- Wilson Lee Flores () - September 14, 2003 - 12:00am
Shanghai, China – What happens when a high-powered Philippine showbiz "coalition of the willing" led by commander Mother Lily Y. Monteverde, her ally Marichu Vera-Perez Maceda, Susan Roces, Christopher de Leon, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Lorna Tolentino, Judy Ann Santos, Carmina Villarroel, Alessandra de Rossi, Chynna Ortaleza, Jay Manalo, Cogie Gutierrez and Richard Gutierrez with three top film directors and a platoon of technical foot soldiers invade China’s glittering Shanghai City three and a half hours away from Manila via Philippine Airlines? The Philippine Star entertainment photographer Richard Chen, with photogs Xander Angeles and Ben Nollora, took all the posed shots of this unprecedented journey, while this amateur photographer waited only for candid moments and unguarded poses.

China’s 5,000-year-old civilization is not only about big-budget kung fu films, Jet Li, Bruce Lee or Jacky Chan. Director Eric Matti explains that his favorite China-made film was Zhang Yimou’s poignant low-key love story The Road Home, while Boyet de Leon said his co-stars should watch another internationally-acclaimed Chinese film, Raise the Red Lantern starring Asia’s screen goddess Gong Li as a concubine of the feudal era.

Mano Po
tells the riveting saga of a Chinese immigrant tycoon and his three rival wives. How can this rare constellation of so many showbiz stars in Mano Po 2 uplift Philippine cinema, in terms of greater acting prowess, artistic excellence and box office impact? How will this major movie project treat the controversial and heart-wrenching dilemma of polygamy? How accurate will the film script be to the sensibilities of our oft-misunderstood ethnic Chinese minority, especially on our wish to be accepted as full-fledged Filipino citizens who cherish our cultural and ethnic identity?
More Colorful Than Sulu Sultan’s 300-Member Delegation
Perhaps not since the Sulu Sultan’s 1417 tribute mission with a 300-member delegation to the court of Ming Dynasty’s Emperor Yong-Le or the 1974 terno-wearing First Lady Imelda Romualdez Marcos swept regally into Mao Zedong’s austere Cultural Revolution Beijing had China witnessed a more star-studded, colorful and huge visiting Philippine delegation than the recent 50-member Mano Po 2 contingent of Regal Entertainment.

For four grueling yet fun-filled days from August 30 to September 2, Mother Lily led the cast and crew of her much-awaited Mano Po 2 movie for non-stop photo/video shootings all over Shanghai. This bustling megapolis of contrasting ancient grandeur, high-tech economic wonders and incredible shopping bargains was the perfect visual backdrop for the China scenes of this epic film drama.

Award-winning Boyet de Leon plays the immigrant "rags-to-riches" Chinese tycoon. His three wives are – Susan Roces and Kris Aquino playing the matured and youthful versions of the first wife, Zsa Zsa Padilla as the long suffering second wife from China, and Lorna Tolentino as the half-Chinese half-Filipina contravida third wife. Showbiz news recently buzzed with the explosive "word war" between Lorna T. and Dina Bonnevie due to a dispute for the coveted role of the controversial third wife.
Oakwood 2 In Shanghai Broadway Mansion, The Bund
In the two occasions when our two busloads of invaders had to shoot in the Bund, we literally took over the lobby of the circa 1934 Shanghai Broadway Mansion Hotel for makeup, hairdressing and wardrobe changes, creating a crowd of spectators almost reminiscent of the Magdalo group’s unannounced takeover of Oakwood. The onlookers and tourists couldn’t figure out this group of foreigners wearing traditional cheongsams and old-fashioned Chinese shirts, and we heard one young lady remarking in Mandarin: "They are making a kung-fu martial arts movie!"

Unfortunately, most of the onlookers ogling the Mano Po 2 spectacle mistook the photogenic stars for Malaysians or Thais, with some people not even knowing where the Philippines is due to our weak economy! The frowning security men and hotel staff at Shanghai Broadway Mansion couldn’t evict the Mano Po 2 group due to the fast-paced agility of the showbiz celebrities. Even without their usual alalays, they were so quick to get all set after only 10 minutes and rushed out of the charming hotel with all their stuff before the police or military forces could descend upon us mysterious intruders or coup plotters!

