by Jansen Musico
RPG Metanoia (2010)
D: Luis C. Suarez
S: Zaijan Jaranilla, Eugene Domingo, Vhong Navarro, Aga Mulach
Finally! After several years of cinematic duds, unoriginal sequels, and pretentious epic dramas, the Metro Manila Film Festival succeeded in including an entry that’s really worth watching: RPG Metanoia. The film not only boasts of being the Philippines’ very first 3D-animated full-length feature, but it also poses a serious challenge to local cinema: step it up or get left behind.
The movie follows Nico (Zaijan Jaranilla), a kid with a penchant for massively multiplayer online role-playing games or MMORPGs, as he explains matter-of-factly. With summer already fleeting, Nico spends his days in front of the computer leveling up Zero, his highly-skilled yo-yo toting avatar who is a complete polar opposite of himself. You see as good as a Metanoia player Nico is he’s not very good in real life. He sucks at sports, riding bikes, and even talking to girls. It soon becomes very clear where his avatar’s name came from. But once a virus takes over the game and starts causing real damage around the world, Nico puts his skills to good use. Together with his gang of gamers, they take it upon themselves to make things right.
The name Louie Suarez never rang a bell when I heard it for the first time, but after this, I’m taking note of it. Not only did he direct the movie, he wrote it with much thought with co-writers Jade Castro and Tey Clamor. RPG Metanoia’s story is not your run-of-the-mill Pinoy kids’ flick. Though it shares the semblance of having moral lessons and AngTV-esque punch lines, it goes beyond what is expected. The way every element introduced in the film is not wasted is enough proof that it is intelligent and well-crafted. Some viewers might find the story quite simplistic, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Primarily it caters to kids, but it also speaks to the kid at heart. The movie is able to encompass generations and at the same time showcase Filipino culture.
Many Filipino films have lost their identities due to their generic storylines which can play out elsewhere. Louie Suarez and his team kept this in mind while designing their 3D world. From the settings such as the sari-sari store, to the tricycles, to the “Bawal Umihi Dito” signs, and even to the fried milkfish on the dinner table, everything in the frame screamed Filipino. Another thing that I found rather delightful was the film’s homage to Pinoy street games, which needs to be seen to be appreciated fully. The Pinoy stamp is also carried over to the virtual realm of Metanoia. The maps in Philippine zone echo sentiments of the Spanish occupation. This, I thought, was rather clever—subtly bringing old sensibilities into something very current. The yo-yo, an original Filipino weapon, was also a nice touch.
As far as the 3D-animation goes, it isn’t as good as your standard Pixar film. It isn’t as stellar and as clean as its foreign contemporaries, but the fact that it was enough to relay the story without much distraction signifies that the effort is a huge leap forward. Though RPG Metanoia might not come close to the look and feel of Toy Story 3, it matches that of 1995’s Toy Story, and that’s saying something. With more refining in the next few years, Filipino animation can only get better… I hope. On the other hand, the sound was good although the balance of the voice recordings and the score, which at times was way too under, could have been improved. The movie’s use of OPM tracks is particularly noteworthy. Instead of having the songs be the central theme of the film (and be constantly overplayed) they are used to enhance the scenes and complete the mood.
Overall, RPG Metanoia is a godsend from all the stale big studio offerings of late. Seeing the movie get released by Star Cinema gives me a bit of hope that mainstream cinema might change a bit sooner. It takes a smart and enjoyable film such as this to put the challenge out there, and it’s up to us viewers to make sure that that challenge is met.