Mano Po 7 attempts to tell several stories about one Chinese family. Wilson Wong (Richard Yap) is a very successful businessman whose devotion to his business has caused him to grow distant from his family. His wife Debbie (Jean Garcia) is feeling neglected, and begins to entertain the attentions of a young customer at her jewelry shop. Eldest son Wilson Jr. (Enchong Dee) has been doing drugs, and is sent to rehab. Teenage daughter Carol (Janella Salvador) feels pressured to take up the cello in college, even though her heart is in singing.
And that’s not all. Occasionally, we get a glimpse into Wilson’s childhood. It turns out that there are some old wounds in his family concerning his older brother (Eric Quizon). And at rehab, Wilson Jr. meets another patient at the facility that becomes pretty important to him. Also, while in class, Carol catches the eye of her professor (Kean Cipriano), who has some bad intentions for the teenage girl. There are certainly a lot of events to enumerate here, but not a lot of story to tell. This is one of those films where a lot of things happen, but there isn’t really much to care about.
Historically, the Mano Po movies have done little more than build scenes around recognizable bits of Chinese culture. One could easily point out how in previous films the characters seemed to always be dressed in cheongsams or changshans, despite the fact that most Chinese people wear regular clothes like regular people. The cheongsams are gone in this film, but they’re there in spirit. The film just includes scenes that seem to serve no purpose beyond the indication of something that is distinctly Chinese about these characters.
In one particularly baffling scene, Wilson receives a gift of Mooncakes at his office. There has no indication prior to this point that the movie was taking place around the Mooncake festival, but that’s beside the point. Wilson then goes into a flashback of him as a kid, getting chastised in class for running a Mooncake game. Then we cut back to the present, where he is still staring at a gift, before moving on to the next scene. None of this comes back later in the movie. The gift is never mentioned. The flashback is completely irrelevant. But it’s there, because it’s recognizably Chinese.
That scene is an exemplar of pretty much everything that goes wrong in this film. It doesn’t really feel like a story. It’s a collection of scenes built around this very shallow understanding of the Filipino-Chinese experience. It is a first draft of a hastily researched script that never got around to being filled out with actual narrative and drama.
The film makes odd errors in shooting, too. There are at least a couple of very obvious instances where the movie breaks the 180-degree rule. This is filmmaking 101, and an error like that has no place in a professional production. The cast mainly overacts through every scene, wearing expressions that would feel much more appropriate in a soap.
I can speak on Mano Po 7 not just as a film critic, but also as a member of the Filipino-Chinese community. These films have always been baffling to me, because they do not represent an experience that I can recognize as someone who grew up Chinese. Visually, this film tones down the odd localized Orientalism of the previous movies, but deep in its heart, the thing it most wants to say about being Chinese in the Philippines is that we speak Chinese, eat at Gloria Maris, and give each other Mooncakes sometimes. It would be insulting if it weren’t so absolutely boring.
MANO PO 7: CHINOY OPENS IN LOCAL CINEMAS ON DECEMBER 14.