Review: ‘The Childe,’ starring Kim Seon-ho, Kang Tae-ju, Kim Kang-woo and Go Ara

July 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Kang Tae-ju (facing camera) and Kim Seon-ho in “The Childe” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Childe”

Directed by Park Hoon-jung

Korean with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Philippines and South Korea, the action film “The Childe” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A 24-year-old underground fighter in the Philippines travels to South Korea to get money from his estranged father to help pay for the medical bills of the fighter’s ailing mother, but the fighter gets more than he bargained for when he finds out that people are trying to kill him.

Culture Audience: “The Childe” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching neo-noir action films.

Kim Kang-woo (center) in “The Childe” (Photo courtesy of Well Go USA)

“The Childe” is an intriguing action film with plot twists that will keep viewers riveted. The principal cast members give solid performances. There are also frank depictions of the prejudices experienced by half-Korean, half-Filipino people in South Korea. These bi-ethnic people are called Kopinos, which is sometimes used as a derogatory term, depending who’s saying it and the context.

Written and directed by Park Hoon-jung, “The Childe” is an often-violent story about greed, ambition, and family relationships. The movie’s protagonist is 24-year-old Marco Han (played by Kang Tae-ju), who lives in the Philippines and makes illegal money as an underground boxer. Marco is desperate for cash because he’s the only one who can pay the medical bills of his ailing mother (played by Caroline Magbojos), who raised Marco as a single parent. Her medical situation is urgent because she needs a life-changing operation.

Marco’s biological father, who was never in Marco’s life, is a wealthy South Korean businessman who has some medical issues of his own. Because of heart problems, he is comatose and currently on a ventilator in a hospital in South Korea. Marco’s father has not kept in touch with Marco’s mother. It’s mentioned that Marco’s father kept his distance because he was ashamed of having an illegitimate child who’s half-Filipino.

Marco’s father, who is currently a widower, has two other children, who were both raised in this wealthy family: Adult son Director Han (played by Kang-woo Kim), who is in his 40s, is the heir apparent to the family fortune, which includes the Hokyung Foundation. His sister Han Ga-young (played by Jeong Ra-el) is in her late teens. Director Han knows about Marco. In a scene where Director Han is talking to their comatose father in the hospital, Director Han calls Marco a “mutt” because of Marco’s half-Filipino/half-South Korean heritage.

Back in the Philippines, Marco is enticed by a shady criminal to rob a warehouse. When Marco arrives at the warehouse, he finds out too late that it’s all a setup for an ambush. He’s physically attacked by about 10 thugs and runs away into a street, where he is almost hit by a car driven by a mysterious woman who’s about the same age as Marco. Viewers later find out that her name is Yoon-ju (played by Go Ara), who knows more than she initially tells Marco.

When Yoon-ju and Marco first meet, she’s very apologetic for almost hitting him with her car. When she sees his injuries, she insists on taking him to a hospital. The thugs that were chasing Marco back off and leave when they see that Marco is being helped by a potential witness. Yoon-ju makes the mistake of asking Marco if he’s a Kopino. It’s a question that offends Marco, and Yoon-ju makes an apology for it.

After Marco leaves the hospital, another mysterious stranger comes into his life. He’s only identiified in the movie as Nobleman (played by Kim Seon-ho), and he is a frequently smirking assassin. Nobleman tells Marco that he was sent by Marco’s father to bring Marco to South Korea. At first Marco is suspicious, because he’s been estranged from his father for Marco’s entire life, so Marco wonders why he is being summoned by his father at this point in time. But then, Marco decides he can use this visit to South Korea to ask his father for money to pay for the operation that Marco’s mother needs.

The next thing that Marco knows, he’s being whisked on a private plane to South Korea. But what about those thugs that attacked him? Why did that happen? Marco soon finds out that he’s also under attack in Korea. There are several scenes in the movie where he is chased by men who obviously want to kill him. It should come as no surprise who’s behind these attacks, but the motivation for these attempted murders is meant to be a surprise, which is revealed in the last third of the movie.