The only coup that transpired were the two successful photo/video shootings at night and one morning at the Bund, called Wai-tan in Mandarin. It is the world-famous riverside embankment with elegant 19th century banks, hotels and massive neoclassical buildings which has been described as the "Wall Street of Asia." Aside from the opium-trading British who carved their areas of domination in this city and other parts of China, the French, Americans, the Japanese and other Western powers also took over areas of Shanghai under their control until the 1949 revolution drove away all colonial vestiges.

The Mano Po 2 shooting centered in the northwestern part of the Bund, which unknown to the Philippine showbiz celebrities, used to be the British Public Gardens in the colonial imperialist era and which used to have a famous sign at the entrance announcing :"No Dogs or Chinese Allowed." Mao Zedong’s epoch-making 1949 revolution tore away this sign which symbolized colonial subjugation, renamed the area as present-day Huangpu Park, and the once massive slum and farming area of Pudong across the river is now Asia’s booming new financial hub with gleaming skyscrapers.
Clash Of Boyet’s 3 Wives In Longhua Temple, Mao’s 3 Wives
Who among the four actresses – Susan, Kris, Zsa Zsa and Lorna will deliver the best award-winning performance? Listening to the celebrities practice some of their Hokkien Chinese/South Fujian dialogues already gave us an inkling of the bitter conflicts and high drama of this Mano Po 2 film.

Zsa Zsa laughingly told others that this writer was already her language coach, because we could clearly understand her delivery of Hokkien lines. Unknown to most people, Susan Roces can speak Hokkien Chinese lines, because her French-Jewish mestiza grand-aunt Julita Levy married into the pre-war Gotamco lumber clan. It is also a coincidence that Susan Roces is a second-cousin of Filinvest Group/East-West Bank matriarch Mercedes Tan Gotianun. However, since Susan plays the role of the Filipina wife, she won’t need to speak the Hokkien Chinese dialect used by our ethnic Chinese minority in the Philippines.

Spirituality is alive and thriving in modern China. Mano Po 2 had extensive photo/video shoots at the 1,017-year-old Longhua Buddhist Temple and Pagoda.

They also shot in the Paris-like and vast Longhua Revolutionary Martyrs’ Park. Mother Lily, her daughter Roselle Monteverde-Teo and supervising producer Manny Valera chose these sites, with support from movie directors Eric Matti, Boots Plata and Joey Gosiengfiao. Marichu "Manay Ichu" Maceda, whose family used to own Sampaguita Pictures, assisted her friend Mother Lily as an adviser and volunteer wardrobe consultant.

During the shoot, a perplexed Buddhist monk emerged and seemed ready to jump into the air with Shaolin-style martial arts to drive us foreign invaders out of his temple compound. Mother Lily quickly preempted his anger by respectfully getting joss sticks to offer prayers and by using her fluent Mandarin to befriend the unsmiling young monk. Mother Lily later unleashed the charms of our showbiz stars, inviting Boyet, Susan, Zsa Zsa and Lorna to pose for photos with the now smiling monk. If the monk only knew that he was posing with stars involved in a high-profile film on polygamy.

The lush greeneries and grand sculptures of the Longhua Revolutionary Martyrs’ Park were a picture-perfect setting for more Mano Po 2 shooting. The park honors the selfless patriotism of those who gave their lives for the 1949 revolution, with many walls adorned with patriotic poems.

On a big block of rock where Boyet and his three on-screen wives posed, there was the powerful cursive-style calligraphy of Mao Zedong chiseled in gold colors. That poem of Mao was written to ease the agony of a revolutionary whose wife had died, and in that same beautiful poem Mao also paid tribute to his first wife Yang Kaihui who was executed in 1930 for refusing to renounce her revolutionary husband. Coincidentally like Boyet’s Chinese tycoon character in Mano Po 2, Mao also had three wives.
Humility Of Celebrities, Sexy Costumes, Invading Yuyuan Gardens
The hectic Shanghai trip revealed the surprising professionalism and humility by the senior stars of Philippine showbiz. The earliest riser daily was Queen of Philippine Movies Susan Roces, who even slept on a bone-shaped pillow so that her hairdo wouldn’t be messed up. She told Philippine Star her husband Fernando Poe, Jr. has no political ambitions, but she admitted they were touched by the outpouring of support.

Boyet always carried a black leather backpack like a dutiful boy scout, with his things in it. He also took videos of Shanghai during breaks. Zsa Zsa and Lorna reportedly have scoliosis, yet they kept any tiredness to themselves and even carried their own clothes. Mother Lily one night also had to spend hours ironing all the costumes for the next morning’s shooting, since she told us the five-star Hua Ting Hotel was also going to charge her five-star rates for ironing of clothes!

