'Where I Am King' ('Hari Ng Tondo'): Toronto Review

Where I am King
Courtesy of Toronto International Film Festival
A likeable but slight Filipino family dramedy with little import appeal

A ruined millionaire tries to toughen up his grandkids by moving back to the slums

A self-made millionaire, worried that his bankruptcy will leave his grandkids ill-equipped for the world, decides to toughen them up by returning to the slums in Carlos Siguion-Reyna's Where I Am King. Marking the veteran Filipino director's return after a 14-year absence, the picture may have VOD appeal for Filipinos in Western markets; but its lightweight drama and sentimental moralizing hold little value beyond that for English-speaking moviegoers.

When Ricardo (Robert Arevalo) gets the news that his empire is collapsing, he allows the sale of most of his real estate holdings but hangs onto Alapaap, the multi-story apartment house where he grew up in Manila's Tondo slum. Ah, Tondo, "cradle of the brave," where leaders were born: This is where his pampered grandchildren must move, in Grandpa's effort to "teach you to grow balls."

Though Anna and Ricky nearly gag at the toilet situation and aren't thrilled about sharing their new apartment with so many others, they're good sports, agreeing to stay long enough to help Ricardo woo the old girlfriend he abandoned in favor of their late grandmother. Along the way, Anna will meet a virtuous and attractive young man only to spurn his affections in a fairly unbelievable way (she's repulsed by his speech impediment), and aspiring songwriter Ricky will pair up with a trio of smartass locals who are much better musicians than he is. (A sappy inspirational ballad he writes is played over and over here; it feels as if the one song accounts for 40 percent of the film's soundtrack.)

Ricky and Anna's parents have their own ideas about how to handle impending financial catastrophe, and pay the building's manager (Rez Cortez) to throw obstacles in the way of bonds that are forming rapidly here. This effort is barely dramatized at all, until a climactic crisis in which he actually seems to be helping Ricardo fight a sabotage effort instead of the other way around. Performances are genial but thin, as is the film's promotion of the no-brainer idea that those who've succeeded in a community should not forget the less fortunate around them.

Production company: Reynafilms, Inc.

Cast: Robert Arevalo, Liza Lorena, Rez Cortez, Aiza Seguerra, Cris Villonco, Ciara Sotto, Rafa Siguion-Reyna

Director: Carlos Siguion-Reyna

Screenwriter-Producer: Bibeth Orteza

Executive producers: Carlos Siguion-Reyna, Francisco Tiu-Laurel Jr.

Director of photography: Jay Abello

Editor: Manet A. Dayrit

Music: Myke A. Salomon

No rating, 90 minutes