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'Enjoy life as a woman': 'Ten Little Mistresses' is a 'mistress murder mystery' viewed from a modern mindset

By CHUCK SMITH Published Feb 13, 2023 7:37 pm Updated Feb 13, 2023 9:29 pm

Does the local "kabit" movie, a staple in Philippine cinemas before the pandemic changed the viewing habits of Filipinos, have a place in today’s cinema? 

Filmmaker Jun Lana argues that there is—as long as it is viewed in a contemporary lens—in his latest movie, Ten Little Mistresses, which will premiere on streaming service Prime Video on Thursday, February 15.

The first Filipino Prime Video original movie, Ten Little Mistresses tells the story of the titular mistresses who are summoned by their lover, billionaire Valentin Esposo (played by John Arcilla), to his mansion after the death of his wife. The mistresses assume they will fight it out to become the legal wife. But Valentin dies, and everyone, including his faithful butler Lilit (played by Eugene Domingo), must prove their innocence and find their lover’s killer. Or killers?

On the surface, Ten Little Mistresses feels like just another retelling of the “kabit” movie—complete with relationship “hugot” lines and campy theatrics. But it’s all by design. In an interview with Philstar Life, Lana, the film’s writer and director, said that the project is a murder mystery film with elements of the mistress story to make it accessible to the local audience.

“As a filmmaker, I’ve always wanted to go into this genre of storytelling,” said Lana, who is a fan of murder mystery authors Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Alexander McCall Smith. But he said people in the movie industry have cautioned that the murder mystery genre won’t succeed in the box office because it is “too cerebral.”

“So I thought of how to make this more accessible to our audience—and what better way than in the kind of story that’s become the ‘gold standard’ for successful film and TV melodramas: the ‘kabit’ story,” she said.

Hence, Ten Little Mistresses, which he describes as a “mistress murder mystery,” is born.

‘The mistress genre from a 2023 mindset’

It’s ambitious, and not just because of the genre. Lana initially eyed Ten Little Mistresses for theatrical release—which means it has to be an “event” movie, something “big enough” for viewers to “take notice and to pique their interest.” Certain elements of the film fit those criteria—specifically, its over-the-top visuals (the actors are pretty much in elaborate and larger-than-life costumes the whole film) and its powerhouse cast that includes besides Arcilla and Domingo, Pokwang, Agot Isidro, Carmi Martin, Arci Munoz, Adrianna So, Kate Alejandrino, and Kris Bernal, among others.

Lana first prepared for the film’s production by the end of 2021. But he felt they didn’t have enough resources to produce the film according to his vision. It was the film’s executive producer Perci Intalan who “loved it from the get-go” and approached Prime Video.

(Prime Video executives) read the script and were so supportive that they asked: “What would it take to give this the scale that you need?”  And that was the lightning strike that brought this production to life,” Lana said.  Ten Little Mistresses will be available in 240 territories, according to the film’s press release.

Watching the film, it’s easy to see Ten Little Mistresses as a commentary on the popular Pinoy mistress genre. After all, the movie’s male lover Valentin dies early in the film. But Lana—whose films regularly featured empowered women and LGBT characters, like Trisha Echevarria from Die Beautiful and Marilou from Barber’s Tales­—said he does not want to make films to preach any particular message directly.

He does, however, say Ten Little Mistresses, is “a good opportunity to view the mistress genre from a 2023 mindset.”

“Yes, I know that ‘kabit’ films are crowd pleasers since the early days of Philippine cinema. But I also think that audiences have become much more woke and discerning, especially in today’s me-too era,” he said.

Lana added: “The most important thing for me is to entertain my audience. But hopefully when the film ends, I leave them with enough to think about and start a conversation.”

‘Magtira ka para sa sarili mo’

The cast agrees that the film does offer some good insight into relationships and being women.

During the Ten Little Mistresses’ press conference on February 7, when asked what they learned after working on and watching the film, Members of the press—and even the cast itself—seemed particularly interested in Pokwang, who recently talked about the reason for her separation from Lee O’ Brian.

“Nagising lang ako sa katotohanan na anim na taon ko na pala siyang palamunin at limang taon [nang] walang child support. ‘Wag ka na baka madamay ka sa demandahan namin,” she wrote in an Instagram comment.

In the press conference, Pokwang said: “Know your worth at saka kailangan mong pakiramdaman yung mga nangyayari sa paligid. Hindi dapat palagi ka lang, 'Ahh,' parang laging nasa ulap. Dapat maging wise ka rin, di ba?”

Domingo, who is in a relationship with Danilo Bottoni, said Lana’s films always feature how beautiful women are, and then quips, “Women are really annoying, actually. We’re irritating. We’re puzzles. You don’t understand us.”

Turning to Pokwang, she jokes: “Especially you, Pokie.”

“Ako na naman,” Pokwang said, adding that Domingo is a godmother to her daughter with O’Brian, Malia.

“Because I’ve witnessed your life. You love and you try to stand everything and you give, give, give. And, now you fight, you stand up. You will survive,” Domingo responded.

She added: “But the point is, for women, we are very beautiful. We are the most beautiful God has created. Do not settle for any man that you do not deserve.”

Meanwhile, asked what line in the film she most related to, Pokwang said: “Kapag nagmahal ka, magtira ka para sa sarili mo.”

“Kasasabi ko lang 'yun kailan lang. Parang sabi ko, nagtugma!”

Of course, it’s not lost on the cast that the premiere date of Ten Little Mistresses is the day after Valentine’s Day—“ang araw ng mga kabit,” Lana joked.

“This time, sa Valentine’s Day, you don’t need a man to be happy,” Martin said. “You can express your love to your family, to someone. Hindi naman kailangan talaga lalaki. Be happy and be independent. Enjoy life as a woman.”