“MARIA” is a martial-arts action thriller out of the Philippines that is now streaming on Netflix starring Cristine Reyes and Ronnie Lazaro. Directed by Pedring Lopez this story centers on a former assassin that has retired after faking her own death. She has a husband and young daughter and thinks she has escaped the violence of her past. But that is sadly never the case. She is discovered and will be forced to dip her toes back into the killing pool to regain the freedom she thought she already had.
I love action movies and feel much the same about the martial-arts genre. I’ve been watching them since I was a kid, so this film was naturally one the grabbed my curiosity. I also enjoy watching what different countries can do with this genre, primarily in terms of the fight choreography and how its filmed. Sometimes the narratives themselves are incredibly interesting and can give a routine action film a strong one-two punch in terms of action and gripping story telling.
The story in this one was very familiar with an assassin going on a rogue mission against her former employer. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll undoubtedly see this plot again in the future. The characters are all the routine plug-and-play individuals with generic motives and relationship dynamics. But for fans of violent fight-sequences that get the blood pumping while the blood is spilling. With very capable choreography that is captured with a nice eye behind the camera. I think this routine story is less of a hindrance to the overall entertainment.
The action is frequent, and the run-time is short. Which does make up for some not so stellar performances and a collection thin story-lines. The two bright spots were Cristine Reyes in the lead and Ronnie Lazaro who plays her mentor. I thought they both worked for the roles and their chemistry together was much more authentic than that of the other characters. The material was routinely on the clunky side, primarily the dialogue and it does show in many of the other performances. Basically, meaning it felt like actors delivering lines, and not genuine characters in a story.
This is a Filipino film and the Tagalog is subtitled. Now throughout the film characters will splash short doses of English in with the native tongue while conversing. I know in some instances this is considered normal casual speaking between people. I’ve witnessed this trait at times in real-life many when over hearing conversations. So, for that aspect it was realistic in a sense. But for the terms of the film and having a smooth flow from the screen through the subtitles, it was routinely distracting. I think this could have been cut back a lot more to simply create a seamless transition from audible to visual dialogue ques between languages, which would have made following along much easier.
But really it comes down to the action. If it’s good, it can make up for weaker writing and performances. And I would have to say this area of the film was a success. I thought the fight choreography was nicely crafted. It was slightly over orchestrated in very small stretches but not nearly enough to be a drawback. The filming of the fight sequences was technically sound with appealing angles and a smooth flow between longer shots from Lopez behind the camera. It wasn’t over-edited and there was a variety of fighting, gun-play, and knife-work to result in some bloody action that makes this film worth a shot for fans.
Cristine Reyes put in a ton of physical effort to make the fighting looking legit. She takes a beating but gives plenty as well to make it more compelling. It gives the action an added weight and just enough ramification. Her knife skills are impeccably captured and with Lopez showing he knows how to film action, this film is a success. The selling point here is Reyes in the lead carrying the action and that’s what she does. If you want something story driven, I think another film would be best. If you simply want some elegantly shot violence, then give it a shot.