Nobleman and Marco develop an unusual like/dislike rapport, where the lines are blurred on whose side Nobleman is really on. The offbeat and sometimes sarcastic banter that Nobleman and Marco have with each other is the darkly comedic part of the movie. Kim and Kang have great performance chemistry with each other. Between the action scenes, Marco is trying to find out exactly who Nobleman is, just like how viewers might be wondering the same thing.

A few of the action sequences are unrealistic in how certain people should end up with broken or fractured bones but don’t. However, the stunts mostly look believable and don’t over-rely on visual effects. The mystery behind Marco’s invitation to South Korea eventually reveals a truth that is not as obvious as it first appears to be. “The Childe” isn’t a perfect action movie, but it offers enough thrills and suspense to satisfy any fan of the genre.

Well Go USA released “The Childe” in select U.S. cinemas on June 30, 2023. The movie was released in South Korea on June 21, 2023.

Review: ‘Family Matters’ (2022), starring Noel Trinidad, Liza Lorena, Nonie Buencamino, Mylene Dizon, Nikki Valdez and JC Santos

February 9, 2023

by Carla Hay

JC Santos, Agot Isidro, Nonie Buencamino, Noel Trinidad, Liza Lorena, Mylene Dizon, James Blanco and Ian Pangilinan in “Family Matters” (Photo courtesy of Cineko Productions)

“Family Matters” (2022)

Directed by Nuel Naval

Tagalog with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Philippines and briefly in the United States, the dramatic film “Family Matters” features a predominantly Filipino cast of characters (with a few white people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Members of a large Filipino family have various squabbles with each other and other people, while the family patriarch is coping with health issues.

Culture Audience: “Family Matters” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in watching appealing dramas that show the ups and downs of family relationships and how relatives deal with aging family members.

Nikki Valdez, JC Santos, Nonie Buencamino, Mylene Dizon, Liza Lorena and Noel Trinidad in “Family Matters” (Photo courtesy of Cineko Productions)

Despite some flaws, “Family Matters” is a drama with its heart in the right place, featuring good performances from the cast members. The movie drags on a little longer than it should, and some plot developments look forced, but the movie remains watchable. It’s a story that transcends nations and cultures, because there’s probably something relatable to most viewers about the family at the center of this story.

Directed by Nuel Naval and written by Mel Mendoza-del Rosario, “Family Matters” has a sprawling total running time of 134 minutes. Some of the movie tends to ramble and become unfocused, while other aspects of the movie seem too rushed without adequate explanation. It’s the type of movie that has some scenes that look like they’re going to end, but then the scenes keep going with needless repetition.

However, one of the biggest strengths of “Family Matters” (which is about a large family in an unnamed city in the Philippines) is that the adult characters have personalities that make these characters very unique and memorable. One of the biggest pitfalls of movies about large families is when the movie makes it hard to tell the family members apart from each other. “Family Matters” manages to mostly avoid this pitfall, because the family’s adult characters are written and portrayed as fully formed people, not stereotypes. However, the underage children in the family have the most underdeveloped storylines because the movie is really more about how the adults in the family interact with each other.

Here are the members of this large clan:

  • Francisco Florencio (played by Noel Trinidad), the family strong-willed patriarch, is having some health issues that land him in a hospital and affect him throughout the entire story.
  • Eleonor Florencio (played by Liza Lorena), the family matriarch, is the kind and loving wife of Francisco. They have four adult children, ranging in ages from mid-50s to mid-30s: son Francisco Jr. (nicknamed Kiko), daughter Fortune, daughter Ellen and son Enrico.
  • Francisco “Kiko” Jr. (played by Nonie Buencamino), Francisco and Eleonor’s eldest child, works as a building construction engineer. Kiko tends to be bossy and arrogant with his three younger siblings and with his work subordinates.
  • Odette (played by Agot Isidro), Kiko’s homemaker wife, patiently puts up with Kiko when he loses his temper and becomes difficult. She usually stays out of the family arguments.
  • Kiko and Odette have three children, ranging in ages from about 13 to about 17. The eldest child is son Francis (played by Ian Pangilinan), followed by daughter Frances (played by Beatriz Teves) and daughter Florence (played by Alessandra Romero).
  • Fortune (played by Mylene Dizon), Francisco and Eleonor’s second eldest child, is outspoken with her opinions. She gets involved in family arguments, but she is also sometimes a peacemaker. Fortune owns and operates a pet store with her loyal husband Nelson. Fortune and Nelson have three daughters, ranging in ages from about 8 to about 14: Nikki (played by Alexa Macanan), Nina (played by Krystal Mejes) and Nadia (played by Allyana Nicole Goyenechea).
  • Nelson (played by James Blanco) is a mild-mannered spouse who gets annoyed whenever Kiko acts superior because Kiko has the highest income of the four siblings. Nelson and Fortune, who love taking care of animals, are proud of their pet store business, even though Kiko looks down on this type of work because it doesn’t require a college education.
  • Ellen (played by Nikki Valdez), the third eldest child of Francisco and Eleonor, helps take care of her aging parents. She’s a never-married bachelorette who is insecure about being the only one of her siblings who hasn’t gotten married and who doesn’t have children. Now in her early 40s, Ellen feels she doesn’t have much time left if she wants to find a life partner and start her own family.
  • Enrico (played by JC Santos), the youngest child of Francisco and Eleonor, is an entrepreneur who has recently opened his own gym. Enrico grew up being called a “menopause baby” because Eleonor unexpectedly got pregnant and gave birth to Enrico when she was middle-aged. Enrico is a divorced father of a daughter named Ginny (played by Allyson McBride), who’s about 13 or 14 years old. He shares custody of Ginny with his ex-wife Glenda (played by Ina Feleo), who has a tense relationship with Enrico. Enrico also has a daughter named Ivy (played by Kzhoebe Nicole Baker), who is about 6 or 7 years old, with his live-in girlfriend Irene (played by Anna Luna).

“Family Matters” begins with a family emergency: Francisco wakes up in bed with severe chest pains and is unable to breathe. He is rushed to a hospital, while Ellen makes calls to her siblings to tell them about this medical crisis. After all of the siblings and Eleonor have gathered in the hospital and are worried that Francisco might die, the hospital’s Dr. Salvador (played by Gerry O’Hara) tells them that Francisco will be okay. Francisco did not have a heart attack or a stroke, says the doctor. Instead, Francisco has been diagnosed with early onset asthma, so he is prescribed medication and a nebulizer.

Francisco’s health scare motivates the siblings to rethink their lives and start paying more attention to their elderly parents. There is some debate over whether or not Francisco and Eleonor should move to an assisted living retirement home. Francisco and Eleonor adamantly do not want to take that option. Francisco is somewhat in denial about how his medical diagnosis will change his lifestyle, because he would like to think that he will still have the physical strength that he had before the diagnosis.

Meanwhile, Ellen starts to feel more pressure to find her soul mate, because she wants her parents to still be alive if she ever gets married. For the past eight months, Ellen has been talking to a Filipino American named Chris (played by Eren Kereci), who lives in the U.S. and is about the same age as Ellen. Chris is a divorced father who has his own business. Ellen tells her family that Chris is her “boyfriend,” even though she and Chris haven’t met in person yet. Ellen decides to take the plunge and go to the U.S. to visit Chris and see if their relationship will progress.

Ellen’s visit to the U.S. leaves Francisco and Eleonor temporarily without a caretaker, and the siblings don’t want their elderly parents to spend a lot of time alone. And so, the siblings come up with a plan to have Kiko, Fortune and Enrico take turns having Francisco and Eleonor temporarily stay at each of the sibling’s respective homes. The movie shows what happens when this plan is put in motion.

During the course of the movie, the children of Francisco and Eleonor have to come to terms with their insecurities about themselves. Kiko begins to feel guilty because he has let his workaholic ways prevent him from spending better quality time with his family. Fortune also has to re-evaluate how she has been balancing her work life with her personal life. Ellen puts more pressure on herself to find a soul mate. Enrico (who has jumped around from job to job) wants to stop having a reputation for being flaky and change into being a more responsible person.

