TYPE OF REVIEW : FIRST IMPRESSION REVIEW
No spoilers. For Hindsight Review, click here.
It’s been a while since I’ve regularly followed a Filipino teleserye. Biggest reason for that is we unsubscribed to GMA Pinoy TV back in the early days of COVID. $14.99 is $14.99, after all, and there wasn’t exactly new programming airing on Philippine TV at the time to warrant the extra expense. There is also an alternative to subscribing, but we weren’t about to watch low quality pirated episodes on sketchy blogs. Watching short, bitin clips on YouTube is never appealing either.
But one new Filipino series has caught my attention. And that is the GMA Network-Regal Entertainment co-production Mano Po Legacy – The Family Fortune.
I’ve watched (I think) a few of the entries into the long-running film series over the years. And in the past, I’ve thought the Mano Po “brand,” so to speak, would be ripe for a television adaptation. In this time of realignment in Philippine entertainment, the pieces came together. And GMA Network and Regal Entertainment finally made it happen. Both the idea of an adaptation/spin-off and the collaboration between the two media companies was enough to interest me in the series. Especially when GMA has been so averse to such collabs in recent years.
Though I wasn’t interested so much that we’d resume a subscription to GMA Pinoy TV, I at the very least checked out the YouTube highlights. Thankfully, Regal Entertainment has been fast and dedicated in uploading (full HD!) clips almost as soon as the episode has aired on TV. They’ve even put together omnibus-type videos recapping the previous five episodes of the week. And it’s through these clips I’ve been able to watch the show since it premiered earlier this month. Over the last three weeks, I’ve quite enjoyed the series. There’s a lot to like and a lot of aspects that are refreshing for a primetime Filipino soap opera.
But it was the final sequence of the just aired Episode 15 that left me in awe and pretty much sold me on Mano Po Legacy – The Family Fortune. So much that I was compelled to write this First Impression Review.
Just take a look:
This is not the kind of week-ending cliffhanger sequence you normally see on Philippine television. It felt more like a big Korean drama. Even harkening back to the good ol’ days of stressing over the latest episode of Korean blockbuster Penthouse.
And it’s this final sequence that really exemplifies what I’ve liked and enjoyed about the series so far in its first three weeks. Great writing. Captivating performances. Striking visuals and direction. It just feels grand and something refreshingly different.
Mano Po Legacy – The Family Fortune tells the story of the rich and powerful Chan family. Led by widowed matriarch Consuelo Chan (Boots Anson-Roa), the soapy family tree includes daughter Christine (Sunshine Cruz) as well as Valerie Lim, the common-law wife of her recently deceased son Edison.
The youngest generation and heirs-in-waiting of the Chan clan include her four handsome, but very different grandchildren. Anton (David Licauco) is Edison’s first son with his legal wife, but is not too interested in the family business. The more business-minded Joseph (Rob Gomez) is Edison’s eldest son, but born out of wedlock with his Filipina secretary. The rebellious, cocky Jameson (Nikki Co), is Edison’s son with Valerie who uses him to further her goals of wealth and power. And Anton’s younger brother Kenneth (Dustin Yu) just returns to the Philippines fresh from the U.S. where he lives with their mother.
The outsider-looking-in is the ambitious Steffy Dy (Barbie Forteza) who, coming from humble beginnings, secures a job at the Chan’s conglomerate in the hopes of climbing the ladder to ultimate success.
Like I mentioned earlier, Mano Po Legacy feels more like a Korean drama rather than your typical Filipino teleserye. That might seem like high praise as well as a knock on local soap operas. But there’s some key aspects that have me making such a comparison.
What might seem like a familiar set-up on paper, especially for the countless teleseryes about the rich and poor on Philippine TV, is elevated by cinematic direction, fast-paced writing and engaging performances from a mix of proven veterans and talented young faces.
Seemingly using that Regal pedigree, the series’ cinematic direction already has it standing out from the rest of Philippine primetime. Though all three major networks have made huge strides in terms of their soap operas’ and series’ visual presentation, not many match or even attempt to reach this sort of cinematic and careful direction seen here. It really does feel like you’re watching a feature film. And considering the material and its history, it’s to be expected.
The sequence I reference above is probably the best example of that sort of different approach that you don’t normally see. From the editing to the writing, it’s a very engrossing scene.
And that also applies to the writing as well. So far over these three weeks, the material has been both straightforward and exciting. But with carefully placed twists and turns that very much fit within the narrative that’s being established. And they’re not simply story turns to be used as shock and awe events. There is a delicate balance in tone and pacing that allows for every story beat to land and breathe. And it’s a seamless blend of familiar soapy goodness and good character-driven story.
That’s definitely not common for modern Filipino soap operas which usually lean toward over the top moments or social media-ready scenes to hook viewers. Good, character-driven stories are never guaranteed. But that’s not the case here as many of our main characters have been given unexpectedly deep backstories and development. Again, refreshing for Philippine TV.
Bringing it all together though is the wonderful cast.
Sunshine Cruz and Maricel Laxa draw upon their experience and skill to deliver the always fun and juicy back-and-forth. But again with the help of the tightly-written script, they also get the opportunity to take their respective characters beyond merely those catty confrontations.
Barbie Forteza has found great success in recent years in many different genres. Whether it’s the over-the-top afternoon drama or primetime romcoms, she’s also delivered in every role. Mano Po offers her the chance to take pieces from that diverse filmography to result in what may be her most mature and well-rounded television role to date. And she is always up to the task.
Barbie shares good chemistry with her romantic leads David Licauco and newcomer Rob Gomez who both embody the familiar leading men archetypes well and in a way without having them feel like tired characters we’ve seen before. The romance angle, however, never overpowers other stories. Especially for these three characters who have their own stories outside of any potential romance.
Newcomer Dustin Yu is also promising as the youngest Chan. And after watching him in My Extraordinary in 2020, it is great to see the talented Darwin Yu here as Steffy’s friend and admirer Leo. David Chua also deserves special mention as Philip, the scene-stealing right-hand man to Valerie Lim.
But returning once again to that clip above though, it really features the two actors who’ve left the biggest impression on me so far.
First, Nikki Co has been a loyal GMA artist since first competing on the network’s Starstruck. He finally gets what is his biggest role to date with Mano Po and he has made the most of the opportunity. Especially in the most recent episodes, he has delivered a powerful and emotional performance for what is probably one of the most interesting characters of the series. This is shaping up to what is very much a breakthrough-worthy performance for him.
And then there’s Boots Anson-Roa who is simply breathtaking in that monologue. A truly captivating performance, especially as it frames the intersecting storylines. But it’s also one of the many examples of the sort of gravitas that someone like Boots Anson-Roa can deliver for a series like this. Her presence alone elevates what is already strong material. And when she effortlessly delivers a scene like that above, it can mean very good things for the rest of the series.
Indeed, Mano Po Legacy – The Family Fortune has been a bit of a pleasant surprise for me. An unexpectedly cinematic Filipino primetime television series. Cinematic both visually and narratively, the series offers up something that is very different and thus refreshing for Philippine TV. Tightly-written, character-driven stories. Nuanced performances alongside carefully nuanced direction as well. I don’t know for how long this series is supposed to run, but it has certainly been an engaging three weeks so far. And I’m already eager to see what’s ahead.