It was also a wonderful experience to be allowed in the dressing/makeup room, witnessing how our stars transform themselves into goddesses! Zsa Zsa told us that most of her sexy figure-fitting cheongsams were original Vivienne Tam creations, which she bought in Hong Kong. She, Lorna, Carmina, Alessandra and Chynna looked so gorgeous with the high-slit designs of cheongsams showing off their sexy legs.

Unlike Chynna or Carmina who looked like sensuous candidates to become an emperor’s new concubines with their cheongsams, the pretty Judy Ann Santos preferred to wear her cheongsams like Vietnamese-style ao-dai dress, with black pants covering her legs. Though we chatted with most of the stars such as Carmina about her failed marriage and her new lover, also the sexy Alex de Rossi having borrowed our cellphone to text her boyfriend Oyo Boy Sotto at past midnight, we forgot to ask Juday questions to verify tsismis that the married former "bad boy" Robin Padilla is now courting her.

A unique site for pictorial was Yuyuan Gardens, originally owned by the Pan family of wealthy Ming Dynasty officials. This exquisite showcase of traditional Chinese landscape art and geomancy was bombed in the 1842 Opium War when Britain compelled China to allow its profitable opium trade. Yuyuan Gardens was also attacked by 19th century French military forces when the West aided the corrupt Manchu regime against the nationalist Taiping rebels. How would history chronicle this 2003 lively and friendlier invasion of Philippine showbiz stars to film and shoot inside this elegant two-hectare oasis of ancient gardens and pavilions?
World-Class Paradise For Shoppers
Atrip to Shanghai will never be complete without losing one’s self in its many shopping areas, from the popular Nanjing East Road (Nanjing Lu), the Huahai Lu area, the Yuyuan Gardens Bazaar area to the Xiangyang market. The showbiz stars showed that at least in shopping and haggling for bargains, Filipinos are still globally-competitive! Do not buy things based on price tags, keep bargaining for discounts, even inside some of the fancy department stores!

There was one evening when Jay Manalo, Cogie Domingo and his mother, Chynna Ortaleza and her mother and Richard Gutierrez ate only the first two courses of dinner and slipped away on taxis to shop ahead of our whole group in Nanjing Road. However, since they forgot to ask the Mandarin name, which is "Nanjing Lu," they had to call us via cellphones for Mandarin instructions to be given the taxi drivers.

China has incredibly cheap prices for clothes, fashion accessories, a dizzying array of fascinating toys, trendy shoes, bags and thousands of other items.

They also produce and sell imitation Rolex and other watches, plus all kinds of luxury brand goods. China’s being the world’s top exporter of goods has made it the paradise for shoppers.

On our last day, Judy Ann Santos and her lady friend were so busy with shopping pasalubong she opted to skip the sumptuous luncheon "lauriat" hosted by the Carlos Chan family of Oishi Liwayway snack foods and later took the taxi for the one-hour ride to the airport. When we earlier texted the Chan family of the Mano Po 2 trip to Shanghai, they expressed admiration for Mother Lily and offered support. With 12 factories all over China in only a decade, Oishi Liwayway has established a proud presence for Philippine business in this world’s fastest-growing economic power.

Carlos Chan’s son Oszen Chan, nephew Walter Angsamto and daughter-in-law Kim Chan prepared the luncheon at a posh five-storey restaurant where Zsa Zsa, Boyet and Lorna sang songs. Mother Lily and Susan Roces brought the house down dancing to the song Spaghetti Sex Bomb sang by gay hairstylist Jeff Robles. Carlos Chan is the elder brother of Bench founder and owner Ben Chan.

The shooting in Shanghai was a fitting opening salvo to the Mano Po 2 film project, Regal Entertainment’s December 2003 Metro Manila Film Festival offer for the Philippine public. Indeed, this movie shares cosmopolitan Shanghai’s many qualities – innovative, larger-than-life, fraught with clashing contrasts, full of talents, dramatic, ambitious, vigorous and exciting.
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Thanks for your numerous messages, including the positive reaction of several Cabinet officials to the Dolphy for Defense Secretary column. Thanks to Filipino students Jonas Estacio and Brian Cu of National University of Singapore for their ideas on bulakbol sports. Continue to e-mail, or or P.O. Box 14277, Ortigas Center, Pasig City.

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