Well, well… looks like those naughty Philippine vampire critters, the Aswang, are at it again. Fresh from the sunny Philippines to your Favorite Catgirl’s mailbox comes the latest horror/ romance to jump on the “Twilight” bandwagon, the 2011 remake of 1992’s Pegue Gallaga film, ”Aswang”.
Our synopsis for this one is as follows: “Aswang” revolves around the legends of the abuwak race (Aswang). Throughout the generations their race has declined and the only way they can grow in numbers again is through the rare ability that only the soon-to-be “Queen of the abuwaks”, Hasmin (Lovi Poe) possesses. Abuwaks look human when they’re in their normal state, but they can fly, move underground, and they can even transform into raven type of bird. They are quick and strong, and they can attack and eat humans whether in complete darkness or broad daylight. Hasmin doesn’t like all of this, preferring to congregate with humans and even protecting them when her fellow creatures attack the village.
Meanwhile a hired killer named Daniel is forced by cruel circumstances from when he was very young into a life of violence that he has come to despise. Like Hasmin, he doesn’t really like killing the innocent, and this reluctance is what leads him to the abuwak lair, rumored to be somewhere in Pampanga. Along with two other killers, they travel to the village in pursuit of the two remaining members of a lawyer’s family that they massacred in Quezon City .”
Ok…. I’m interested enough to give this one a look-see… especially given how interesting the last few Philippine films made the Aswang out to be. Will it make me one happy Catgirl? You certainly know the drill by now…. 😉
So…. as our film gets underway we get a voice-over narration by our lead heroine Hasmin (played by Lovi Poe) about how her ancient race of creatures is in decline… how they’ve lost much of their power and numbers and how only she can be the salvation to their return. Then she and her younger sister promptly eat a poor defenseless farmer while his blind wife stands by unable to save him. It’s tragic… and sort of unintentionally funny… all at the same time. Did I mention that the “abuwaks” can tunnel around underground to attack their prey? Oh…. I did? Well…. did I mention it looks just like Bugs Bunny on his way to Pismo Beach for the annual Clam Festival? Oh yeah…. well it does…. complete with that raised trail of disturbed dirt that always marked Bugs’ way on his lil’ subterranean excursions. All courtesy of CGI of course…. but I’m fairly certain that the Pepsi I snorted out my nose laughing at the sight of it all wasn’t exactly the reaction the filmmakers had been shooting for. Maybe it’s scarier if you are Philippino…. I just don’t know. Either that… or perhaps Bugs Bunny is really a flesh eating fiendish “abuwak” in a clever disguise….. 😉
OK…. well after making certain your Favorite Catgirl wasn’t going to accidentally die from inhaling my soda, we get back to our film and now it’s years later and in modern Manila where three suspicious looking people with guns, Gido (Marc Abaya), Queenie (Niña Jose), and Daniel (Paulo Avelino) are sitting around in a van waiting for the arrival of someone. Someone they need to kill…. Who might that be? Why the crusading lawyer opposing the shady land deal of their evil criminal employer “Boss Eddie” (played by Noni Buencamino). Once he arrives… the three spring into action tricking their way inside and quickly killing everybody they can…. but little do the know, it’s a school holiday and the Lawyer’s two kids Gabriel (played by Albie Casiño) and his little sister Ahnia (played by Jillian Ward) are upstairs. They hear the gunshots and creep downstairs to find their parents and house-staff dead, lying about in pools of their own blood.
Through luck, they avoid Queenie and Gido and make their way to dad’s car…. but get seen by Daniel who’s outside on guard. He could shoot them…. but this is where we get the clue that Daniel is really a decent guy trapped by terrible circumstance in a horrid profession he never wanted. He lets them go… unable to kill innocent unarmed children even if they are witnesses to his partners crimes. This doesn’t score him any points with Gido… nope, not at all.
What this does is send our kids fleeing to the provinces and the safety of an uncle’s home since the local police are corrupt and on Boss Eddie’s payroll. Gido sooooo wants to kill Daniel for letting them escape, but Boss Eddie gives him one more chance, sending the group in pursuit of the kids to finish the job. Where are they headed? Why the rural village of Pampanga, the one place in the whole Philippines most infested with shape-shifting, flesh munching monsters of course…. silly. 😉
Once there… our kids meet the locals… and are nearly devoured by the tunneling abuwaks who are getting unusually fierce this year for some unknown reason. Yep… apparently there’s an “official” monster season in quaint Pampanga and this year it’s started early. Not to worry… out of nowhere pretty Hasmin shows up just in the nick of time to save our lil’ waifs and take them to the safety of the nearby home of her friend Guada (played by Gigi Escalante), our blind farmer’s wife from the flashback earlier. (Yes… yes…. Hasmin did eat her husband… but Guada’s blind so she doesn’t know that…. at least not yet…)
It isn’t hard to like Hasmin…. she’s exotic and pretty and has that whole miserably guilty vibe about her that tells you she’s really a very, very sweet person deep inside. For a cannibal monster girl that is… Problem is… she’s not a person…. she’s a monster… one that needs to eat human flesh to live. Oh…. and we quickly find out she’s a “special” lil’ monster girl too. For some inexplicable and unexplained reason she’s the sole abuwak able to transform regular humans into abuwaks (It’s a creepy tongue thing… Brrr!!)…. therefore allowing them to increase their waning numbers and regain the power they once enjoyed as a race. Ok... so at least the abuwaks have a plan… a goofy one, but it’s a plan. Why she has to marry the hunchbacked “white eyebrow priest” guy Ipong Moises (played by Bembol Roco) to make it work, this wee Catgirl will never know…. Seriously, as the “leader” of the abuwaks, I suppose Ipong Moises gets whatever he wants, and if he wants the cutest abuwak girl in the clan for his bride then who am I to question it. But just thinking of how ugly their kids would be just scares me silly…… 😉
Eventually that plan for “racial revival” goes out the window once Hasmin and Daniel meet. She’s adorably mysterious, dangerous, and shy…. He’s hunky, dangerous, complicated, and troubled…. Oh… yeah and he’s human and she’s a monster, but darn it…. we all know where this is going to end up, right?
