Cast: Liza Soberano, Shay Mitchell
Trese is one of the most anticipated shows on Netflix. An anime based on comic books written by Budjette Tan and illustrated by Kajo Baldisimo, the show is set in Metro Manila and features a Filipino heroine. It’s also a showcase of the monsters and mythical beings of Philippine folklore.
Trese’s Metro Manila is a dark and gothic city where both underworld criminals and supernatural beings thrive. They make the city’s nightlife always exciting, even during curfew hours.
In the first scene of the maiden episode, the city’s working mortals get stranded when their MRT train breaks down near the Guadalupe station. The passengers disembark, only to be attacked by aswangs.
Another mysterious occurrence happens when the legendary white lady who stalks Balete Drive in Quezon City is found dead. (This show is about the supernatural, so anything can happen.)
Thus, when the police can’t solve these unusual crimes, they have to call a ghostbuster. Enter the beautiful Alexandra Trese, who has the power to fight aswang and the other malevolent beings. She is assisted by two brawny sidekicks, both dressed like Dick Tracy and humorously named Basilio and Crispin.
Thanks to her informant (a nuno sa punso), she begins to suspect that a corrupt mayor could be involved in the murders. The investigation entails battling dozens of aswang who hang out in the sleaziest section of Port Area.
Each episode of the first season of Trese is helmed alternately by four directors, among them Fil-American director Jay Oliva. The comic books were adapted to the series by four Filipino writers. The show comes in three languages: Tagalog, English and Japanese.
Trese is a landmark series for Filipinos, as it presents an intriguing aspect of Philippine culture to international audiences. Filipino viewers will enjoy the familiar settings, the numerous cultural and commercial references, and the scenes featuring our very own monsters.
The artwork is impressive and depicts Metro Manila as a noir-ish city that harks back to several gritty old classics like The Maltese Falcon and Blade Runner. Trese works like a fusion of East and West, or Japanese anime blended with Old Hollywood and presented with a Filipino twist.
However, due to the quick pacing of each episode, the creatures fail to make an impact. They’re deprived of a star entrance and disappear in over a minute. They come and go faster than it takes for Voltes V to volt in. It’s much like the special guest celebrities that would suddenly peek out from the window whenever Batman and Robin climbed the side of a building on a rope.
The creatures in Trese fail to make an impact because they come and go faster than it takes for Voltes V to volt in
Also, Filipino viewers know what the creatures are about, but those from other countries will need to take a Philippine Mythical Monsters 101 course as prerequisite to watching Trese.
I tried watching the Tagalog version, with Liza Soberano providing the voice of Alexandra Trese. Unfortunately, the writers didn’t pen the script in the colloquial way. Much of the Tagalog words they used sound beautiful and lyrical. But the voice talents seem to have been told to read their lines at a rapid pace. Consequently, it’s a bit of a chore to keep up with the plot. Furthermore, they say the lines in that familiar lifeless monotone that makes the characters sound as if they’re reciting the Panatang Makabayan.
The English version is slightly better, only because the lines don’t sound like they were written by Shakespeare. It’s easier to understand what’s going on. Shay Mitchell provides Trese’s voice for this version. Her languid delivery makes Trese come across as having imbibed a drug that takes her on an Alice in Psychedelic Land trip.
But now and then, the English version gives viewers a jolt whenever an aswang starts cursing in Tagalog. It’s also amusing to hear Shay Mitchell suddenly use recognizable Tagalog terms like “tabi tabi po” when she walks by a tree. She sounds just like the robotic Waze voice directing us to turn right on Tandang Sora Avenue. We’re left wondering how Basilio and Crispin would say that same line each time they might need to use a tree, like a dog uses a hydrant.
MOVE TO HEAVEN
Cast: Tan Joon Hang, Le Je Hoon, Hong Seung-hee
Compared to the grit and grueling violence of Trese, the Korean drama Move to Heaven is a placid pond adorned with lovely lilies. It’s a straightforward drama about Geu-Ru (played by Tan Joon Hang), a 20-year-old man who suffers from Asperger’s syndrome. Thus he has poor social skills, speaks in a deadpan manner, and is incapable of adapting to new routines. But he is very smart with numbers or statistics.
The first episode shows how he earns a living. He helps his widower dad run his business called “Move to Heaven.” They clean up the room or home where a person has passed away. It’s a service for the surviving kin who could be too traumatized to enter the premises. (Some of the dead were murder victims.) Hence their job title, trauma cleaners.
As the father-and-son team rummage through the possessions, pictures, and even receipts, they get to know the person who died. Through this process, they learn about habits, ambitions, dreams, and even everyday routines. It makes the task less gloomy, but all the more sad and poignant.
Geu-Ru’s world turns upside down when his father dies suddenly. Now orphaned, he is left with a street-smart uncle (played by Le Je Hoon) to care for him, and a young, pretty neighbor (played by Hong Seung-hee) who insists on watching every move the untrustworthy uncle makes.
