Finding a Focus

'Petrang Kabayo' features all the earmarks of a rushed production.

Petrang Kabayo features all the earmarks of a rushed production. The topical references and the shoddy production all indicate a film that was rushed to the finish, eschewing what most would consider a standard of quality for the sake of getting the movie into theaters. In the way, the film is typically a mess. But the film’s lead star does much to make the film actually watchable. Vice Ganda gives the film a focal point, filtering all the wackiness through the actor’s unique comic voice. And it sort of works.

As a child, Peter (Vice Ganda) was adopted by a wealthy haciendera after running away from his abusive father. Now an adult, Peter has grown to be cruel and domineering. When his adoptive mother dies, Peter is left to take care of her many holdings, much to the dismay of the people who now work for him. But Peter gets his comeuppance when the goddess of horses places a curse on him. Now, whenever he gets angry or is cruel to others, he will turn into a horse. Peter is forced to change his ways, lest he lives out the rest of his life pulling a kalesa.

The film is directed by Wenn Deramas, but the authorial voice seems to be coming from the film’s main star. Vice Ganda provides a focal point for the film’s wacky antics. While a lot of the film still feels scattershot, and the storytelling is still a mess, the unique comic voice of Vice Ganda lends the film and sense of unity. Whether the humor is to your taste is another question. The film relies less on slapstick (though there’s still plenty of it) and more on the pithy observations and sarcastic putdowns of the lead star. It does get a tad repetitive, but Vice Ganda’s rapid-fire delivery lets things pass a lot quicker. When the movie hits a particularly absurd stride, the gags come fast and furious.

The film benefits from having a smaller focus. Most recent local comedies tend to stuff everything together in the name of mass appeal. It’s striking that Petrang Kabayo doesn’t even really have a romantic subplot, the time reallocated towards creating a fuller main character. The narrative still takes a couple of baffling shortcuts (particularly in the introduction of a late-film conflict), but it more or less holds together. The CGI horse isn’t the prettiest special effect you’ll see, but it gets the job done. That’s more than you can say for the more conventional shots, which are too often bafflingly out of focus. In general, the production doesn’t have the polish that one comes to expect from even local films, with jittery editing and a minimal coverage.

The lack of coverage can be especially felt in the supporting. Some of the actors really need an extra take or two to really nail their lines. A reference to the recent Miss Universe Pageant is a testament to how quickly a local film can be completed nowadays, and it really seems to be at the cost of better takes. Vice Ganda is the only one who really seems to be able to avoid this problem. He may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but his delivery is pitch perfect most of the time. And it’s really his personality and comic sensibilities that give this film its center.

Petrang Kabayo is still pretty uneven, but it certainly has its charms. It’s a step up from your usual local comedy, the film having a sense of focus not often afforded in this modern, mass-oriented culture. That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its problems, because it does. But the spirited lead performance by Vice Ganda does much to distract from these problems. It’s still not something you could quite call a good movie, but the potential is there.

My Rating:

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