Meanwhile, Francisco and Eleonor have to face the realities of their own mortality and what type of legacy they want to leave for their family. “Family Matters” shows several occasions where the family members gather for meals. And the inevitable bickering among family members happen, but there is also a lot of love and camaraderie. Enrico has the most turbulence in his personal life, because his ex-wife Glenda doesn’t really trust him and might fight for full custody of Ginny.

Ginny adores her father, but her parents broke up before she was old enough to know what happened. The divorce is something that the family doesn’t really like to talk about. During a family gathering, Ginny asks Irene why Enrico and Glenda split up, and Irene awkwardly says that she’s not the best person to answer that question. Francisco and Eleonor are sitting at the same table. Francisco tactfully says that when Enrico and Glenda were married, Enrico used to be immature. Francisco adds that Enrico and Glenda wanted different things out of life.

“Family Matters” has a lot of “slice of life” scenes that show conversations between the family members. But there are also some scenes that pack in the melodrama. Let’s put it this way: Francisco’s trip to the hospital in the beginning of the movie won’t be the last time that someone in the family ends up in a hospital. The melodrama in the movie looks overly contrived and awkwardly placed. It doesn’t look as convincing and natural as other scenes in “Family Matters.”

With such a large ensemble cast, it’s truly an asset that all of the cast members are very believable as family members. There isn’t any bad acting, which helps make “Family Matters” more enjoyable. Trinidad as Francisco and Lorena and Eleonor have some wonderful moments showing a longtime married couple who are reflecting on their lives and coming to grips with the inevitability of death. Santos as Enrico also stands out for his portrayal of Enrico’s evolution as a parent and as a partner.

“Family Matters” is at its best when it shows the realistic family dynamics within this tight-knit clan. Loyalties and rivalries can stay the same or change over time. A family member’s self-perception can also be very different from what other family members actually think of that person.

For example, in an emotionally moving scene, Ellen (who feels ashamed for being her parents’ only child who hasn’t gotten married or had children) tearfully tells her mother Eleonor that she’s sorry she turned out to be a disappointment. Eleonor lovingly responds that Ellen has always been a blessing. It’s a turning point for Ellen and her self-esteem issues. In another example, Kiko likes to think of himself as a respected alpha male of the family, but certain things happen that make him understand that other family members perceive Kiko to be overbearing and overly judgmental.

The last 30 minutes of “Family Matters” really going into overdrive with sentimentality—but in a way that is endearing, not annoying. The message of the movie is loud and clear: Whatever problems or differences that family members might experience, it’s always best to try to resolve them honestly, and to appreciate loved ones while they are still alive. It’s not an original theme for a family movie, but it’s a timeless and classic theme that “Family Matters” handles in a mostly entertaining way.

Cineko Productions released “Family Matters” in select U.S. cinemas on February 3, 2023. The movie was released in the Philippines on December 25, 2022.

Review: ‘Plane,’ starring Gerard Butler and Mike Colter

January 14, 2023

by Carla Hay

Gerard Butler and Mike Colter in “Plane” (Photo by Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate)


Directed by Jean-François Richet

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Philippines and briefly in Singapore and New York City, the action film “Plane” features a white and Asian cast of characters (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A Scottish-born airplane pilot working for a commercial American airline company leads a rescue mission after a plane that he is piloting makes an emergency landing in a remote jungle in the Philippines, and the survivors are held hostage by a gang of terrorists.

Culture Audience: “Plane” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Gerard Butler and well-paced action movies about heroic rescue missions.

Daniella Pineda, Gerard Butler and Yoson An in “Plane” (Photo by Kenneth Rexach/Lionsgate)

As a semi-realistic action movie, “Plane” delivers exactly what it’s supposed to be: pure escapist entertainment full of gripping suspense. The movie has a few twists that don’t make the story as predictable as it could have been. “Plane” isn’t pretending to be award-worthy art, so viewers shouldn’t have those expectations at all.

Directed by Jean-François Richet, “Plane” (whose screenplay was written by Charles Cumming and J.P. Davis) has a somewhat misleading title because most of the action does not take place on a plane. The first third of the movie is about a commercial plane having to make an emergency landing in a remote jungle of the Philippines, due to an electrical malfunction and lightning striking the plane. The rest of the film is about what happens when the surviving passengers and crew members are stranded in the jungle and targeted by a gang of terrorists.