The premise is based on an essay authored by the first ever trauma cleaner, though the succeeding episodes play like Rain Man, which starred Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. In the Oscar-winning film, the two played siblings, with Hoffman playing the autistic brother who is a genius when it comes to numbers.
Despite Move to Heaven’s morbid premise, every episode guarantees to make you feel good
But Rain Man is more of a crowd-pleasing star vehicle, while Move to Heaven delves into ordinary lives that turn out to be extraordinary. Each episode has the unlikely trio doing their job as trauma cleaners. Through Geu-Ru’s prowess with statistics and his uncle’s tough guy attitude, they get to fix the dead person’s unresolved issues. But there is a story arc for the season, and we see how Geu-Ru and his uncle try to get along, slowly but inevitably. And perhaps there might be a romance brewing between the uncle and the nosy neighbor.
Move to Heaven might be too melancholy for some viewers, but there are sporadic moments of joy and humor. The show is sensitively directed and acted. Thus despite the morbid premise, every episode guarantees to make you feel good.
Cast: Blanca Soto, Damian Alcazar
The Mexican telenovela is alive and kicking on Netflix. Señora Acero is a long-running show whose titular role is played by the impossibly voluptuous Blanca Soto.
Señora Acero adheres to the tradition of telenovelas, which means our heroine suffers endlessly in the hands of nefarious men and jealous vixens. What makes this one different is our señora is Mexico’s most wanted (and I should add, “most desired”) drug trafficker, or drug temptress.
The venerable telenovela may have traced its roots to the comedia. Put the blame on Spain for introducing the comedia to most of the countries it colonized. Whether it had been written and staged in Mexico or Antique province, this type of theater followed the same themes and plotline. It was about clan wars, often triggered by a romance a la Romeo and Juliet. Bloodshed plays a pivotal role and it’s usually featured as the grand finale.
As with Christianity, the comedia has soldiered on in Spain’s former colonies. They thrive in today’s telenovelas.
They also offer a sharp contrast to the K-dramas, which look so streamlined and minimalist as opposed to the bombastic Señora Acero. Even a violent crime drama like Vincenzo seems subtle in comparison. And unlike Vincenzo, Señora Acero has no time for comedy, though some of the lines are unintentionally funny. Like when the heroine is kidnapped by her enemies, the captor triumphantly tells her, “Your husband is now fertilizer and is being eaten by maggots!”
Yet despite the over-the-top situations, the entire cast acts earnestly. They don’t resort to camp.
Señora Acero has no time for comedy, though some of the lines are unintentionally funny: ‘Your husband is now fertilizer and is being eaten by maggots!’
The show moves at a furious pace. No time is wasted as the series kicks off and pays homage to The Godfather by staging a grand garden wedding in Tijuana. During the brief walk down the aisle, we immediately learn that the groom’s brother is in love with the bride, while the bride’s sister is in love with the groom. Just before the final vows are said, an SUV full of armed thugs invades the wedding and a slickly filmed gunfight follows. Not even the Corleones had it this bad.
WOMAN IN THE WINDOW
Cast: Amy Adams, Julianne More, Gary Oldman
Based on the novel of the same name, The Woman in the Window is a thriller in the boy/girl-who-cried-wolf vein. Obviously, it’s a woman who cries wolf in this movie, and she’s played by Amy Adams. Recently divorced, she’s suffering from agoraphobia. In her case, it’s the fear of venturing out of her home.
Being holed up in her New York apartment gives her time to spy on her new neighbors across the street. The missus (Julianne Moore) appears to be very friendly, while the husband (Gary Oldman) is abrasive. The teenage son (Fred Hechinger) seems to be suffering from neurosis, and our heroine suspects he is being physically abused by the father.
The plot gets rolling when she thinks and claims a murder has happened in her new neighbor’s house. But nobody believes her because life appears all hunky-dory with the family across the street.
The Woman in the Window, directed by Joe Wright, offers a fair amount of suspense and plot twists. Yet it can’t escape the fact that its premise is derivative and too similar to Alfred Hitchcock’s all-time classic Rear Window.
The lead played by James Stewart in the Hitchcock film is sidelined by a broken leg. Feeling trapped in his apartment, he whiles the time by observing the activities of his neighbors from his window, using his telescopic camera lens. (He happens to be a top-flight photojournalist.)
The Woman in the Window pales in comparison to the Hitchcock movie, which is as perfect as any Hitchcock film could get. The older film even has an added bonus of having Grace Kelly, who makes her every entrance so dramatic as she flaunts her elegant suits and gowns by Edith Head.
But the new movie also boasts a great cast. Both Adams and Oldman are very intense. She again confirms the fact that she’s among today’s most versatile stars. He matches her in every scene they’re in together by using his menacing shtick to great effect.
Viewers have theorized that The Woman in the Window is a testament to the lockdowns that have turned all of us into neurotic voyeurs
Viewers with overly analytical minds have theorized that The Woman in the Window is a testament to the lockdowns that have turned all of us into neurotic voyeurs. I think that’s too deep an analysis. I say the movie is a well-crafted thriller, but it will forever live in the shadow of Rear Window.