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Director Jason Paul Laxamana leaps from romance into action

December 26 ------ Jason Paul “JP” Laxamana has proven himself in the romance genre with films like 100 Tula Para Kay Stella, Just A Stranger, Between Maybes, etc. Now, he has taken a leap into the action-adventure realm with his latest big-screen project, the 2023 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) entry Penduko. Direk JP reimagines National Artist Francisco V. Coching’s 1954 comic book, retelling the story of the Filipino superhero to a new generation. 


Pedro Penduko, played by Matteo Guidicelli, is born with supernatural powers that he and his father, Apo Tisot (John Arcilla) inherited from their ancestors. But unlike Apo Tisot, who uses his gift to help the poor and the sick, Pedro has other plans for himself. He leaves his hometown to venture into the big city, where he tries to make ends meet with odd jobs, consequently, wasting his unique gifts away. But that changes when he’s recruited and trained further by Gat Blanco (Albert Martinez) who runs an underground organization with albularyos-for-hire. When a powerful force of witchcraft threatens the lives of his loved ones, Pedro is compelled to step up and use his newfound training and skill set to defend them. “He’s a reluctant superhero,” JP told The STAR when asked to describe Penduko as a superhero. “He wants to blend in with the people but he has no delusions of grandeur that he can save the world. But when certain circumstances arise, he’s willing to take up the cudgels and protect the people that he loves.” 


The filmmaker admitted feeling both excited and pressured wading into “uncharted” territory. While he immediately enjoyed the script-writing process, he acknowledged that delving into the iconic franchise required that delicate balance of making the character fresh yet familiar, considering its earlier adaptations. “Mas pinakaunang na-enjoy ko yung script-writing itself kasi talagang ang daming pwedeng puntahan ng franchise ng Penduko. I mean, franchise in the sense that it’s been done as comics, TV show, movies, ‘di ba? So, pinaka na-excite ako sa script-writing pa lang kasi ayun yun parang konting mali, parang konting ganun (tweak) mo lang, mababasag yung franchise so dapat maingat ka. “How do you turn Pedro Penduko into a hero na feeling fresh but at the same time familiar? So, I enjoyed that process,” he further told this paper in the exclusive chat. The pressure, on the other hand, emanated from the fact that he follows in the footsteps of Erik Matti, being a heavyweight in the industry who previously tackled the franchise. Despite the weight of expectations, JP was fueled by his passion for the action genre, stemming from his upbringing as a ‘90s kid immersed in anime. “I’m really into this genre because I’m a ‘90s kid, I grew up on anime, and I was excited kung ano ang pwede ko mai-ambag sa pagpapatuloy ng kwento,” he said. 


While the original Penduko portrayed by Janno Gibbs in the ‘90s leaned more towards comedy, JP’s rendition of Penduko is characterized as “more action-adventure,” albeit still infused with comedic elements. “Syempre, meron pa ring elements of comedy kasi sabi namin, ‘di ba malaki influence nung mga Marvel movies? ‘Di ba ganoon din naman sila talagang serious superhero movie pero may light-hearted side that makes (the superheroes) funny and adorable. It’s the same here in Penduko.” As for crafting the action scenes, he cited the influence of Jet Li movies. Despite limitations, the director strategically focused on hand-to-hand combat and Filipino martial arts. He said he utilized available tools and resources to create compelling and realistic action sequences. “Of course, we were aware of our limitations. Because to be able to mount a great action set piece, medyo may kamahalan din, kakain din ng oras, yung mga may mga kable-kable. But my process also is dapat ilatag muna sakin kung ano ba talaga yung tools na meron ako,” he said. “Para kapag sinabing wala kang ganyan, wala kang kable, hindi mo pa pangarapin na may lumilipad-lipad. So we really focused more on hand-to-hand combat, Filipino martial arts, and then dinaan ko sa iba’t-ibang shots para alam mo yun, hindi siya para mag-mukhang nagsusuntukan (lang). Nagkukuwento pa rin ako kahit merong basagan ng ulo (despite the banging of heads). “Ayoko kasi ibibigay ko lang, ‘O ganito, two minutes na suntukan.’ Hindi po ganun. We really have a detailed plan of what we wanted to happen in every fight scene. I enjoyed the process but since this is my first time, I learned a lot, and hopefully, I will get to apply them in my next films with the same genre.” 


He also shed light on Matteo’s portrayal of Penduko. According to the director, the actor-athlete got himself an acting coach, Ruby Ruiz, just for the film. “That’s what I appreciated about Matteo. He took the initiative to get an acting instructor so that when he arrived on the set, he was more or less prepared,” said JP. “But the development that I liked the most that happened to Matteo, as time went by, his playfulness came out, which, to me, seemed like your real self (addressing Matteo). I can imagine him with Sarah G at their home, always teasing his wife. So, he has that natural side of him that fits perfectly for Penduko because Penduko has a wacky character. “Perhaps, as we got used to each other, with no pretenses, the character of Penduko became natural for him. He was not afraid to appear goofy because that was our initial fear — that Matteo might not be willing to act silly or funny. But it turns out that it comes naturally to him, surprising as it may seem.” 


Reflecting on the overall shoot experience for Penduko, JP admitted that directing an action film was not the most difficult but undoubtedly the most different venture in his career. “You know, I enjoyed every minute of it. I really enjoyed the entire process and I’m not pretending to be a master of this genre because this is my first action project. But I learned a lot that hopefully I can apply in my next (action project) if there’s one.” Rated G (General Audience) by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), Penduko is produced by Epik Studios, Sari Sari Network, Inc., Viva Films, MediaQuest Ventures, Studio Viva and Ninuno Media. Opening on Christmas Day, Dec. 25, the action-adventure movie also stars Kylie Verzosa, Mark Anthony Fernandez, Annika Co, Candy Pangilinan, Aaron Villaflor, Andrea del Rosario, Zombie Tugue, Phoebe Walker, JC Tiuseco, Marissa Sanchez, among many others. 




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