“The action has to tell a story and a good actor can intensify or downplay the action depends on their portrayal of it,” says Soberano. “Fight porn is what I call fighting just for the sake of fighting. I don’t like that. There has to be a story behind every action, every kick, every punch.” – Vincent Soberano, Director
From writer-director-actor and former Filipino Muay Thai World Champion Vincent Soberano, his cinematic vision was clear-eyed. He aimed to make action movies alive and palatable, not just to local viewers but to international standards, as well. And Soberano mastered the formula of the show: combine meticulously-choreographed action sequences with topnotch production details, and at the very heart of it, a journey in humanity.
With the upcoming film The Trigonal, Soberano is set to realize his long-held dream. The Trigonal caught the attention of Real Pictures Entertainment, a Chinese production company with a strong distribution arm. Following the film’s limited premiere in Beijing last March 14, a distribution deal has been sealed and the film is poised to be shown all over China.
“Several Hollywood and Chinese film industry executives were impressed at how the film looked ‘so expensive’ and ‘international’ and not the stigmatized expectations from a Filipino film. They loved the diverse and unique action choreography and cinematography. They especially loved how the Chinese characters in the story are pivotal to the success of the main character and his journey,” shares Soberano.
The film has also been slated for a World Premiere at the Cannes Marche du Film on May 12. Following that, Viva Films has taken on the film for its Philippine release on July 18, and subsequently for TV broadcasting rights. Talks are underway for a US release in August this year as well.
The Trigonal is about Jacob Casa, a Fil-Am martial arts champion who returns to his hometown and opens an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) school with his childhood friend. He is obsessed about the fight game, finding it hard to turn down any chance to engage in professional competition.
All the while, he is deeply in love with his Fil-Am wife Annie. Complicating matters is when Jacob starts to consider taking on an underground fight, his wife and unborn child became collateral in a ruthless drug lord’s lunatic ambitions.
For the lead roles of Jacob and Annie, Soberano handpicked theater-trained actor Ian Ignacio and popular Filipino actress Rhian Ramos.
“I wanted an actor who looked entirely Filipino, not mestizo or half-breed to play Jacob. He should also be as great an actor as he is a martial artist,” stresses Soberano. Ignacio, a black belt in Taekwondo, the protégé of Taekwondo legend Monsour del Rosario and the son of Karate master Levi Ignacio fit the bill.
Soberano also didn’t have a hard time choosing Rhian Ramos to play the wife Annie.
“Rhian perfectly fit the role of the wife because of her mixed heritage (Rhian is Filipino-British), genuine fluency of the English language, and athleticism. Beyond that, I was quite impressed with her acting skills,” he adds. A seasoned theater actor himself and the founder/creative director of the San Diego Asian American Repertory Theater (SDAART) in California, he points out the importance of standout acting especially in an action film.
Making the ensemble of actors even more formidable is the casting of several well-known Chinese artists like Chinese UFC star Li Jing Liang, Hong Kong producer/actor Gus Liem who recently released his comedy blockbuster Girls 2, and the fast-rising Chinese-American action star Sarah Chang who has been the lead in a string of big movies in China this year.
“Casting the Chinese in a positive light plus upping the quality of filmmaking from cinematography to storytelling are keys to my success in penetrating the world’s biggest film market, worth billions of dollars,” adds Soberano. The first quarter of 2018 saw Chinese domestic box-office grossing at USD $3.4 Billion, breaking all world records and officially beating Hollywood as now the #1 movie market in the world.
The amazing feat of The Trigonal is proof once more of how talented and of international caliber Filipino filmmakers are.
“I wanted to make a movie that combines a love story with a thriller, some comedy, and a whole lot of mixed martial arts action never before seen on screen. The movie abounds with symbolism. The Trigonal (a term coined and trademarked by Soberano himself) refers to an underground fighting arena shaped like a triangle. It also represents the film’s three principal characters and three subplots. The triangle in itself is a symbol of mixed martial arts,” he explains.
What the multi-hyphenate Soberano has set out to accomplish has to date garnered a lot of attention in China. Significantly, Soberano has been signed to direct two big-budget action films this year by Origin Pictures Beijing and its Korean partner, East Dreams. This is the first time in history that a Filipino director has been at the helm of a major film in mainland China.
All this comes back to what Soberano dreams of the most – helping raise the bar in Filipino martial arts and action films for the international market. “I’m just getting started with The Trigonal,” he says. “I have a string of movies following right after. It will be a new era for action films!”