PH action film ‘Topakk’ screened at Cannes
The current demand for action genre movies in the global market prompted Richard Somes and his team to create “Topakk,” which was recently screened at the Fantastic Pavilion of the Cannes Marché du Film in France.
This was according to filmmaker Will Fredo, who cowrote the script with Somes and coproduced the movie under his company Fusee. “Our orientation has always been to go global, especially since the international market is hungry for Southeast Asian films, particularly in the action genre. We’re hoping to start a trend,” said Will, who also served as executive director of the Film Development Council of the Philippines from 2016 to 2018.
In “Topakk” (Trigger), Arjo Atayde plays a security guard who was previously discharged from the military due to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He finds himself embroiled in a different kind of war when a young woman (Julia Montes) seeks his protection against a corrupt police death squad.
The Fantastic Pavilion, a new hub for the genre community, debuted this year at the Cannes Marché du Film, which ran from May 16 to May 21. “Topakk” is one of 12 diverse genre offerings from all over the world.
“The reason for the Pavilion was that we needed space to do better business and help newcomers integrate more easily and faster into this constantly growing industry,” Fantastic Pavilion executive director Pablo Guisa Koestinger told Variety. “Genre needs to take the place it deserves, and it’s our mission to help achieve this.”
Shortly after its full-house gala screening at the legendary Olympia Theater on May 19, “Topakk”—with Raven Banner Entertainment as its international distributor—has been presold to Lighthouse for German-speaking territories and is tipped for notable festivals later this year, according to Screen Daily.
The film is produced by Nathan Studios, with Strawdogs Studio Production and Fusee. It also features Enchong Dee, Sid Lucero and Kokoy de Santos.
Prior to his trip to France, Richard spoke with Inquirer Entertainment about how Arjo and Julia ended up playing the lead characters in a story he had been working on since the pandemic started in 2020.
“Arjo is a serious and remarkable actor. Compared to others, he is an unlikely character. He is not buff. He is soft-spoken and well-mannered. When Will and I decided on Arjo, I told him that we should look back at Robert de Niro in ‘Taxi Driver,’ an ordinary guy who rises when everything goes haywire. His attack on the character is so intense. Arjo is like that. He is a thinking actor. I noticed how he would analyze scenes. He always surprised me with what he was willing to give each time,” Richard explained.
“He is sensitive, too, and this reminds me of the young Heath Ledger. His presence, even when he doesn’t speak, can really be felt. He is also unpredictable, so this made shooting more exciting for me,” the director pointed out.
Richard said it was Will who thought of asking Julia to be the female lead. “We were surprised that she said ‘yes,’ because the role is physically and mentally demanding. This is the most antihero character she will ever do. Of course, while we were blown away by the screen presence of Arjo, we were also surprised by what Julia gave us,” he said.
Richard said Julia’s contribution, in a way, “balanced” Arjo’s performance. “She’s amazing both as a person and an actress. She came prepared. On the set, she didn’t need taking care of at all,” he recalled. “Later, we learned that she got scratches on her knees because she had asked a stuntman to really pull her hair for real in one action scene. She said, ‘Kuys, talagang sabunutan mo ako ha?’ That’s difficult for female celebrities because a lot of them have hair product commercials. That also made the stuntmen feel comfortable around her.”
Will added: “Actually, we were amazed that everyone gelled very well. Sid and Kokoy are also intense actors. Plus, Enchong will really surprise you. We asked him to play a special role. So after watching the film, you will then start looking at Enchong in a certain way.”
He further said: “The advantage of Arjo and Enchong is that they’re dancers, so they understand choreography. They collaborated with our stunt supervisor, Erwin Tan, who has gotten people abroad—those I’ve shown the trailer to—really curious about him.”
Richard said the idea for “Topakk” came to him “during our crazy, restless time while doing nothing during the pandemic. Erwin and I both said, ‘Let’s do a film and invite friends. Let’s just worry about where to get the budget later.’ It became possible when Will came into the picture.”
Will said his previous work with the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) enabled him to connect with people involved in various international film markets. “While working for the government, I also marketed the Philippines in a way. It’s good that we are now able to give incentives to producers. In fact, ‘Topakk’ was granted P5 million by the FDCP before I got on board. This was a big deal. It helped improve the quality of the film that we’re trying to achieve. We still needed assistance from outside, and so Nathan Studios helped us make a really good one.”
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