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Plot: masseuses by day, sexy government spies by night. It’s party time!

Filipino exploitation is alive and well. The old Charlie's Angels (1976-1981) recipe remains as popular and fertile as ever. Extra Service is both a straightforward action-comedy on the Charlie's Angels (1976-1981) (itself reimagined for the modern audiences in 2000 and most recently in 2019) model and a spoof of the spy-action genre in the vein of the amiable but ultimately futile D.E.B.S. (2004). Star Cinema went all out on this one attracting some of the most beautiful people in front of the camera and some of the best up-and-coming talent behind it. Savaged by critics and audience alike Extra Service has garnered a reputation as some of the worst Filipino cinema has wrought in recent years. This is the sort of thing that will make you long for the inoffensive vanilla exploitation that Mainland China has become a specialist in. Ostensibly described as a sexy action-comedy Extra Service effortlessly fails at all three

Apparently one of the tent pole releases for ABS-CBN Film Productions and their family-oriented subsidiary Star Cinema Extra Service comes brimming with young talent. The men behind Extra Service are Chris Martinez and Ronald Allan Habon. Martinez was the director of Kimmy Dora and the Kyemeng Prequel (2013) and Habon was the writer of The Super Parental Guardians (2016) or the highest-grossing domestic production in recent history. Starring Kapamilya sex bombs Jessy Mendiola (sometime Barbie Girl, fashion icon and FHM’s sexiest woman in the Philippines in 2016), Arci Muñoz and Coleen Garcia (each color-coded for your convenience) and for all female patrons there are Pinoy heartthrobs Enzo Pineda, Vin Abrenica and Ejay Falcon (most, if not all, take their shirt off at least once) Extra Service sports candy-colored production design redolent of the prime works of Luigi Cozzi and DOA: Dead or Alive (2006) and some of the most breast-centric costumes this side of Mainland China actioner Ameera (2014). Obviously aimed at the teen set and custodian to some of the most criminally unfunny comedy in recent years Extra Service is not only marred by bad action direction and laughable fight choreography, it features some of the worst CGI and visual effects that makes the average Sino webmovie look expensive. As such Extra Service is the complete antithesis of BuyBust (2018) and Maria (2019).

Aurora or Aw (Arci Muñoz), Emerald or Em (Coleen Garcia) and Geneviève or Gee (Jessy Mendiola) are former convicts who were incarcerated for individual crimes and now form a team of professional thieves. Aw has exceptional leadership skills, Em excels at combat and marksmanship and Gee has both the boobs and the brains. In prison they forge a bond with Beverly (Kitkat Bañas, as Kitkat) and her wrecking crew Daphne (Sunshine Teodoro) and Ashley (Star Orjaliza) but are forced to betray her when the government offers them a deal. The girls work as masseuses at the Touch Mahal Spa somewhere in Manila. To Lolly (Tessie Tomas) Aw, Em and Gee are just three fun-loving ditzes. One day the three are servicing mute Larry (Enzo Pineda) who literally hands them his briefs for a high-stakes infiltration mission to obtain a code. Kapitana (or Captain), Henya (or Genius) and Maldita (or Warfreak) spring in action and upon completing the objective they are recruited into the elite national-defense group F.O.T.A. (Filipino Organization of Top Agents) by hard-nosed L (Carmi Martin).

