Metro Manila: A Film Review

I happen to be one of those lucky enough to make it to a screening of the movie “Metro Manila.” Starring Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega, it won the Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. I’ll try to figure out why.


Let me rehash the synopsis from Benign0’s preview.

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METRO MANILA centers around Oscar Ramirez, a poor rice farmer from the Northern Philippine mountains, who moves his family to the capital mega-city of Metro Manila in search of a better life. The sweltering capital’s bustling intensity soon overwhelms the Ramirezes, and they fall prey to the manipulations of hardened locals. Left penniless, Oscar gets a lucky break when he is offered steady work at an armored truck company and is taken under the wing of its friendly senior officer, Ong. Grateful for the job, Oscar doesn’t realize how dangerous it is; after all, Manila is a city where machine gun-wielding security guards are seen in every shop, from banks and jewelry stores to Starbucks, and where armed robbery has become a daily occurrence. Driving a cash-laden armored truck makes Oscar a moving target, but robbery isn’t the only danger he faces: when it becomes apparent that Ong was lying in wait for someone just like Oscar for some time, and that his motives for hiring him were far from altruistic, Oscar finds himself ensnared in a web of intrigue far more perilous than anything he faces on the mean streets of Manila.

The story is mainly that of a “country boy” seeking a better life in the city. We get to see the difficulties such people experience in urbanity. For example, Ramirez’s family gets a home to rent, but it turns out it belongs to someone else, so they get forced out. Makes you wonder if it really happens that way, and whether it’s meant to get sympathy for squatters.


Then we get to see a sort of insider view of what they do in armored car companies. I’m not sure if the ins and outs of this job are accurately portrayed, but it makes me interested enough to ask one of those armored car guards if the movie was that accurate. Including that “kartero” thing. Very interesting to know what happens to bank boxes when you try to force them open.


I also feel the dialogue and some behavior of people not that realistic. Some of the characters act coldly in situations Filipinos are expected to be jollier. But the scenes are delivered effectively, making certain events, like being turned away from the rented home, more felt. Also, I’m not sure if a break-in in an armored car company’s treasure vault would turn out that way, but the movie makes it feel so.

One interesting thing is the take on the guy who collected money from air passengers and jumped out of an airplane with a homemade parachute. Probably this interesting story puts the Philippines on the map.


Less than halfway through the movie, it felt like a Filipino movie was made under the supervision of a foreigner (Sean Ellis is British). It uses more camera techniques than what our local directors and cinema would bother to use… or could afford to. Even the way the story is organized seems different from how Filipinos would do it. It seems to say, “hey Filipino movie makers, this is how you do it.” I would agree.

Another interesting touch is a villain with an oddly colored eye, and looks that remind me of an Islamic terrorist.


I also realize that this film was shown to foreigners, so this will likely be a source of impressions on our country. It’s still the same thing, basically: poverty, poverty everywhere, so I guess you can’t get that out of a movie about the Philippines.

More than slice of life, it’s more of a suspense movie. All in all, while it’s not a story I like, it’s still an interesting film to see. I would claim that it’s not meant to be a “realistic” film or meant to show what is really happening in Manila, but it’s more like realism is put in to support the story, or make it more believable. And it works there. You get to feel the pain and desperation of the characters, and are actually in the story instead of just watching it happen.

Benign0’s comment on his preview is sufficient: Filipino films? Those aren’t films. This is a film.

6 Replies to “Metro Manila: A Film Review”

    1. >Star Cinema

      You sir are gravely mistaken. Star Cinema’s recent pattern of film making has been constant rehashing of plot elements, cliche Pinoy tropes, and constant reusage of cast members for the same genre of film project, if not fielding new actors and actresses who have recently debuted in showbiz. As per Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of Filipino filmography is crap. “Metro Manila” counts as one of the 10% that is really good. “Thy Womb” starring Nora Aunor also qualifies if you like intellectually stimulating films, which judging by your preferences you would not like.

      Do take time to read this good column written.

      It would do you good to know as to why I beg to differ.

      1. ^ That explains a lot on why he keeps losing arguments against us.
        That fool’s logic is as dumb as the movies of star cinema.
        Overrated, Dumb and Cliched.
        They actually managed to do movies which are just as bad if not WORSE than Joel Shumacher’s Batman and Robin.

  1. I intentionally avoided all reference to the movie before watching and I was glad I already finished writing my treatment of the movie before I read your version and John B’s. Readers will get to see the five blind men and the elephant for real. While the goofy will just comment on other movies with no relevance whatsoever.

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