Emerson Reyes’ MNL 143 is a story about an FX driver preparing to go back abroad after years of a forsaken search for his long lost love. Expect for this film to quite literally bring you along the ride with Ramil, as he traverses the streets of Metro Manila, from Taft Avenue, all the way to PhilCoa, for one last time.

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A commute, whether you’re the driver or the passenger, is more often than not grueling. A commute spent on the streets of Metro Manila, even more so. What makes these often draining trips more bearable is the soundtrack people listen to while on the road.

MNL 143’s soundtrack is nothing less than amazing. It showcases new Original Pilipino Music unlike the new releases we hear in the radios today. The film’s theme song, “Umpisa” by Jensen Gomez, for example, brings back a melody reminiscent of OPM during the early 2000’s. It is soothing to the ears, it is lyrically beautiful, and it practically told the plea of the main character through its music. All of the songs, in their own little ways, contributed more to the storyline of the film, and what would normally be an insufferable almost-two-hour-long car ride became tolerable, and perhaps even pleasant, because of them.

Car rides can be a lot of things. In wide open roads, it can be an adventure. In the midst of heavy traffic, it can be suffocating. You are trapped within the confines of a vehicle, at the mercy of whoever is in front of you. Being that the setting of MNL 143 is Metro Manila, which never opens up its roads even on a good day, the film as a ride, unfortunately, fell into the latter category.

In MNL 143, the audience is at the mercy of the screen. The cinematography at its core is meant to impart the feeling of a passenger on the FX being driven by Ramil. That, indeed it did, and it made the film stuffy and dragging. As commuters are gifted with, the audience is also given a few glimpses of the world outside. However, most of the film still remained within the Ramil’s vehicle itself, as seen through a fish-eye point-of-view that contributed little to the progression of his story.

Some scenes contributed more to the feeling of tediousness that an FX ride exudes, rather than to the story of Ramil that, like the film itself, takes quite the amount of time to unravel. These include the subplots featuring Ramil’s passengers, the various scenes used to establish the setting, and the more or less three-minute long scene of Ramil merely crying to a song on the radio as its lyrics tell the audience what the film could have shown.

MNL 143 definitely had its moments. Some made the crowd burst in laughter. Others garnered collective oohs and ahhs. But again, the film’s supposed focus is the love story of Ramil and his long lost love, Mila. This was only presented towards the end. Because of how long the film took for it to reach that point, it was hard to appreciate their long-awaited reunion. The entire ride had already become tiresome at that point, and any sane passenger would rather just opt to focus on getting off of the vehicle.

The director Emerson Reyes admitted that the entirety of the film took a total of only two weeks to shoot and edit. He has to be given credit for having been able to create such a work with only that amount of time in his hand. Perhaps had he poured more time and effort into it, it would have been a better ride to hop on to. Nonetheless, it is an agreeable addition to the growing list of indie films being produced in the country. It breaks no walls. It did not even break past the door of the FX once Ramil got on. Yet, it was enjoyable.

If anyone would like to experience a commute in Metro Manila without all of the high degree of frustration that such would normally entail, but rather with a sweet story and a couple of laughs, MNL 143 will deliver.

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