“Plane” begins by showing this ill-fated flight and who is on board for this trip. The fictional airplane company Trailblazer (which is based in New York City) is operating Flight 119, which is going from Singapore, with a planned layover in Tokyo, and then on to Hawaii. (“Plane” was actually filmed in Puerto Rico.) The captain of this flight is Brodie Torrance (played by Gerard Butler), a native of Scotland who has experience flying for the Royal Air Force of the United Kingdom. Brodie is a widower (his wife died three years ago) who lives in Hawaii. He has a daughter named Daniela (played by Haleigh Hekking), who is in her late teens.

It’s New Year’s Eve, and there are only 14 passengers on this flight. The co-pilot is Samuel Dele (played by Yoson An), who is originally from Hong Kong. Samuel is happily married with two pre-teen daughters. The three flight attendants on this trip are Bonnie Lane (played by Daniella Pineda), Maria Falco (played by Amber Rivera) and Isabella Yu (played by Michelle Lee), with Bonnie as the flight attendant who has the most obvious leadership qualities.

Not long before the flight is scheduled to leave, Brodie is informed by the FBI that an agent named Shellback (played by Remi Adeleke) will be boarding with a recently arrested fugitive who was found in Singapore, after the fugitive evaded capture for 15 years. This fugitive, whose name is Louis Gaspare (played by Mike Colter), is an American who is wanted for murder. Louis is brought on board in handcuffs, but Brodie thinks it’s best if the rest of the flight’s crew members do not know the details of why Louis is handcuffed.

Shellback and Louis are seated in the very last row of the plane. The other passengers are scattered in various other seats. Many of these passengers are not given enough screen time or dialogue to have distinguishable personalities. But other passengers stand out and affect certain parts of the story.

Matt Sinclair (played by Joey Slotnick) is an impatient and demanding American in his 50s. Maxwell Carver (played by Oliver Trevena) is a talkative and inquisitive Brit in his 30s. Two women in their 20s are friends and travel companions: Brie (played by Lily Krug) is American, and Katie (played by Kelly Gale) is Swedish. Katie and Brie are both giggly and excited to be on this trip.

While boarding the plane, one of the passengers notices that the plane is an old model and makes a comment about it to Brodie. In a defensive but pleasant tone, Brodie says, “These planes are indestructible.” And when someone in an airplane disaster action movie brags about the plane being indestructible, you know what that means: The plane is going to malfunction.

Even before this happens, there’s tension on the plane because a few of the passengers have noticed that Louis came on board in handcuffs. Brie and Katie were originally assigned to sit in the seats now occupied by Louis and Shellback, but Bonnie discreetly tells Brie and Katie that they have to move a few rows up. When Brie and Katie are seated, they start to take a selfie photo.

However, Louis gets very agitated at the thought of being in the background of their photo, and he barks at them when they’re about to take the picture: “Can you not do that?” Later in the movie, when Maxwell starts making a video recording with his own phone, Louis has an even angrier and more extreme reaction. How much of a loose cannon is Louis? And can he be trusted?

It’s already shown in the “Plane” trailer and other marketing materials that Louis is eventually taken out of his handcuffs to help Brodie in the jungle when the surviving people on the plane come under attack by the gang of terrorists. (Brodie is the one who makes this decision to uncuff Louis.) The leader of the terrorist gang is a ruthless thug named Junmar (played by Evan Dane Taylor), who wants to hold these survivors hostage for big ransom money. It’s something that the gang has done before when visitors have the misfortune of getting stranded in this jungle.

Meanwhile, back at Trailblazer headquarters in New York City, company officials are frantically trying to locate the plane and its occupants, since the plane has dropped off the radar and is considered missing. Trailblazer chief executive Scarsdale (played by Tony Goldwyn) is leading the search-and-rescue efforts. It’s explained in the movie that the Philippines government won’t get involved because the jungle is in a part of the country overrun with terrorists that the Philippines government has given up trying to control. Therefore, Scarsdale makes the decision to hire a private group of mercenaries to help.

