Tony Reyes’ recent spate of films with constant collaborator Vic Sotto hasn’t been great. They always seemed to just pair Vic Sotto with some young hot female star and lazily throw in all the stuff that’s expected from his movies: he beats up some bad guys, gets told that he’s gwapo several times, and abuses a group of funny sidekicks, all while referencing whatever happens to be popular at the time.Ang Darling Kong Aswang starts out that way, but suddenly takes a turn for the better, revealing a Tony Reyes we haven’t seen in a pretty long while.
Victor (Vic Sotto) is a widowed father of two girls who’s mostly given up on finding another wife. But that all changes when the lovely Eliza (Cristine Reyes) moves into town. The two hit it off right away, but things take a turn when Eliza confesses a secret: she and her family are all aswang. Victor decides to marry her anyway, and the two live out a blissful if complicated marital lifestyle. Unfortunately, the aswang clan that Eliza came from isn’t too happy with her choice in mate, and set out to bring her back by any means necessary.
Ang Darling Kong Aswang is the kind of MMFF film that tries to hedge its bets, stuffing its runtime with elements of every genre possible. It’s part horror, part action, part comedy, and part romance. The first act, which is mostly dedicated to the growing romance between Victor and Eliza, is painfully weak. All modern Vic Sotto film romances invariably happen the same way: he meets some pretty girl, they immediately fall in love, and spend inordinate lengths of time staring at each other. When they’re apart, the people around them constantly tell each other how good-looking their paramour is. It isn’t very interesting as it goes, and way too much time is given to soft focused shots of Cristine Reyes’ face. We get it. She’s pretty.
Things pick up in the second act, when the movie starts to explore the consequences of having an aswang wife. It turns itself into a domestic comedy somewhat akin to the original Okay Ka Fairy Ko series, employing some observational household humor and applying a layer of the fantastic to it. The centuries old trope of the wife who can’t cook is given new life in light of the aswang’s allergy to seasoning. Though some more attention could have been given to the characters, the second act does provide some solid laughs. The movie carries this momentum into the third act, where it shifts into a pretty competent action/adventure film.
It doesn’t all make sense, but the movie makes up for it with a real sense of fun. There’s a manic energy to this picture that’s been missing in the last few Tony Reyes films. Once it lurches past the clunky first act and goes full bore on the whole aswang conceit, the movie mostly rolls along joyfully, delivering plenty of memorable scenes. Like an aswang Denise Laurel scampering across the side of a house. Or a shamanic Joey de Leon arming the characters with magical weapons. The movie loses some momentum when it tries to squeeze some unnecessary family backstory, but it works for the most part.
Tony Reyes just seems to be enjoying himself. He’s certainly paying more attention to how the film is shot, experimenting with handheld techniques and generally just playing around. It doesn’t all work, but it’s just nice to see him trying something new. The special effects aren’t great, but they get the point across. The fights are cleverly edited and pretty well choreographed. The cast is generally pretty game, though not everyone gets a lot to do. Vic Sotto remains Vic Sotto, playing pretty much the same character he’s been playing for the last ten years. He still has flashes of brilliance as it goes, but it mostly feels like he’s going through the motions. Cristine Reyes is a bit of a revelation. The movie uses her as an ornament too often, but when she’s actually given the chance to stretch, she completely lets her guard down and makes a good job of it. She sells her fight scenes pretty well, convincingly expressing the strength of her character.
Ang Darling Kong Aswang would be a far better movie if the entire first act were just removed. We could’ve just started with Victor just finding out that his sweetheart is a monster, and go on from there. Because those last two acts, though still suffering from many of the bad habits of his recent work, feel closer to the strange, absurd magic of Tony Reyes’ films from the late 80s and early 90s. People may knock on those films for being cheap and corny, but the truth is that we loved them because of the sheer manic joy that they put up on screen. This isn’t quite it, but for the first time in a long time, the joy appears to be coming back.