Directed by Mikhail Red and written by Anton Santamaria, when Bataan police officer Mariano is assigned as a convoy escort for a narco-list vice mayor who is headed to a press conference that could shake the entire Philippine government, she knows it will be a dangerous mission. Starring: Maja Salvador, Shella Mae Romualdo, Mon Confiado, Arthur Acuña, Michael Roy Jornales, Kiel Rodriguez and Royce Cabrera.
A lone cop, left for dead, after their unit is ambushed, striving for revenge and the truth, is a classic quest of cinema but therein lies a key problem. It’s something that we’ve seen time and time again, told in different genres, decades and countries, so taking it on holds a heavy responsibility of bringing a new perspective. Unfortunately, Arisaka doesn’t have that to offer, it hits all the usual notes and doesn’t hold any surprises. The only attempt to differentiate itself is through a historical influence in the Bataan Death March, but the link is fairly weak. It doesn’t take the time to connect its story enough, or explore the history sufficiently to make it a genuine bond. It’s quite difficult to bring through heavy, poignant moments of history in thriller or action cinema, they don’t have the emotional space to do them justice, and this is no exception.
With the story not providing anything revelatory, it leaves it open for the direction to bring through something new but again, that doesn’t happen. Its opening shots do have an atmospheric or mysterious quality to them, and there’s great framing of the landscapes sporadically throughout but for the most part, it’s one-noted. Particularly in relation to the colour, which leans far too heavily on a blue, grey palette and loses a great deal of detail and sharpness. The direction also can’t manage to build the tension that the story sorely needs, meaning it doesn’t hold your attention well. It relies too much on the action styled scenes to carry the story through but they’re not choreographed well enough to do that, and the make-up work is not entirely convincing.
The performances follow the same pattern, they’re just doing exactly what you expect. The different character types are overtly familiar, and the detail or backstory to them is minimal at best. Introducing Shella Mae Romualdo’s Mowi was a step in the right direction, she adds sympathy, fear and danger but with her not taking a more lead role, she can only add so much. Although, she still manages to give a great performance, for her young age she compelling brings a good amount of emotion, particularly with her restricted use of dialogue.
Arisaka attempts to bring a new angle to a familiar concept but can’t break away from those that have come before it. It’s travelling all the same roads, the characters are exactly what you’d expect and while the performances tick the right boxes, without a bigger individuality, they’re simply not captivating enough. It’s still a concept that can work for a piece of entertaining cinema, but the filmmakers tried to bring through such a serious tone, without the story to back it up, that it can’t work as solely an action-thriller.