“Plane” has some adrenaline-packed action scenes that go in some unexpected directions, while some of the “shoot ’em up” scenes come very close to looking like generic video-game combat. However, the dynamics between Brodie and Louis make “Plane” a little more interesting than the average action flick. There’s nothing particularly special about any of the acting in the film, but no one is outright horrible either. “Plane” is an overall satisfying and serviceable thriller for anyone seeking this type of entertainment.

Lionsgate released “Plane” in U.S. cinemas on January 13, 2023.

Review: ‘A Thousand Cuts’ (2020), starring Maria Ressa

August 15, 2020

by Carla Hay

Maria Ressa in “A Thousand Cuts” (Photo courtesy of PBS Distribution and Frontline)

A Thousand Cuts” 

Directed by Ramona S. Diaz 

Some language in Tagalog with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Philippines and the United States, the documentary “A Thousand Cuts” features interviews with a predominantly Filipino group of people about journalist Maria Ressa, the CEO of the Filipino news media outlet Rappler, and Rappler’s coverage of Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte and his “war on drugs” in the Philippines.

Culture Clash:  Rappler has come under attack by Duterte and his supporters, igniting debates and conflicts over what is “fake news” and what is “freedom of the press.”

Culture Audience: “A Thousand Cuts” will appeal primarily to people interested in issues of democracy, the media and constitutional freedoms, regardless of which country is grappling with these issues.

The Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte (center) in “A Thousand Cuts” (Photo courtesy of PBS Distribution and Frontline)

What happens when the president of a democratic country, with a constitution that’s supposed to guarantee freedom of the press, goes to war against the leader of a news outlet that has been openly critical of the president? The riveting documentary “A Thousand Cuts” (directed by Ramona S. Diaz) goes inside that war between Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte and Rappler, a Manila-based online news website.

Rappler executive editor/CEO Maria Ressa, who is a partial owner of Rappler, is the main focus of the documentary, which has an up-close look into her life during her battles with the Duterte administration. “A Thousand Cuts” unapologetically takes the side of Rappler and the media overall, but the movie also includes viewpoints from both sides of the conflict.

In 2016, Duterte was elected president of the Philippines on a populist platform and an image that he was a political outsider who would be tough on crime. His controversial rhetoric includes crude language, sexist comments and open disdain for the media that have resulted in many people describing him as the Donald Trump of the Philippines. (Ironically, Duterte is chairman of the PDP–Laban Party, which has usually had a reputation for being left-leaning and liberal.) One of the top priorities in Duterte’s agenda is his “war on drugs,” in which he openly declares in speeches and in interviews that he wants everyone who sells, buys or uses illegal drugs in the Philippines to be murdered.

Before becoming president of the Philippines, Duterte was mayor of Davao. Under his leadership in Davao, the high murder rate and government-sanctioned “death squads” came under intense criticism from human-rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. However, this controversy apparently helped his presidential campaign. Duterte is not interviewed in “A Thousand Cuts,” which has archival news clips of some his speeches and interviews, including exclusive on-camera interviews that he did with Ressa before he turned against her and Rappler.

And when Duterte became president, he continued his “death squad” policies as his administration’s way of battling crime, this time on a national level. (“A Thousand Cuts,” which is being distributed in U.S. cinemas by PBS Distribution and Frontline before debuting on PBS’s “Frontline” series, can be considered the companion piece to the documentary “On the President’s Orders,” which “Frontline” debuted in 2019.)

Rappler was one of the media outlets in the Philippines that dared to question these policies and demand that Duterte and his administration be held accountable for senseless murders done in the name of enforcing the law. Complicating matters is that the police could be committing these murders, or the murders could be committed by vigilante citizens. Either way, during Duterte’s rule, open season has been declared on people suspected of being involved in illegal drugs.

Many of the thousands of people murdered in the Philippines since Duarte because president (estimates range from 4,500 to more than 20,000 murder victims by “death squad”) were suspected of low-level crimes, but had not been given a chance to go through due process under the law. And an untold number of those victims might not have been guilty of any crimes.

