Pedring Lopez’ ‘Maria’ almost gives Hollywood action flicks a run for their money.
When a former BlackRose cartel assassin, Lily (Cristine Reyes), deliberately betrays her team by refusing to complete a certain mission, the cartel orders her execution. Unbeknownst to them, she fakes her own death and proceeds to create a new life of her own. Seven years have passed, Lily now goes by the name Maria, a loving wife to her husband Bert (Guji Lorenzana) and a caring mother to her daughter Min-min (Johanna Rish Tongcua). Unfortunately, her dark past catches up to her present when her former boyfriend and partner-in-crime, Kaleb (Ivan Padilla) who’s also the son of a notorious crime boss named Ricardo de la Vega (Freddie Webb), spots her in the crowd and wastes no time to raid her home. This resulting fray turns her idyllic present life upside-down into a bloody chaos.
Maria is your typical kind of guilty pleasure, revenge film – the one where the protagonist suffers with a huge loss in the first act, before finally exacting his/her retribution come second act. Yes, one may call it a rip-off from John Wick or the more recent Peppermint but what makes this stand out is its execution. The use of camera and drone shots is very proficient; the framing shows everything that’s happening even beyond the action segments. Compared to Pedring Lopez’ past films, this one simply takes his film-making skill into a whole next level. It is well-choreographed, well-shot and tightly edited; none of those kinetic quick-cuts and distracting shaky cams are present here. This new era of technical achievement is a testament to the resurgence of the local action genre in the coming years. Maria gives the Hollywood action flicks a run for their money and it even has the potential to take a shot for an international Asian release, given the right audience.
Fight choreographer Sonny Sison and his crew deserve a commendation for staging an impressive fight choreography. From thrilling hand-to-hand combats, curved knife fight scenes to gunfire and explosions, the film succeeds in depicting creative yet believable action sequences that should make the audiences drop their jaw in astonishment. Since this is a no-holds-barred action film, the violence is taken to a maximum, even to the point of challenging the limits of its R-16 rating. There’s a femme fatale bathroom showdown that is simply just lit! If this is your cup of tea, look no further.
Moving forward with an international reach, a female-led action film might just be the Philippines’ best asset. Last year, Anne Curtis totally rocked as a fearless rookie PDEA agent in BuyBust and not long after, Erich Gonzales gave her shot as a tough movie stuntwoman in We Will Not Die Tonight. This year, it is Cristine Reyes who cements her spot as the newest action heroine with her amazing and dedicated performance. Her portrayal is surprisingly entertaining, way beyond the usual sexy roles that we often see. She’s a girl on fire who’s worth rooting for throughout the film’s run time. While the role requires physicality, it is her ability to infuse each punch and kick with a wide range of emotion that makes her craft engrossing to watch.
That being said, Maria has its own share of minor shortcomings. For a film that has the ambition to go international, the consistent use of a dual language (English and Filipino) can be off-putting at times. It could have benefitted from lesser language transitions and instead, sticking to a native language for the most part, to give the film a more domestic and convincing vibe. Another nitpick would have to be the employment of zooming effects – a common problem in Filipino films which should be avoided in the future. Such technique can be acceptable when it comes to gunfights, but then the occasional lack of proper lighting causes difficulty on appreciating a full cinematic experience – that, however may just depend on the cinema’s projection. Hopefully next time they shoot with wider and brighter shots. Overall, these flaws can be easily improved and it never spoils the whole fun. Maria is almost at par with Hollywood standards, and hopefully it won’t get stuck at delivering redundant beats. But as for now, this is the best technically-made local action flick that we have for now.
Maria is definitely an essential viewing for action aficionados out there. As one of the most visceral revenge flicks in recent memory, it successfully delivers a heightened sense of adrenaline from start to finish.
4.5 out of 5 stars