L informs the girls that Don José Mondragon (Jaime Fabregas) has arranged to marry off his son Pacquito (Janus del Prado) to Mari (Kim Molina), the daughter of head of Yakuza Doña Akira Suzumo (Arlene Muhlach). Neither party is particularly pleased with the decision as Mari is an empty-headed fashionista and Pacquito is flamboyantly gay. The marriage will consolidate the power of the Mondragon crime cartel over the Philippines and simultaneously allow the Yakuza access to the islands riches. Aw, Em and Gee are tasked to retrieve the three Perlas Ng Silangan (or the Pearls of the Orient), worth around $1 million each, from as many high-risk locations. The self-professed #SexySquad must infiltrate the high-security Mondragon stag party to obtain the Luzon Blue, enter the Miss Yakisobabe MMA contest (and come out alive) for the Visayas Red and penetrate the Mondragon-Suzumo wedding ceremony for the Mindanao White. Things are further complicated when during a mission sparks fly between Aw and Moises or Moe (Ejay Falcon), Em attracts the attention (and wins the affection) of PNP police officer Carlo (Vin Abrenica) and L’s nephew Larry falls madly in love with Gee – and each of the three lovers have the bad habit of showing up at the most inconvenient of times. F.O.T.A. has lined up the three Julia (Michelle Vito, Alexa Ilacad and Elisse Joson) as new recruits should the team fail. Will #SexySquad be able to overcome their personal hang-ups and complete their most dangerous mission yet?

The humor is puerile and juvenile for the most part, although there are a few things that gave us a good chuckle. First and foremost, the jokes start early with the character names. Say Aw, Em, Gee really quick and you get “OMG!” and the government agency the girls end up working for is called fota (which is really close to pota, or the Tagalog word for bitch). In true Cutie Honey (2004) fashion the girls will scream “it’s party time!” in unison at the start of every mission and the extravagant breast-centric costumes recall Naked Soldier (2012) and Ameera (2014) in equal measure. The Miss Yakisobabe MMA vignette briefly channels Kick Ass Girls (2013) but sadly Gee’s chest never ends up cushioning any blows or give her any advantage, tactical or otherwise. Speaking of which, there’s no equivalent to Frieda Hu Meng-Yuan (胡梦媛) or Pan Chun-Chun (潘春春) but Jessy Mendiola will make you long for Analyn Barro. The running gag involving L and her never-detonating smoke grenade will elicit a smile at first but very quickly wears out its welcome. The usage of phonetic English is ubiquitous in Asian productions – and it’s fittingly terrible here as well. The training mission allows Arci Muñoz to show off her acrobatic skill amidst some pretty awful CGI and it makes you wish she’d be offered a Mission: Impossible or The Expendables sequel. For a sexy comedy Extra Service always remains modest and even Fetching Nurses (麻辣俏護士) (2016) was sexier on average and the action direction was leagues better in Bring Me the Head Of the Machine Gun Woman (2012). If the concluding fashion montage is anything to go by than somewhere deep within Extra Service longs to be a bikini-centric Hawaiian spy-action romp in the tradition of Andy Sidaris. Unfortunately, that’s something Star Cinema would never allow under their general audience banner.

While Extra Service is pretty dire at least there’s the figment of a good idea here. In the hands of an experienced action director this could have been something good. Muñoz, Mendiola and Garcia obviously have chemistry – and it’s a bit sad that it’s wasted on something as vanilla as this. Given that in the half decade since no sequel materialized this is likely to remain a stand-alone feature. Perhaps within another 5 years the Extra Service brand can be reimagined and given the treatment it deserves. The credit montage with Muñoz, Mendiola and Garcia twirling around in their bikinis is worth the price of admission alone. Had this been produced under a different banner and gravitated more towards Naked Killer (1992) rather than Naked Soldier (2012) perhaps than it would be worth anything more than a casual mention. As it stands now its ill reputation isn’t unfounded. While this may never reach My Cousin the Sexologist (2016) levels of direness this should have been so much better than what we got. Regardless of how you might feel about it Extra Service conclusively proves that Filipino exploitation is alive and well. This is an entirely different beast than the exploitation from back in the halcyon days of Cirio H. Santiago, Eddie Romero and Bobby Suarez. Extra Service might not go that extra mile but it’s serviceable enough for what it is.

Plot: two news anchors unite to exonerate an innocent man… and find love.

