MANILA — Unitel Pictures, producers of “Crying Ladies,” the Philippines’ Oscar entry in the foreign film category this year, has come out with another project to counter the popular notion that Philippine cinema is dead.
“Santa santita” (Sinful Saint) — shot and edited in HD in Manila — like “Crying Ladies,” is based on a script that won first prize in a screenplay competition.
Directed by Laurice Guillen, who helmed blockbuster “Tanging yaman” (Only Wealth), its producer is advertising’s enfant terrible Tony Gloria — the same team that made “American Adobo” a success in 2002.
The movie takes place in Manila’s central district of Quiapo, an eclectic, electric neighborhood where saints and sinners share space with a 400-year old church, fortunetellers, hawkers, hustlers and snake charmers.
Former child actress Angelica Panganiban, 17 when the movie was shot, is the rebellious daughter of a prayer lady, while local heartthrob Jericho Rosales plays against his usually sunny image as a dark character who seduces Malen and complicates her life.
It may sound like a romance, but instead takes on the more commercially risky themes of religion and cynicism.
The Cinema Evaluation Board gave the pic its top A rating, entitling it to 100% rebate on amusement taxes, an incentive that the government gives to filmmakers who can help revitalize the moribund industry. Unitel’s “Crying Ladies” is one of only two pics up to now to rate an A from the Board since its founding last year.
“Saint” opened Nov. 17 to full theaters in Metro Manila. But a competing film, “Becuz of U,” a teen love trilogy, reported a higher P8.5 million gross ($151,786) on opening day — proof that the masses still gravitate toward uncomplicated love stories.
Critics were more enthusiastic, with the Philippine Daily Inquirer naming it likely to be the best local pic this year.
Unitel has two more unconventional projects underway: “Blonde Pinoy” (The Year the Pinoys Turned Blonde), a quirky comedy about film school dropouts; and “Penitensya republic,” (Republic of Penitence), the metaphorical journey of a young man who desperately wants to pursue his American Dream.