Tony de Guzman is a young boy in the middle of a decrepit town. During the days he hangs out with his gang of friends, all with equally strange qualities and lifestyles. And at home he lives with his poor mother and younger brother who spends his day "giving massages" for money. This is Tony's story.
People familiar with Khavn's previous work might not be surprised when watching "Mondomanila". Even though I have seen some (very little) of his work, "Mondomanila" managed to stand out as something different and perhaps more meaningful in what it portrays. Of course, it's pushed to an extreme and might have you shake your head in disbelief a few times on the road, but that's sort of what "Mondomanila" is all about. It's a movie where going over-the-top comes naturally rather than being forced, and it brings some charm to the table.
With a very untraditional storytelling, the movie never really gives us a typical story to follow. It starts off with a weird, toothless man in circus-ish clothing introducing us to the movie we are about to watch, and then we get opening credits that truly prepare us: painted pictures blending equal parts vulgarity and surrealism. We know by now that this won't be a movie for your grandparents to watch. After the credits we meet out hero, Tony de Guzman, a young boy (probably around 12 years old) describing life in the slums in a way only adults who have lived there for 50 years straight would be able to. With honest hate, pessimism and disgust. Tony hangs out with an odd variety of people including, but not limited to, a gay kid with an ex-soldier father, a hyperactive coal seller who constantly jerks off, a kid who is always horny and loves geese and a little mohawked kid who hates putting on clothes and filthy pussies. That's basically a quote from the introduction (each characters gets their own introduction scene!). Outside of the friend pack, we have an old American pedophile (our antagonist), Tony's poor mother who washes clothes for a living, and his brother who sells his ass for money.
A lot of movies focus on characters rather than story, but with "Mondomanila" being as experimental as it is in the approach, there's REALLY little to grab on to outside of that. It spends a long time introducing our characters and only a few of them really matter when we reach the end. I personally feel that it would've been a stronger movie had they included less characters or more of Tony's story - the way it is now it just becomes rather tedious and yawn-inducing now and then. The fact that you find yourself slightly bored at times, even though the movie is as crazy, hyper and insane, speaks volumes. The story that eventually unfolds towards the end is quite an interesting one, and I think it would've been a stronger effort had it worked on that aspect more.
That said, "Mondomanila" shouldn't be judged with other movies because it's a very different experience. It's hard to explain the movie but just the genres alone should give you a clue: comedy, exploitation, musical (yes, LOTS of weird musical numbers, one involving a singing corpse!), horror, experimental, drama and even a little bit of realism. "Mondomanila" highlights the life in the slums of the Philippines, but pushes it as far as possible to get its point across. Whether it works or not is up to the viewer to decide.
You can't ignore that it's a fucked up movie with a bunch of weird people doing weirder things. If you enjoy odd things then this is like going to the circus: midget lesbians, a kid fucking a goose, child prostitution, random musical numbers, midgets with disfigured arms and breakdancing midgets, an angry piano playing Yankee pedophile, a random commercial for sewage water bottled drink ("Mondomanila. Holy Drinking Water, All Cure. Anti Pure. Drink Moderately"), female mudfight, suicide, murder, and one of the grossest scenes: a cockroach crawling out of a wound in a man's head. Yeah, it gets pretty weird at times. But because we are so ready for it to get weird after the intro, it doesn't come off as a surprise or shock when either of these things happen. The only scenes I really reacted to was involving animals: whether the particular scene I found rough was using live animals or not, I don't know. But other than that, even down to the pedophilia, I can't say that it was very shocking as much as it was excessive and over-the-top. On purpose, of course. Again, whether this ends up just being gross-out comedy, or actually social commentary, is up to you. I think there's a lot of social commentary in here, but obviously made with an urge to provoke.
"Mondomanila" is something different, something slightly weirder, than you are used to. That doesn't mean it's a great movie, as I think it often came off as boring because of the experimental approach of storytelling. To tell a story mostly consisting of introducing characters is interesting, but gets a tad bit too long. I do appreciate many of the experimental things though, such as the scenes put together using still shots. Especially since those scenes are actually storydriven, which makes you focus a lot more. Overall, this is a wild exploitation story that after a long introduction of characters leads to a plot of revenge. And in the end I feel it's satisfactory even though there was a lot of room for improvement. Exploitive comedy junk or social commentary? Somewhere in between.