Rappler published the names, faces and background stories of several murder victims to show that these victims were unfairly murdered for suspected crimes that did not justify their brutal killings. It wasn’t long before Rappler began running into legal troubles from the government. In 2018, the Securities and Exchange Commission of the Philippines revoked Rappler’s certificate of incorporation.

In 2019, Rappler was sued for cyberlibel, while Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. were arrested and faced criminal charges for libel. In March 2019, one month after being arrested for libel, Ressa was arrested for alleged violations of the Anti-Dummy Law, a law created to punish those who violate foreign equity restrictions and avoid nationalization laws of the Philippines.

“A Thousand Cuts,” which was filmed primarily in 2018 and 2019, only chronicles the arrest and legal procedures of Ressa, not Santos. Her libel trial began in June 2019. When “A Thousand Cuts” had its world premiere at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the outcome of Ressa’s libel trial was pending. The movie has since been updated with an epilogue of the trial’s outcome.

The movie gets its title from the concept of how a thousand cuts can accumulate over time to a brutal slaying. Ressa invokes this concept during a speech that she gives at De La Salle University in Manila, where she comments on what the Duterte administration is doing to the Philippines: “What we are seeing is death by a thousand cuts to our democracy.”

In addition to Ressa, other members of the Rappler team who are featured in the documentary are investigative reporter Patricia Evangelista, police beat reporter Ranbo Talabong and Malacañan Palace reporter Pia Ranada. Evangelista explains why Duterte appeals to his Filipino supporters: “He offers not just change. He offers revenge.”

One of the outspoken Duterte supporters who’s interviewed in the documentary is Mocha Uson, a member of the singing/dancing group Mocha Girls, who became a prominent government official in the Duterte administration, despite having no political experience. In 2017, she was appointed assistant secretary of presidential communications operations, which essentially involves a lot of social media activities to promote Duterte’s policies and to sell Duterte merchandise. (There’s footage of Uson shilling some of this merchandise in an infomercial-like format.)

In 2018, Uson resigned from the position after a controversial stint in which she was frequently accused of spreading “fake news.” In 2019, Duterte appointed Uson to another government position: deputy executive director of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration. This appointment caused even more controversy.

Uson says in the documentary, “I never planned to go into politics. When I supported then-mayor Duterte, it was voluntary.” She and others in the documentary say that her influential blog, which is read by millions of people, helped get Duterte elected. Uson comes across as someone who would rather be in showbiz, but she’s working in politics because it’s given her access to power.

And later in the documentary, Uson tells a very tragic story about the personal reason why Duterte has her loyal support. Uson says that her father, who was a judge, didn’t really approve of her working in the entertainment industry, because he didn’t think being a dancer was a “real job.” This disapproval led to her being estranged from her father for many years, but they eventually reconciled. The day after their reconciliation, her father was shot to death.

Uson says of her father’s murder: “He was a judge and handling a mayoral electoral protest, so it was political.” She adds, “What President Duterte said is true. There are criminals pretending to be politicians, so that’s who killed my father.”

Bato De La Rosa is another extroverted character who has expressed undying loyalty to Duterte. A former general who was in charge of the Filipino prison system, De La Rosa (who is a member of the PDP–Laban Party) ran for office in a crowded race for a seat in the Philippines Senate in 2018. De La Rosa is not interviewed in the documentary, but there is video footage of him doing an ABS-CBN interview where he says of Duterte: “I would kill for the president.”

De La Rosa has a flamboyant “look at me” public persona where he displays some unorthodox campaign methods, such as singing and dancing at his campaign rallies, where he looks like he wants to give a music concert instead of a political speech. And when he does political speeches during the campaign, they echo much of what Duterte spouts in his speeches, such as people involved in illegal drugs must be killed and the media can’t be trusted.

The documentary also includes some footage of De La Rosa, before he declared his campaign to become a senator, visiting the maximum security New Bilibid Prison for men. He addresses a large crowd of seated prisoners and asks some of them to open their mouths so he can look at their teeth. He accuses the prisoners with missing teeth of being meth addicts.

