous films in Cinemalaya (THE LEAVING), Cinema One (ALAGWA). Regal films Mother Lily Monteverde must have appreciated this and the decision of putting him at the helm has paid off quite well.
All families who are going through issues of acceptance will find healing, a catharsis if you will in MANO PO 7: CHINOY. This is more contemporary and relatable than previous MANO PO stories of humble beginnings, rags to riches tagline. For international audiences, the term Chinoy is a combination of Chinese and Pinoy shortened term for Filipino. It is the newer term for Filipinos of Chinese descent who grew up in the Philippines.
Richard Yap as the real estate tycoon Wilson Wong Sr. is very different from the charming, jovial Sir Chief character on TV that a lot of fans know him to be. Acting stoic and unfeeling is more difficult than expressing emotion. Although in an interview with Rcky Lo of Philstar, Yap admits that Wilson is closer to him and more accurate portrayal of the Chinese male attitude. Yap shared that his Pinay wife taught him how to love. This coldness or lack of affection by Wilson Sr could be traced to his childhood, shown through flashbacks. It’s this difficulty in showing empathy that permeates his relationship with his wife and children.
Enchong Dee’s Evolution
Enchong Dee has proven his evolution as an actor. His role of Son son (Wilson Jr) gives a human face to the drug problem. He didn’t do it recreationally or because of his barkada but more of his need for validation from his father. From here we see how and why he turned to drugs. Although, Son son has the luxury of getting checked into a super high-end rehab facility, that looks more like a resort. This is where he meets another troubled soul in Jocelyn played by Jesse Mendiola. Pinky Amador plays her mom.
Critics and award giving bodies will certainly consider Enchong’s performance as worthy of a Best Supporting Actor win. Urian, Star Awards will have their nominees filled with this particular cast as it is a superb ensemble performance.
Enchong’s character is very relevant today. The difference between Son son’s situation and the drug menace is that there are tens of thousands of addicts who can’t afford to go to that high-end facility or any rehab center for that matter. Enchong has made Son son empathetic, willing to change for the better. He helps us realize that drug addicts deserve that chance. Unlike the thousands of users who have already been killed from extrajudicial killings across the country robbed of the opportunity for reform.
Jean Garcia and Janella Salvador
Janella Salvador is growing as an actress as the uninspired cellist Carol. We’ve seen her prominently in the CLOSE UP TVC with Elmo Magallona. UP DHARMA DOWN performed the infectious jingle from that ad. She’s the favorite daughter of Wilson who is into classical music. She has her own love triangle with creepy college Professor Vera (Kean Cipriano) and classmate/suitor Henry Santos (Marlo Mortel).
Just A Smile by Up Dharma Down
Jean Garcia is the trophy wife Debbie Wong. Garcia’s features seem to defy time, which makes her even more attractive now than her younger days. Wilson’s distant manner towards her seems baffling. Because she’s a cougar you understand how the young and dashing Marco (Jake Cuenca) falls for her. You almost want her to have an extra marital affair to fill the romantic void in her life.
Casting as Statement
The genius of casting here is being able to find the perfect face and performer for each role, which can be a statement in itself. Richard Yap’s character Wilson gets a life-changing lesson from his Aunty that helps him make a paradigm shift.
The words of wisdom may be from the heart as Aunty is not performed by a professional or theater actor, but from a real life success story and philanthropist in Rosalind Wee. Her delivery, look and mastery of the language lend her credibility in the role. Aunty in the film is part of the prestigious board that Wilson presents his ideas to. In real life Rosalind Wee is President of Pearl S. Buck Philippines, established the Marine Resources Development Corporation, owner of the First Marcel Properties and serves as the treasurer of the Philippine National Red Cross– Quezon City chapter. The posh office interiors and lavish homes may have also been part of Marcel Properties which were perfect film locations.
Even Rebecca Chuaunsu gave noteworthy performance as Wilson’s mom Erlinda. Rebecca will remind a lot of Chinoys of their chatty, overbearing, extremely conservative Ama (translated as granny). The brilliant performance is not a surprise considering her long experience as film and theater actress who has branched out into Rebecca Chuaunsu Film Production.
The statement of casting is even more evident in the role of Eric Quizon. He plays Jason, the gay older brother of Wilson who was banished by the family for decades. There’s never been official word of Eric Quizon as being gay in real life. Curiously, he was markedly absent in the press cons and mall tours for the movie. Eric was part of love teams in the 80s and 90s and has transitioned to a successful career as TV and film director.
It would be hard to imagine him having a difficult time coming out to his own parents. His father, the late Comedy King Dolphy essayed countless gay roles. In fact the three Quizons: Dolphy, Eric with brother Epi were highly praised for the film MARKOVA COMFORT GAY. Could this role be Eric’s own way of coming out to the public? Either way his performance as Jason is not any less powerful. There’s a definite need for Chinoys to be more open and accepting of family members who are LGBTs.
Breathtaking Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum
If there is one minor quibble from this gem of a movie it’s the many cuts between dialogue especially when only two people are talking. The camera switches frequently and abruptly from speaker to speaker. The result can be jarring to the viewer. This is done to sustain visual interest in a not so exciting scene. Sometimes less is more. Even when the conversation is very intimate particularly with the developing sexual tension between Enchong Dee and Jessy Mendiola, the camera flits/cuts from one face to the next barely finishing a sentence. Sometimes you have to let the performance breathe and marinate with viewers in one angle. Let their delivery of words, their facial expressions stand out more by doing less.
In terms of camera work there are a lot of grand landscape and cityscape shots from cinematographer Lee Meily. Even the restaurant scene in Gloria Maris is given a grandiose exterior shot. The place is significant because of its reputation for authentic Chinese cuisine and is frequented by Chinoys.
In September 28, Philippine Entertainment Portal reported that cast and crew were stranded in Kaohsiung, Taiwan because of a typhoon. Thankfully no one was hurt, only some scary moments during a bus ride. The trip was worth the inclement weather. They were able to get some breathtaking aerial shots of the Fo Guang Big Buddha, which stands 355 ft. tall and was cast using 1,800 tons of metal.
There was a touching scene between Wilson (Richard Yap) and Ama (Rebecca Chuaunsu) in front of a very ornate sculpture called Mount Potalaka Avalokiteśvara Shrine. The shrine was part of a bigger complex, Fo Guang Shan Buddha Museum, recently opened to the public in 2011.
MANO PO 7 CHINOY is both a technical and creative triumph. More than this is the timeless message that family is where we should all find love and acceptance.