After being screened and widely praised in numerous international film festivals all over the world, Filipino audiences will finally get the chance to catch Neomanila—the urban action-thriller directed by acclaimed filmmaker Mikhail Red—on the big screen.
Set in modern Manila, Neomanila tells the story of Toto (played by Timothy Castillo), a street orphan who gets involved in illegal drug trade while trying to raise money to bail out his imprisoned brother. In the process, Toto meets and gets rescued by Irma (Eula Valdez), a professional hitwoman, who takes him under wing and teaches him the tricks of her trade.
An official selection in the 2017 QCinema Film Festival, Neomanila is a stylish action-thriller, which local and international critics have described as “sublime” and “a terrific work of international cinema.”
Clarence Tsui of Hollywood Reporter calls Neomanila “forceful….a poised, noir-infused thriller, which goes well beyond the gritty realism and melodrama so common in socially-conscious Filipino cinema.”
The film received nine nominations, including Best Picture, from the FAP (Film Academy of the Philippines), seven nominations, again including Best Picture, from the QCinema International Film Festival and won a Gawad Urian for best cinematography last year, as well as a Best Actor award for Timothy Castillo at the 34th Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival.
The film has been invited to screen in film festivals internationally, from Los Angeles and New York in the United States and in other countries like Germany, the Netherlands, Canada, Taiwan, and China.
The director got the idea to do Neomanila from a TV interview of a modern day hitwoman working in Manila. That, along with the story he heard from a high school classmate about an “innocent teenage boy who was jailed so his criminal brother will be forced to surrender,” became the seed for the story of Neomanila. For research, he also immersed himself in the milieu of nocturnal urban crime, tailing media and police officers who covered crime scenes around the city.
“ I knew that as a filmmaker, Neomanila was now an important story to tell, a story of the killings and the masked assailants behind them,” Red says.
From the get-go, Red knew he wanted to get Eula Valdez as the film’s professional hitwoman. “Eula was perfect for the role of Irma. She was dedicated and passionate. She learned to ride a motorcycle, shoot firearms, she even sang for the film.”
He adds: “I wanted to cast a familiar face yet show the audience a whole new character. She had the facets of both a mother and a menace; she had to portray the angel of death.” Red noted that Timothy’s balance of innocence and angst in his role went well with Eula’s ferocity as Irma. “The chemistry between Eula and Timothy was electric,” he said.
The filmmaker considers Neomanila as his return to his independent film roots, after his highly acclaimed “Birdshot” which was selected as the Philippines’ official entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category of the 2018 Academy Awards. Neomanila also sees Red returning to his guerrilla filmmaking techniques after the bigger scale of Birdshot.
Yet Neomanila still retains Red’s very assured and distinct visuals that has turned him into one of the country’s most exciting and acclaimed young directors.
“We had fewer shooting days than my second film ‘Birdshot,’ but ultimately the technical treatment was fit for the narrative. I believe we were able to create a world that felt real, a reminder to the audience that these incidents are indeed happening around us and perhaps our fear and apathy sometimes forces us to look the other way,” Red says.
He adds Neomanila is a film that uses its genre and its bombastic, neo-noir visuals to convey a bold message.
“It is a film that should entertain and engage the audience at the same time. It is almost like ‘Blade Runner’, where the powerful hunt the marginalized, but it is set in a world that is very real and very close to home, where the situation is dire and we realize that truth is scarier than fiction,” Red explains.
Neomanila also stars Rocky Salumbides, Jess Mendoza, Ross Pesigan, and Angeli Bayani.
Produced by TBA Studios and Waning Crescent Arts, “Neomanila” opens in theaters nationwide tomorrow, March 13.