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Matteo Guidicelli hopes MMFF’s Penduko ‘uplifts’ Filipino traditions, martial arts

MANILA, Philippines, October 31 ------ Essaying the 1954 comic book character Pedro Penduko, created by National Artist Francisco V. Coching, is a “very overwhelming” experience for Matteo Guidicelli.

The actor-host plays the titular role in the movie remake of Penduko, one of the official entries at the 49th Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) to be shown in cinemas starting on Christmas Day, Dec. 25. The film is written and directed by Jason Paul Laxamana (100 Tula Para Kay Stella, Between Maybes, Just a Stranger, and He Who Is Without Sin). “It’s truly overwhelming and it’s a big responsibility. I always think about it every night. I tell my wife (Sarah Geronimo) that this is a big thing to hold. Penduko is a household (name), a country’s name kumbaga,” Matteo shared in a press conference. “I told my wife that I gave everything here, the moment I followed direk’s instructions and prepared for the film. And hope our kababayans and the people watching will enjoy (the movie).” He likewise commended direk JP for being the “real driver” of the forthcoming flick.

The cast and the team behind Penduko were ready to shoot the film in the first quarter of 2020 but due to the pandemic, it was put on hold. Four years later, the film will finally be screened in cinemas as part of the MMFF official slate this year. Set in the modern day, the film revolves around Pedro, a young man who possesses mythical and supernatural powers, something that he and his father, Apo Tisot (played by award-winning actor John Arcilla), have inherited from their ancestors. But unlike Apo Tisot, who uses his gift to help the poor and sick, Pedro has other plans for himself. Pedro leaves his hometown and moves to the city to pursue his dreams. With no luck on his side, he starts doing odd jobs to make ends meet, completely wasting his gift and potential. But all is set to change when a secret organization owned by Gat Blanco (Albert Martinez) hires him as an albularyo agent, where he further hones his talent. He impresses people by his skills but at the same time, makes others jealous. A force of powerful witchcraft also comes and endangers the lives of many, including the ones closest to Pedro. He then uses all the skills he has to fight evil and makes unexpected enemies in the process. Will he be everybody’s new hero? Or will he fail to save the day?

In a one-on-one interview with The STAR, Matteo talked more about Penduko, how he resonated with his character and how MMFF stays relevant in this age of streaming. “It was a process prepared in different aspects, different levels but the main objective was to go on set free, liberated (and) reactive to what was happening. Yes, it’s full of action, it’s a family drama film, he’s a hero but not coming into the picture as a hard hero. No. He is a hero,” he said of Pedro. Matteo further described him as someone who is “passionate, always has that charisma, tough, driven.” He added, “He never loses that smile on his face. He has it all the time. Even though he is struggling, going through challenges, he always (wears) that smile on his face.” And this trait of Pedro is something that the actor could relate to. He offered, “Even though there are challenges that I go through, I always try to have that smile on my face because I always tell myself, ‘What’s life without a smile?’”

Just like Pedro, an “ordinary Filipino with so much dreams” who left his province to follow his ambitions in the big city, Matteo told this paper that similarly, he is a boy from the province who went to Manila and eventually landed in the world of showbiz. “I came from the province of Cebu. There are a lot of individuals there na masaya na sila dun. They like to stay there. But there are some individuals that have bigger vision. (They tell themselves), ‘I wanna go to Manila. I wanna go to the city. I have dreams to be successful.’” Matteo furthered that although Pedro is “happy” living in his hometown, he wanted to create a difference in his life by going out of his shell and making a life for himself in the big city, which includes having a decent job, living in a condominium and owning a car. “He wants everything,” declared Matteo. “He worked very hard for this. And in the end, he realized that, ‘Hey, is this really what matters? These riches? Or is it how I touched people’s lives?’” That’s one takeaway an audience can glean from the film, he said. “Yes the cliché term, with great power comes great responsibility. But that’s very true. Penduko, from just a normal citizen or an individual who comes to Manila, nurturing his skill, being successful then he became powerful. Now what will he do with that power? Good or bad?”

