My rating: 4 of 5
Neomanila follows a classic noir that features a perspective behind the extra-judicial killings in Manila: one that is caught in the middle of the drug war. This is of the hitmen. Two of them, Irma and Raul, work together as a partner until “saved” by a Makati boy named Toto, whom they recruit eventually. The story then continues as Toto enters the world which he is not supposed to as a boy, thereby losing his innocence in the process.
Following Birdshot, Red’s personality as a director can be seen even more in this movie. Comparing these two works I’ve watched from him, Red likes to tackle politically-relevant issues in a subtle but critical way. He’s not preachy on this, too; he takes an issue, presents it on a different light, and leaves the audience to answer questions for themselves. In Neomanila, Red does these by starting in medias res, where the drug war is rampant and the EJKs never stop. The main characters, caught between the whole mess, choose to get involved even more just for the money they earn, and maybe even for passion. A lot of the scenes take place at night, and the movie’s artistic cinematography proves itself to be praise-worthy with several aesthetic shots of the lights of Makati.
However, despite Red’s attempt of delivering a message through the whole film, his style of ambiguity brings the movie down. It’s clear that he wants to make the audience answer questions for themselves, but lack of proper context combined with several “supposedly-implied” meanings make the movie dragging until it nears the end, which apparently has a turn that raises a new question to be answered again. While it is true that not everything has to be spoon-fed to the audience, it is also worth noting that not everything has to be restrained. Furthermore, the characters who are supposed to be bold and raw turn out to be loosely formed–it’s, then again, up to the audience to decide who they really are and what’s behind them.
Unlike Birdshot, which has enough context and enough ambiguity to deliver a message that can be concluded by the audience on the same level, Neomanila provides either a satisfying or unsatisfying intellectual value, and it is up to the audience how they would receive the “impact”. Personally, Neomanila is excellent as an art, but not as a movie.