Duterte’s drug war is star of first Filipino drama on Netflix

Netflix has bagged its first original series from the Philippines: a crime thriller directed by Brillante Mendoza, set in President Duterte’s drug war

Derek Ramsay stars in the Netflix series Amo. Courtesy TV5
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Netflix is set to broadcast its first original Filipino series from next Monday. Amo, available on the UAE version of Netflix, is directed by Brillante Mendoza of Taklub and Ma' Rosa fame.

The 12-part action-thriller, set against President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial drug war, stars Vince Rillon as Joseph, a high-school pupil and small-time dealer who gets entangled in a web of government corruption and police violence. Derek Ramsay stars as a policeman, alongside actors Apollo Abraham, Archie Adamos, Allen Dizon, Baron Geisler, Dexter Macaraeg, Felix Roco and Ruby Ruiz.

An acclaimed filmmaker, Mendoza has directed 16 films since 2005, including Kinatay (Butchered), which won the Best Director award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and Lola (Grandmother), the Best Film winner at the 2009 Dubai International Film Festival. Jaclyn Jose won Best Actress for Ma' Rosa at Cannes in 2016.

Known for gritty storytelling and cinematography, Mendoza’s work focuses on social justice, poverty and criminality in the Philippines. That Mendoza is directing a series on Duterte’s state-enforced campaign on drugs – which has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 – has surprised some of his fans and critics.

The Filipino director has expressed support for the drug war in the past, and he directed the broadcast of Duterte's State of the Nation addresses in 2016 and last year, so audiences will be intrigued as to how he handles Amo's themes.

“I know there are a lot of people who are not supportive in totality of what the president wants and what he’s doing right now, but if you actually have witnessed the real situation, this is the way to go about it,” Mendoza said in 2016.

Robert Roy, Netflix's vice-president of content acquisition, says: "We are always seeking to work with passionate, talented storytellers like Mendoza, to bring premium content to Netflix. "Amo is a bold and suspenseful show that has the potential of capturing thrill-seeking audiences worldwide."

The series was commissioned last year by network TV5, and then Netflix bought the broadcast rights. "We are excited to finally be able to share Amo with everyone," says Chot Reyes, president and chief executive of TV5. "Brillante has done a beautiful job in bringing paper to life, and the show's acquisition provides an additional platform to help share the first-ever Filipino series on Netflix to a worldwide audience."

Mendoza told the Philippine Daily Inquirer he wanted to expand the global audience for Filipino content. "Foreign viewers will get acquainted with our stories and culture on a different platform – beyond the film festival circuit."

Netflix also released an independent Filipino thriller, Birdshot, last week. Directed by 26-year-old Mikhail Red, it is the story of a girl who shoots a rare and endangered Philippine eagle. Birdshot won Best Asian Future Film Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival in 2016, and was the Philippine entry to the Best Foreign Film category of the 2017 Academy Awards.

“Having a film on their platform is just a dream come true for me as a filmmaker and storyteller,” Red says. “It’s such a profound feeling, having your stories and imagination come to life and to be shared with millions of streaming subscribers across the globe. I hope this helps open doors for other Filipino filmmakers.”

Roy says: "Birdshot is a mesmerising thriller that's beautifully shot. Since its debut, the movie has been widely recognised by critics – and we are confident that it will equally resonate with the more than 117 million Netflix members globally."


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