And… eventually it does. Mind you, there a lot of abuwak “politics” to wade through, Daniel’s tragic back-story about how he became a hired killer (somewhat goofy… but I’ll get to that momentarily), and the whole “chase and kill the kids” plot to work out before this one can end. Get the sense there’s just too darn much for the 111 minute runtime? Got the smell of “sequel” yet? Yeah…. that’s a big let down too. Seems Regal Films wants their own ” monster romance franchise”…. just like “Twilight”…. only in Tagalog and with weirder monsters. So yeah… by the finish of this one there really isn’t an ending. If it hasn’t occurred to you by now, Hasmin can turn Daniel into an abuwak with her special “Princess of the Abuwaks” power…. then they can save the lil’ kids, kill nasty ol’ Ipong Moises, Boss Eddie and his gang, and then fly off together into the moonlight to save Daniel’s mom from the other hired killers Boss Eddie sent after her back in Manila. But… that’s gonna have to happen in the sequel along with Hasmin’s niece Isobel going for her revenge against Hasmin for getting her Mom and most of the abuwaks killed. Ummm…. yeah…. roll those credits!!
Are you confused yet? Well… you shouldn’t be. Mostly “Aswang” has a very easy story to follow. A goofy and highly improbable one mind you… but an easy one. So what are the main plot quibbles? Well…. for an aswang film, this one is an odd bird indeed. The monsters… well they ain’t aswang at all. They are described as “human lizards… except that they never turn into lizards. Nope… they turn into crows. But…. ummm… I thought they could tunnel around? Yeah… they certainly can do that, even if it doesn’t look all that efficient or scary. Now…. in hand to hand combat they do have the edge of being strong… fast… and more than a match for a regular human being. Unless he’s got a gun. No magical protection against that… and no fast healing or the like either. Bullets will kill these guys dead just as easy as they do people. Whoops!! Outnumbered and outgunned by a veritable horde of us pesky humans….. So much for taking over the world then, eh?
Other problems involve Daniel’s back-story. He’s the son of a cop…. a cop killed by members of his own police force on Eddie’s payroll. Daniel grew up and became an assassin to track them all down and kill them in revenge. He gets them all…. except for Eddie who captures him and gives him a chance to “square things” for the gangsters he’s killed by working for him. Huh? What a stupid idea. Ok…Ok… now Eddie does threaten to kill his mom if he refuses, but ultimately Daniel had to know eventually Eddie would have him killed because he could never trust Daniel not to try again. A truly stupid bit of HK crime melodrama inspired plot that might fly in a Chinese film but that really doesn’t work here… Neither Neko nor my sweetie Carolyn bought this as character motivation at all.
So… what’s the overall verdict? Hmmmm… I suppose Neko would have to give “Aswang” a barely deserved 3 “Meows” out of 5. It’s good looking film, but just not a truly great piece of story telling. The effects here are good… even the “Bugs Bunny” tunneling… but nothing amazing or special. Our lead actress Lovi Poe looks great as Hasmin… and she’s obviously being groomed for bigger and better things in Pinoy cinema. (At least that’s how it looks to this wee Catgirl seeing as how she’s popping up in about a half dozen more films either currently in release or releasing soon.) I’m just thinking she’s going to need to consider seriously whether or not she wants to get locked into a franchise of these kind of movies. As a romance film… I’m afraid this one fails too. The spunky lil’ Malay film “Tolong! Awek Aku Pontianak” did this whole idea much simpler and with far greater success in my humble opinion. Much of a romance film falls to that mysterious quality of “chemistry” between the leads, and here I’m afraid, that was unfortunately never quite apparent. A real shame, and not the fault of either Miss Poe or her leading man, Paulo Avelino. Again… it’s “chemistry”… and either it’s there or it isn’t and no amount of acting skill or prowess can fake that. Ah well…. you win some, you lose some… maybe “Segundo Mano” will be better once I finally get to see that one…. 😉
The Philippine International Release DVD is as always an excellent one. It’s letterboxed in 4:3 NTSC All region format with excellent accurate English subs… even for the “Making of” featurette included in the extra. A class act all round, DVD wise. You should be able to grab a copy for around 15-20$ US if Pinoy horror is your thing.
As always… a nifty Trailer exists… and here it goes for you to enjoy!