January 30, 2015 -- A young couple and their children, facing starvation because of low crop prices, decide to move off their farm in the northern Philippines and into the big city, Manila. Their young daughter, seeing the wonders of the big city for the first time, asks her father if this is heaven. Of course it isn't.
In this kind of film you know right off the bat that something terrible is going to happen to these nice people eventually, and it does, but there are some interesting twists and turns along the way. What starts out as a standard story about corruption, crime, human degradation and the pitfalls of capitalism, ends up as a kind of caper movie with a clever twist at the end. I thought I was going to get a social science lecture, but I ended up being entertained by this otherwise grim movie.
This honest, religious, hard-working, attractive couple, Oscar and Mai Ramirez (played by Jake Macapagal and Althea Vega) and their children arrive in Manila, where they are immediately befriended by a man who knows a guy with rooms to rent. He and his partner turn out to be swindlers. The family ends up with no money and no place to stay. Things are very bad, but the lord will provide, they believe.
Things start looking up when Oscar gets a job as an armored car guard and Mai gets a job at a strip bar. They settle in a rent-free shack in a slum. At least they have food to eat. Mai's job is degrading and Oscar's job is dangerous. Their kids are living in a dangerous area of Manila frequented by criminals.
Oscar's friend, Douglas Ong (played by John Arcilla) tells Oscar that living in the slums will cost him his job. He shows Oscar an apartment he uses for liaisons with his mistress and says Oscar and his family can live there until he gets on his feet. Oscar thinks things are looking up, until he finds out that he has been unknowingly implicated in a scheme to rob the armored car company he works for.
Oscar is not wise in the ways of city life. He has been swindled and manipulated. He is not stupid, however, he comes up with a clever scheme of his own to defeat the plans of those who have threatened him. Along the way, we find out some things about Oscar and his past life which help to explain the choices he makes.
The acting is very good in this movie and the story is well-written and compelling. The production values are solid. This is a good looking film. This is a film about have-nots, living in the cankerous underbelly of Manila. This is an unforgiving place where the strong take from the weak, a place of corruption from top to bottom. It is no place for an honorable person. Mostly, this is a grim, depressing tale, but there is more to it than that. This film rates a B+.
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