Further relating his life to Pedro, he stated, “(As mentioned) I’m a boy from Cebu and I’m here now in show business. And I think show business has given each and every one a responsibility. You, me, people in the media, it’s a big responsibility. “Because this is what our kabataan follows. Like what they say, perception is reality. Media is a very powerful platform. Film is very powerful. Music is very powerful. So I hope this film will uplift Filipino culture, Filipino martial arts, Filipino traditions and Filipino lessons and values.” Moreover, the 33-year-old actor dedicated his first MMFF movie starrer to the Penduko behind-the-scenes team and his family for all their efforts in making the film happen. “And I always believe that this, today, happened, it’s not because of me, it’s because of the support, it’s because of the team (and) it’s because of the people who believed in me. The fact that I’m playing Pedro Penduko is already an overwhelming thing for me and that’s more than enough already. And to give the character justice would be amazing. That’s my dream — to give Penduko justice and to become a representation of Filipino culture,” he asserted.

Matteo is also thrilled to be spending Christmas this year with an MMFF movie, with his wife and family. “I hope everybody will have appreciation for the movie because we all worked hard for this. If anything like that happens (MMFF awards), those are bonuses. I would appreciate that obviously. That will be a dream come true. But the main objective here is to represent the Filipino culture, Filipino films and traditions,” he reiterated. On why film festivals with focus on theatrical screenings, such as the MMFF, are still relevant in today’s age of streaming, he affirmed, “Definitely, it does (matter). Because you know, it’s a venue where competition happens. It’s a showcase of directors, PDs (production designers), makeup artists (creative works) and actors.” “People come out wanting to have that competition and competition is always good. It lets us push the boundaries, bring it up a level, (and) bring it up all the time. And with streaming, this is a new challenge. So the fact that streaming is here, the more we have to make it better kumbaga. So it’s always something evolving. Challenge is good.” “Yes there are pros and cons but the challenge is good. And we really have to bring out something new and push harder every time,” he concluded.

Meanwhile, direk JP introduced a whole new dimension and a different backstory for Penduko after finding out that the previous versions have no consistent backstory. The late actor Efren Reyes Sr. was the first to portray the Filipino superhero in a film in 1954, followed by Ramon Zamora in 1973, Janno Gibbs in the ‘90s and Matt Evans in 2006 (Komiks Presents: Da Adventures of Pedro Penduko) and 2007 (Komiks Presents: Pedro Penduko at ang mga Engkantao). “Paiba-iba siya ng kwento. But one thing that is consistent in all Pedro Penduko’s incarnations is that he always becomes a platform to show this Filipino folklore, mythology. The setting or context is always like that. There’s albularyo, agimat, duwende, always rich in Filipino folklore,” explained direk JP. The filmmaker retained the Filipino folklore aspect but injected a modern twist to the backstory of Pedro in his reimagined version. “Since the last Penduko, the Filipino audience has been exposed to Marvel movies, superhero movies and Netflix content streaming so I felt na nagkaroon na ng evolution yung taste ng audience when it comes to this kind of material.” For the 2023 version of Penduko, he brought the character to the city instead of the rural setting as seen in the earlier editions. “They were all great,” commented direk JP. “I want (the new) Penduko na maging isa siyang possibleng bahagi ng reality ng modern life.” Penduko is the first MMFF venture of Epik Studios, Cignal TV and Sari Sari Network, Inc. It also stars Mark Anthony Fernandez, Phoebe Walker, Marissa Sanchez, Candy Pangilinan, Andrea Del Rosario, Arron Villaflor, Gene Padilla, Joe Vargas, Martin Venegas, Migo Valid, Keagan De Jesus, Kurt Delos Reyes, Tyro Daylusan, Zombie Tugue, TJ Valderrama, Jobelyn Manuel, JC Tiuseco, Andrea Babierra, It’s Showtime’s Mini Miss U viral contestant, Annika Co, and more.



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