Mano Po is a series of movies — with totally unconnected stories — about Chinese-Filipinos. Why they’re generically called “Mano Po” — which is Tagalog for the custom of children showing respect to their elders — I can’t say.
This one begins with a flashback to 1959, with a desperate mother who’s just had yet another baby girl, giving her to a couple fleeing the country, in hopes she’ll have a better chance at life that way than if given to a government orphanage, no doubt truthfully, conditions are terrible.
The couple take off in a horse-drawn wagon that reminded me of a pioneer stage coach (did many people in the People’s Republic of 1959 have horse-drawn wagons? I realize they didn’t have cars. I thought all horses would be property of a commune, and everybody either walked or rode a bicycle.)
Anyway, they wind up in The Philippines (How easy was it for Chinese people to escape the mainland? I don’t know.) Lilia grows up as a Filipino, falls in love with Michael, and the two of them and their buddy Paul join the resistance against Marcos.
Most of the film, however, is the slow plodding agonizing of Lilia after encountering Michael again, learning he’s alive and living in America and still in love with her.
Trouble is, she married Paul, and they have children (only they know the oldest, their only son, is really Michael’s), a prospering business and an upcoming twenty-fifth wedding anniversary celebration planned.
She’s a crusader against corruption in the Philippines National Police, who’s succeeded in putting some corrupt police in jail.
Michael comes to The Philippines after her. For me, his confession that his wife committed suicide because she realized he was still in love with Lilia was a real turn off. But Lilia doesn’t let it faze her.
She has to cope with the hostility of her inlaws, never well hidden because they didn’t approve of her marriage in the first place.
Vilma Santos turns in a professional performance. She’s still terrific looking, and she and Christopher de Leon still make a good pair — how many times have they been an on-screen couple? However, I tend to hope she’ll focus more on being the governor of the province of Batangas, where my family lives, than on her acting career.
Not that it’s surprising she would go from movies to politics. Many Filipinos do. Ronald Reagan is not an oddity there. And Kris Aquino went from politics to movies and show business. Maybe she’ll wind up back in politics – who knows? Her big brother has only five and a half more years remaining as president.
In the end, Lilia goes back to fighting corruption — though it’s too late for poor Paul — and says, “It (The Philippines) is the only country I have.” I wonder if that’s a politically correct statement to demonstration that Chinese Filipinos are just as loyal as Malay Filipinos. I don’t know.
But for my taste this is far too much about love and broken hearts and complicated relationships. It’s a Filipino chick flick.
Make sure you are better able to survive catastrophes than the crew and passengers of The Titanic. Get emergency preparedness kits now. Disabled and senior citizens need to check out a medical alert alarm system.