If you’re a regular surfer at B&S About Movies, you’re familiar with our perpetual droning about Philippine cinema—especially post-apocalyptic Philippine movies. Oh, how we’ve gone on and one, ad nauseam, about the films of Eddie Romero (Mad Doctor of Blood Island), Willy Milan (W is War), and Cirio H. Santiago (The Sisterhood). Yeah, we may poke a joke or two at their expense in our reviews, but that in no way diminishes our affections for their work.
So when you offer us a film that opens with a sharp graphic novel prologue featuring blood-sucking, shape-shifting aswangs in a Philippine martial arts fantasy film exhibiting the fighting flare of John Wick (which pinched its chops from Asian cinema; but that’s the homage-point) colliding with Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk till Dawn, it’s a given we’re clicking the click bait.
However, unlike those Asian-action VHS gems of our analog youth, Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids is a Romero-Milan-Santiago 10.0 upgrade—a modern day, jet-fueled Philippine action film of yore, featuring the exquisitely choreographed fight scenes we expect from today’s Asian digital-cinema, complete with rich, vibrantly flowing cinematography. Even more amazing: It’s all at the cost of $5 million. The John Wick films cost $30 to $40 million a pop. And we are loving the battle camp scene that takes us back to the martial arts gold standard: Enter the Dragon.
Now if you know your post-apoc (shameless plug: if you don’t, brush up with our two-part Atomic Dustbin roundup on those films), you’re up to speed and know we’re in an undiscovered time and place beyond yesterday. And as with all apoc-films, we’re in an acid-trip western—but all American westerns ripped off Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo or Seijun Suzuki’s Man with a Shotgun, so we’re home.
Gabriella (Sarah Chang) is our “girl with no name” as she embarks on a scored-earth mission to avenge the supernatural-monster slaughter of her family. Her skills lead to an alliance with Bolo (Vincent Soberano), who recruits her into a secret society of warriors, the Slayers (international action film aficionados will notice Filipino taekwondo champion Monsour del Rosario as Monte, the leader of the Slayers). Then the pseudo-Magnificent Seven trek into the wastelands to wipe out the Hybrid, a new mutation of supernatural witch-vampires. Led by the demon warlords Naga and Gundra, the Hybrid will protect the Monster Queen at all costs. But never trust the threat of a Hybrid, for all is not as it seems.
Now, while we’re not exactly getting a John Wick or a Tarantino joint here, we’re also not getting a SyFy Channel when-animals-and-zombies-attack mockbuster-romp, either. (Although we’d love to see Soberano’s work receive wider exposure in the U.S via the cable channel). The production value and costuming is well-done, the fight chorography excels, and there’s lots of blood and bone-breaking. While the acting is a bit dodgy in places, everyone is affable; the character development in the first act—with the occasional action burst—is appreciated. We love the backended action: when the film starts moving, it cooks. The CGI—the demon morphings—is convincing, while Soberano knows his way around a camera and takes Final Cut Pro through its editing paces with aplomb.
Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids is derived from writer and director Vince Soberano’s short film, Blood Hunters, which won two “Best Short Film” awards at the Cinemax HBO Action Film Competition and the Urban Action Showcase and Expo. After following with a short-sequel, 2018’s Blood Hunters: Aswang, Soberano expanded the Slayers vs. Hybrid concept into the Rise of the Hybrids feature-length film, which won the “Best Feature” award at the NYCA Film Fest.
This film seriously cooks, so our incisors drip in anticipation for Sarah Chang and Vincent Sorberano’s next film. Currently in post-production, Circle of Bones is the story of an FBI agent investigating an international terrorist cell in the Philippines that’s actually a cult of demon-worship fanatics led by an ancient evil spirit that feeds on human souls. It sounds like Tarantino doing a remake of Stallone’s Cobra—and we ain’t hatin’.
Bottom line: Philippine cinema is still alive and well in the skilled hands of Vincent Sorberano—and Blood Hunters: Rise of the Hybrids needs to be your click bait for the week. TriCoast Entertainment and Dark Coast released the film on the Amazon, Vimeo on Demand, FlixFling, Vudu, and FANDANGO digital platforms on March 17. You can learn more about Sorberano’s work on Facebook.
Disclaimer: We were provided a screener by the film’s P.R firm. That has no bearing on our review.