Maria (2019)

Posted in Reviews by - May 13, 2019
Maria (2019)

A Filipino fight film from the producers of 2018’s BuyBust which switches the gender roles in the John Wick story, centring on a vengeful female assassin. It also champions indigenous Filipino martial arts, particularly in its usage of bladed weapons; a staple of Sonny Sison’s fight choreography and something which was equally on display in the relentless, claustrophobic chaos of BuyBust. Like Anne Curtis’ uber-killer in Erik Matti’s film, Maria similarly plucks a famous Filipino actor not known for action films – in this case, the popular local star Cristine Reyes – and transforms her into a badass killer. Reyes does well to look physically convincing in the role, but as retired assassin Lily (now known by the titular Maria), there isn’t too much depth to her character, other than her motivation to kill following the murder of her infant daughter and husband. The film dares to get into more provocative territory early on, suggesting a political link between the Filipino drug cartels and a potentially corrupt governor running for re-election, but the narrative fails to pursue that line of inquiry and instead focuses on the infighting between the gangsters. The decision to divert from local issues may be due, in part, to the film’s focus on a wider international appeal – which may also explain why large sections of film are spoken in English. Director Lopez’s artistic scope is evident in a number of long-takes, each showing Reyes killing people in a myriad of artistic ways. There are shootouts caught on Steadicam; fight scenes captured by slow-moving overhead cameras; voyeuristic static sequences which observe the action taking place in other rooms; and slow zooms which sustain on Reyes’ facial expressions. The result shows great visual flair, but by retaining a distance from the action, many of the fight scenes end up lacking the sort of crunch and power you might expect to see in other contemporary fight films. The generic rock choices on the soundtrack don’t particularly help matters either. Unlike BuyBust, which wrestled with a wider sociopolitical message to justify its barrage of violence, this is much more of a generic revenge film. That is in no way a criticism, of course, just don’t expect anything too substantive.

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