First, the good news: Onat Diaz’s “Kung Fu Divas” may be “just” a fantasy-comedy caper, but it’s visually vivid, doesn’t scrimp on production values, and elicit perky performances from its actors.
It’s also great that, unlike many local in-your-face “comedies,” this movie doesn’t scream at you and hit you on the head with its visual and aural salvos. That reveals the production’s relative confidence in its innate ability to entertain without bludgeoning, and its relative respect for its viewers’ senses—and sensibilities!
On the other hand, despite its obvious plus points, the film fails to come off as a complete treat, due to deficiencies in its storytelling, and what eventually turns out to be its too varied mix of disparate elements, which fail to harmoniously fuse together by the film’s final fade.
To start with, the movie banks too much and for too long on a recurring plot element and running gag revolving around the beauty-pageant rivalry between the truly lovely Marian Rivera and the less indisputably “beautiful” Ai Ai delas Alas.
This “chapter” in the flick’s storytelling takes much too much of the production’s running time, until we end up wondering if the filmmaker is just a one-trick pony.
Later, it turns out that writer-producer-director Diaz does have more filmic tricks up his ample sleeve, including a long kung fu subplot that seeks to make viewers believe that Marian and Ai Ai’s seethingly inimical and antipodal characters are in fact—twins! Not identical twins, to be sure, but siblings just the same.
The P24,000 question: If they share pretty much the same genes, why do they look so radically different from each other? —Not to let the cat completely out of the bag, but let’s just say that Dr. Vicky Belo had, uh, something to do with it. —Huh?!
The point to all this is that the flick’s storytelling alibis, red herrings and other “explanations” may be creative and sometimes even droll, but they end up as a messy bag of tricks and shticks. Which is not to say that they aren’t occasionally visually diverting—but, an integral and focused production they do not make.
In fact, after a while, watching “Kung Fu Divas” is like viewing at least two different storylines in “pushme-pullyou” interplay—between that far-out kung fu caper and the similarly incongruous beauty-pageant plot conceit!
It’s a good thing that the flick compensates in part with the unusually perky performance it elicits from Marian, who emerges as the production’s biggest stellar surprise. Ai Ai does her best to keep up with her, but her lack of authentic physical allure and her signature “shouted” performance style conspire to make the senior comic’s actual achievement less admirable than obviously intended.
The other thespic surprise in the production is turned in by new screen hunk, Edward Mendez, in the plum “introducing” role of the twins’ kung fu mentor and defender from the other, martial-arts appendage of this perplexingly “ambidextrous” film.
He and Marian keep things viewable, even as over-the-top developments water down the production’s obvious strengths.
Its heart may be in the right place, but “Kung Fu Divas” needs to learn when to leave well enough alone!