And then, De La Rosa gives a short, scolding speech that has an almost cheerful, upbeat tone, in which he warns: “Trust me, I have my own way of stopping you from doing your illegal acts.” He then asks the group of prisoners to give a “gentlemen’s agreement” that they will stay away from drugs. The prisoners then cheer as De LaRosa leaves, as if they know his appearance is just a spectacle for show, and they’re playing along.

“A Thousand Cuts” features Samira Gutoc, one of De La Rosa’s opponents in the senatorial race. Gutoc was a candidate from the Otso Diretso Party, an electoral alliance that’s an opposition party to Durtete and his administration. Gutoc comments in the documentary about why she is opposed to Durtete and his policies: “You can’t be judge and executioner at the same time.”

The movie doesn’t try to sugarcoat that journalists who speak out or report on controversial issues are not immune to criticism too. The documentary includes some coverage of the vicious cyberbullying that Ressa receives. Ressa comments on “fake news” accusations: “The end goal is to make you doubt the facts.”

In another part of the documentary, Rappler’s Evangelista gets teary-eyed and emotional when she talks about the toll that her job has taken in her personal life: “It sort of leaks into every part of your life: the paranoia. Maria doesn’t scare easily. I do.”

The documentary also includes footage that gives a peek into but not a full revelation of Ressa’s personal life. Ressa, who is not married and doesn’t have children, doesn’t discuss her love life, but the cameras tag along when she spends time with her sisters Michelle Aventajado and Mary Jane Ballinger. Ressa is shown having dinner with Aventajado and discussing Ressa’s busy work schedule.

And when Ressa is in the New York City area to attend the the Time 100 Gala as an honoree, Ballinger is seen with Ressa in Ressa’s hotel room. They have some light-hearted banter because Ballinger has picked out a gown and high heels for Ressa to wear to the gala, but Ressa declines because she says she prefers wearing trousers and flat-heeled shoes.

George and Amal Clooney make a cameo in the film, as Ressa is also seen attending the Clooney Foundation for Justice’s TrialWatch launch event in New York. While the famous couple is on stage for a discussion panel, George Clooney singles out Ressa from the audience to commend her for her bravery, and he says that she has their support. After the event, Amal Clooney offers her personal email address to Ressa, and they engage in some pleasant small talk.

Despite hobnobbing at these glamorous events, Ressa’s legal problems are never far from her and her family members’ minds. While visiting with her sister in her hotel room, Ballinger begins to cry when she expresses fear about what will happen to Ressa in the trial, while Ressa tries to ease her sister’s fears by remaining practical and optimistic. Ressa says she’s mentally prepared for any outcome because she’s already decided what to do in the worst-case scenario.

Ressa (who was born in 1963) opens up a little bit about her background, which explains why she is able to deal with the type of adversity that would break other people. She says that her biological mother died when Ressa was only a year old. Ressa’s father and stepmother moved to the United States without Ressa because they couldn’t afford to bring her with them when they sought a better life in America.

When she was 10 years old and they could afford to raise her, they sent for her, and the family settled in Toms River, New Jersey. Ressa had to learn English and adjust to living in a country where her skin color and ethnicity made her a minority. She says of being a person of color who expects to be treated equally in a predominantly white society: “You have to prove that you deserve it.”

Ressa graduated from Princeton University in 1986, and earned a Fulbright Fellowship to study political theater at the University of the Philippines Diliman. She ultimately made the choice to permanently move back to the Philippines. In the documentary, Ressa admits she briefly thought of not returning to the Philippines to avoid her legal problems, but she says she knows that would be a mistake and a betrayal of all her values. She also says that facing the attacks and legal issues is part of a larger cause in the fight for freedom of the press.

“A Thousand Cuts” director Diaz doesn’t lose sight of this big picture either. The obvious message of the movie is that attacks on constitutional freedoms (such as freedom of the press and freedom of speech) are attacks on democracy. And although “A Thousand Cuts” focuses specifically on the Philippines, the documentary also serves as a dire warning that other democracies could face the same problems if they’re not careful.

PBS Distribution and Frontline released “A Thousand Cuts” in select U.S. cinemas on August 7, 2020. PBS’s “Frontline” series will premiere the movie in January 2021.

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