Filipino films have surely what it takes to go global when film value is not compromised. As part of the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) 2023 lineup, “Mallari” directed by Roderick Cabrido, has not only garnered public curiosity but has also enchanted the discerning eyes of none other than the Warner Bros.
The Hollywood studio has officially approved the inclusion of its logos in all promotional materials for the movie. This endorsement signifies one thing: Philippine cinema is fully capable of achieving global success.
During the media conference for “Mallari” in Citadines Cebu on Dec. 22, 2023, John Bryan Diamante, president of Mentorque Productions, revealed that they invested P80 million in the film to ensure it met Warner Bros.’ rules.
“What I’m happy about is that they are saying that this is a game-changer and this film proves that Filipino creatives can do it. The reason why we are also all out on the film is because on my end as the producer, I wanted everyone to work knowing that they are free when it comes to creativity,” said Diamante.
“Mallari” features Piolo Pascual in the lead role, where he takes on the challenge of portraying three characters in this horror-thriller film. This marks his debut in the horror genre, and it’s noteworthy that his last participation in the MMFF was in 2002 for Chito Roño’s “Dekada ‘70.”
The actor candidly admitted that initially, he had to decline the role in “Mallari” due to the demanding schedule of his commitments in “Ibarra” and a concurrent U.S. tour.
“When it was sent to me, it just said that it was a horror film and it had three characters in it so I said it was a hard pass. It seemed difficult to play three characters in one film and then on that same day, I was in a shoot and I was with my friends and we got curious if there was a serial killer in the Philippines. We Googled it, and that’s when we found out about the one and only documented serial killer in the country, Severino Mallari. So I said we should listen to the pitch again and I was like, was it a sign?” said Pascual in the press conference.
When questioned about the most challenging scene in “Mallari,” Pascual revealed that the transition between his three characters posed the greatest difficulty. Given that many scenes were emotionally intense, navigating the shifts between roles proved to be physically and emotionally exhausting for the actor.
“I remember filming on the first day we filmed the last scene and I had to play three characters. So prosthetics, then change character, and then prosthetics (again), then change character. So it kind of set the tone of what I was going to do for the rest of the shoot,” said Pascual.
Upon discovering that “Mallari” would intricately weave three timelines, Pascual found the concept both challenging and ambitious. Eager to ensure the film’s success, his first inquiry was about the production value. Reassured that the movie had a substantial budget to fully capture the potential of its storytelling, Pascual enthusiastically embraced the project.
Meanwhile, Janella Salvador takes on the role of Agnes, a doctor who also serves as the fiancée to Piolo Pascual’s present character in “Mallari.”
“During filming, we were very into our characters so there weren’t any awkward moments, but I also almost said no because I was too nervous to work with him (Piolo Pascual) because of the pressure. But we were able to pull it off and it came out really good and I think we had chemistry,” said Salvador in the press conference.
Janella teased that she had kissing scenes with Pascual, jokingly mentioning, “I had a few of it.” She also revealed that her action scenes were challenging but deemed worthwhile.
“I was actually one of the last to be casted. When they pitched the story to me, I was going to be shooting in a few days and I didn’t really have time to prepare, so that was another thing I was nervous about,” said Salvador.
Nevertheless, the project initially stirred concerns for Salvador, as she was hesitant about being typecast into the horror film genre.
Deciding to take a break from horror films, she had previously worked on “Haunted Mansion” and “Bloody Crayons,” the latter being a slasher film. Additionally, she was part of the TV series “Killer Bride” in 2019, and she was looking forward to a hiatus from horror.
However, upon reading the script for “Mallari,” she quickly realized it was an opportunity she couldn’t ignore. The script was exceptionally well crafted and detailed, showcasing meticulous attention even to the smallest characters.
Ron Angeles, portraying the family caretaker in “Mallari,” expressed that his role didn’t entail any particularly challenging tasks. Nonetheless, he conveyed his gratitude for the opportunity to collaborate with prominent actors and actresses.
Rico Gonzales, the distribution director at Warner Bros. in the Philippines, said it was an easy decision to agree to be the film’s distributor, especially after seeing the movie.
He is hopeful that “Mallari” will be the start for Warner Bros. to co-produce more Filipino movies.
Meanwhile, Diamante said they had to walk through every scene to ensure that it meets the standard of the Warner Bros. This is the reason they had to shell out money to ensure the rules are met as well.
The partnership was formalized at a contract-signing event in Okada Manila, attended by Mentorque Productions’ president John Bryan Diamante, Warner Bros. Philippines’ distribution director Rico Gonzales, and the main cast.
This collaboration signifies Warner Bros.’ significant role in handling the theatrical distribution of “Mallari,” marking its return to local distribution after two decades, the last being the limited release of the award-winning indie “Munting Tinig.”
“Technically, this is the first time that Warner Bros. has partnered with a mainstream film,” said Diamante.
Empower Filipino cinema
Diamante and the cast emphasized the importance of supporting all MMFF movies, not just “Mallari.” They underscored that while they aspire to rekindle the spirit of Philippine cinema with their film, the MMFF serves as a platform to rally behind local creatives and talents.
“For us to be able to thrive and our fellow kababayans, we have to support the films. This is a risk and a business at the end of the day. At the same time, we want to empower film entertainment in general because we have what it takes to go global and this is our take on it. We want to be able to not just come up with good films but to be proud of our heritage, to be proud of what we have, talent-wise and production-wise,” said Pascual.
“Don’t ask us why we should watch (MMFF). You should ask yourselves why you shouldn’t watch,” said Pascual.
The considerable effort put into producing beautiful films for all MMFF submissions is something distinctly Filipino, according to Pascual.
“Mallari” is a film that delves into the life of Fr. Juan Severino Mallari, the lone recorded serial killer in Philippine history during the 1800s. This gripping narrative unfolds with precision, blending accurate historical events with psychological terrors skillfully portrayed by Piolo Pascual. Released on Christmas day, Dec. 25, 2023 the film and the rest of the entries for the 49th MMFF will be in cinemas until Jan. 7.