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The revenge of the illegitimate child is one of the most popular themes in Filipino movies - it's right up there with love triangles/adultery and inter-class romance. In revenge movies, the patriarch of a wealthy clan has an affair with a "lower-class" woman, she bears him a child, and the child is rejected, humiliated and cast out by his legal family. The illegitimate child vows to exact revenge on her father’s family. (Cue:"Bukas, luluhod ang mga tala.") Many years later, when the wealthy clan has squandered all their money and is on the brink of poverty, who should appear but that same illegitimate child, who reveals that she is now the owner of all their property nyahahaa!
Why are our movies obsessed with vengeful anak sa labas? Is it because there are so many of them, or are we working out our history? Are we those misbegotten children - the colonial bastards of Spain and America? (I told you we should buy Spain.) We'll have to discuss that some other time, because it's time to talk about Vice Ganda.
Vice Ganda, nee Jose Marie Viceral, is the reigning box-office star of Philippine cinema. You need look no further than the Sisterakas poster for confirmation of this: he is billed ahead of Kris Aquino and Ai Ai de las Alas. Not too long ago, billing was a dead serious issue: stars demanded top billing, the biggest font, the "and" and "Ms" before their name, which had to be in a box. When box-office rivals Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos agreed to do a movie together, the producers had to print their names in a circle, like a snake chasing its own tail.
In Sisterakas, Vice Ganda’s co-stars are Ai Ai de las Alas, whose movies reigned over past Metro filmfests, and Kris Aquino, a phenomenon of our times. Vice Ganda’s name appears first - you don't argue with the success of Praybeyt Benjamin and This Guy's In Love With You, Mare. Ai Ai de las Alas gets the "and" before her name - you don't argue with the Tanging Ina series. Kris Aquino, the massacre and horror movie queen, is billed second. That's amazing, and that's an acknowledgement of Vice Ganda's clout.
Why do the millions flock to his movies? Because he’s hilarious. A former comedy bar performer, Vice Ganda has taken his rapid-fire wisecracks, insults and sarcasm to the mainstream. The audience lines up to see him flay his victims alive with his tongue. So Sisterakas features different approaches to comedy. Ai Ai makes fun of herself, her appearance, her chin, her romantic choices. Vice Ganda makes fun of himself - he refers to his horsey features - but mostly he makes fun of other people. Plus he can pull off the most outrageous outfits - it's a movie brimming with sartorial atrocities, and Vice Ganda wears them best.
Kris Aquino attempts a parody of Kris Aquino, which is a conundrum we shall leave to philosophers (Although it was very sporting of her to say, "That was even worse than a Kris Aquino horror movie").
In Sisterakas, Bernice (Vice Ganda), nee Totoy, is bent on destroying the family who cast him and his mother (Gloria Diaz) out of their home. A leading fashion entrepreneur, he hires his unwitting half-sister Detty (Ai Ai de las Alas) as his assistant, and proceeds to torment her with impossible tasks. When Detty ends up working for a rival fashion house, Bernice is forced to reassess his plan for revenge.
Director Wenn Deramas, who helmed both Vice's and Ai Ai's blockbusters, is smart enough to stand back and let the comedians do their shtick. Two minutes into the movie we were laughing our heads off. The funniest scenes involve gags taken to absurd lengths: to remind Detty of their shared history, Bernice and his mother reenact the prologue.
Many of the jokes are topical - spoofs of other movies, references to the stars' many commercial endorsements, a running gag about Aquino’s ex-husband. Five years from now, we won’t remember why they're funny. But the movies don’t think that far ahead; they only have to be funny today. As in the two weeks that the Metro filmfest is on.
For the teen demographic, there's a romantic subplot involving Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla.
It's interesting to note that Bernice’s gender is no longer an issue, except to his mother and to an impertinent waiter. No one blinks at the sight of the gay man in the revealing dress. Then again, Vice Ganda's character is the CEO of a top corporation. Sisterakas illustrates a truth of Filipino society: Generally, people don’t discriminate against someone because he's gay. They discriminate against him because he's poor and powerless.