Maid in Manila: Films’ results vary

Three feature films have been rushed into production to try to cash in on the saga of Flor Contemplacion, the maid who gained national prominence in the Philippines after being executed in Singapore.

Two movies have opened theatrically with different results, and the third is awaiting a release date.

Contemplacion was hanged after being found guilty of strangling another Filipino maid, Delia Maga, and drowning her Singaporean ward, Nicholas Wong.

The incident caused a public outcry in the Philippines, where many doubted her guilt. The Filipino government complained of lapses in judicial procedure during the trial and alleged her confession was obtained under torture. To many people, she symbolized the hundreds of thousands of poor Filipinos forced to work in menial jobs abroad.

“The Delia Maga Story,” with the overblown subtitle “Jesus, Pray for Us: A Massacre in Singapore,” debuted May 18 and fared poorly. It was directed by Carlo Caparas, who lost the bidding for film rights to Contemplacion’s story, then turned his attention to the victims.

His film proferred two conflicting versions of Maga’s death; one showing the mentally imbalanced Flor suffering migraines before strangling her close friend, then drowning the child in a tub of water. The other rendition – commonly believed by Filipinos – pointed an accusing finger at Maga’s Singaporean employer, who reportedly was furious over her negligence in the accidental drowning of his epileptic son.

The second pic, Joel Lamangan’s “The Flor Contemplacion Story,” bowed June 7 and is a hit, reportedly grossing $1.5 million in the first week. It beat “Die Hard With a Vengeance,” which is not unusual since audiences commonly prefer local product to U.S. fare. The Filipino film industry turns out 120 films a year, working on typical budgets of $500,000.

Lamangan’s film had better production values than the earlier pic, and pandered to popular Filipino sentiments about Flor’s fate. Critics said the film indulged in caricatures rather than believable characters, showing Filipino officials as bunglers who were contemptuous of domestic servants, and Singaporean police who use Gestapo tactics to extract confessions.

The third film, Tikoy Aquiluz’s “Bagong Bayani” (Unsung Heroine), is a docudrama.

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