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Self-deprecating, ever-wacky Melai Cantiveros means serious business in debut lead role in action comedy 'Ma'am Chief'

By NICK GARCIA Published Nov 14, 2023 6:18 pm

Melai Cantiveros—who’s known for her lighthearted demeanor, self-deprecating humor, and wackiest facial expressions—means serious business in her first lead role in a South Korean- and Philippine-produced film.

Melai is headlining Ma’am Chief: Shakedown in Seoul, an action comedy that revolves around a policewoman named Criselda Kaptan, who takes on a secret mission to capture a fugitive in South Korea by posing as a tour guide.

During a media event attended by PhilSTAR L!fe, the morning show host said the film is something she couldn’t believe to this day. She said she landed the role when PULP Studio’s Happee Sy-Go, whom she fondly calls “Inang Reyna,” reached out to her after meeting at her daughter’s school by chance.

In preparation for her role, Melai said she and her co-stars underwent a series of workshops on K-pop.

“Di kasi pwedeng mag-acting lang… alam ng totoong K-pop fan kung fake kang fan,” she said, adding they also held “game shows” to test their Hallyu knowledge.

Korean instructors and stunt directors also guided them during fight scenes.

“Very safe ka at ang galing tingnan,” she noted. “Nakapaghanda ako sa tulong nila.”

In Ma'am Chief, Melai Cantiveros portrays Criselda Kaptan, a policewoman who takes on a secret mission to capture a fugitive in South Korea by posing as a tour guide.

With Melai being one of the country’s faces of contemporary humor, she said she struggled to film melodramatic scenes that required crying.

“Nagkaroon ng Day 2. Hindi Take 2 ah,” she said, noting her brain tends to imagine silly things during sad times.

“Pinakaseryoso ko ito, kasi kailangan may puso ‘yung movie.”

After seeing the movie, Melai is hoping for viewers to appreciate policewomen.

“Mare-realize niyo na meron din silang soft heart. Maa-appreciate natin na ganun pala sila,” she said.

A welcome change

Melai’s Filipino co-stars also looked back into how their Ma’am Chief experience served as a breath of fresh air as regards how their job as actors should be.

Jennica Garcia, for instance, remembered how their director was just like one of them who was “so genuine and caring about her peers.”

“She makes sure her staff, personal assistants, and talents are okay,” Jennica said of Kring Kim, noting that certain directors in the local showbiz industry tend to be standoffish as “captains of the ship.”

Karylle, who’s busy in the theater lately, said Ma’am Chief made her get out of her movie shell, so to speak, not only because of her love of K-drama but also because the story itself is about women’s empowerment, which she’s an advocate of.

“Ito na ‘yung pinapangarap kong pagsasanib puwersa ng Filipino talent at K-drama skills,” she said. “I wanted to tell their (women’s) stories na talagang I am there 101%.”

From left: Jennica Garcia, Melai, and Alora Sasam.

Bernadette Allyson Estrada, for her part, said her debut shoot abroad, and in South Korea at that, is something that made her so happy.

“We didn’t feel that we’re doing a movie kasi walang ka-pressure-pressure,” she said. “As a whole, naramdaman namin ‘yang saya, respeto ng production sa isa’t isa, plus the alaga. Kamangha-mangha.”

From left: Alora, Melai, and Gabriel Choi.

‘Representative’ of Filipino Hallyu fans, ‘an experience’

Sy-Go said her story was borne out of her 14 years of immersion in K-pop and K-drama.

“I wanted to tell a story of what I’ve been in,” she said, adding that Ma’am Chief represents the entire Filipino community that loves Hallyu. “She’s full of joy, energy, excitement.”

Director Kim, meanwhile, remembered how their filming days in Seoul were so efficient that they also implemented the same system in Manila.

“Itong mga katrabaho nating Koreano, sobrang maayos. They share the same energy with Filipinos,” she said.

As for wrapping up Ma’am Chief, Kim acknowledged that it had its difficult moments.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a breeze,” she said, “but it’s an experience.”

Ma’am Chief features an ensemble cast of Filipinos that includes Jennica Garcia, Karylle, Alora Sasam, Bernadette Allyson Estrada, Dustine Mayores, Enzo Almario, Manel Sevidal, Pepe Herrera, and Sela Guia.

Korean celebrities in the mix include the band Rolling Quartz, singers Yuju and Lee Seunggi, and actors Gabriel Choi and Do Ji Han.

Ma'am Chief will hit Philippine cinemas on Nov. 15.