Not everything that the “King Of Bollywood” touched turned to gold instantly, or was a sure-fire hit for that matter. Case in point and with the benefit of twenty years of hindsight is Phir Bhi Dil Hai Hindustani (or, Yet The Heart Is Indian, for the English-speaking world), a box office flop at the time and still underappreciated to this very day. After the parallel cinema classic Dil Se… (1998) Shah Rukh Khan alternated between serious-minded political manifestos and his usual comedic fare. That Yet The Heart Is Indian is a combination of the two probably didn’t help either. Like Dil Se… (1998) before it Yet The Heart Is Indian is about the love of country, about the Indian national identity, and the earnest belief that good always trumps evil. For all intents and purposes Yet The Heart Is Indian had the makings of a hit. Yet things don’t always pan out the way we want them to. Having to compete with the Rakesh Roshan rom-com Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000) (with Hritik Roshan and Ameesha Patel) certainly didn’t help. Is Yet The Heart Is Indian one of the lesser SRK features? Hardly. In fact it’s probably a lot better than the unfair rep it has garnered over the years.

In the early days of the new millennium Shah Rukh Khan was never averse to the idea of remaking American properties for the Hindi market. The earliest (at least as far as we’re familiar with his massive body of work) of those was Yet The Heart Is Indian, or a Bollywood remake of I Love Trouble (1994) with a sliver of Switching Channels (1988). Khan would spend the following years experimenting with translating various popular American properties for the domestic market. That resulted in good to excellent features as Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003), or a Bollywood composite of Love Story (1970) and Oliver's Story (1978); and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (2006), or Closer (2004). To make those possible he needed a hit – and that came in the form of the beloved desi epic Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001). As near as we can tell the early 2000s were a transitional period in Khan’s storied career. He had helped shape the careers of Juhi Chawla, and Sonali Bendre in the prior decade – and now he himself was in need of help getting his career back on track again. That should have happened with Yet The Heart Is Indian, but somehow didn’t. Thankfully Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001) (with the trio of SRK belles Kajol, Rani Mukherjee, and Kareena Kapoor) is where Shah Rukh Khan somehow managed to reinvent himself and regain his relevance.

Ajay Bakshi (Shah Rukh Khan) is universally beloved and popular reporter and host of his namesake show on K Tea-V. Ria Banerjee (Juhi Chawla) is an up-and-coming investigative reporter with ambition and talent to spare. Having uncovered many a political scandal and exposed corruption in the highest echelons of government her career is definitely going places. Banerjee has recently vacated her field reporting job at the tiny TV24 when she’s offered a high-profile anchor position on rival channel Galaxee Channel by founder K.C. Chinoy (Dalip Tahil). Bakshi is instantly smitten when he lays eyes upon Banerjee. Back at the K Tea-V headquarters Ajay is ordered by his boss Kaka Chowdhry (Satish Shah) to interview political prisoner M.K. Sharma (Bharat Kapoor). Ria, not impressed by Ajay’s persistent romantic advances and continual invasion of her personal space, creates a diversion to occupy Ajay when she runs into his scorned former lover Shalini (Mona Ambegaonkar) and interviews Sharma instead. As all of this is happening the unsuccessful don of local criminal family Pappu Junior or Choti (Johnny Lever) is to be ousted from the family. Ajay makes him an offer that will benefit them both: a fake assassination attempt on Madanlal Gupta (Mahavir Shah), the brother-in-law of Minister Ramakant Dua (Shakti Kapoor) will boost both their profiles – Choti will regain respect from the families and Ajay’s ratings will rise.

When an attempt, a very real one at that, on the life of Dua does transpire Mohan Joshi (Paresh Rawai) is quickly identified as the perpetrator. Ramakant takes advantage of the crisis and tightens his grip, political and otherwise, on the city. Ajay and Ria come to the realization that Mohan has been set up as a sacrificial lamb and is wrongly accused of a crime he didn’t commit. In the ensuing chaos Ramakant has forged an alliance with Chief Minister Mushran (Govind Namdeo) as have competing channel heads Kaka Chowdhry and K.C. Chinoy. Together they conspire to have Ajay hand them the evidence of the crime so it can be conveniently buried. Mohan is summarily sentenced to be hanged and awaiting execution on death row. When Ajay and Ria get wind of said plan they work together with Choti to bring the real culprits to justice and exonerate Mohan. With the city eruption in massive protests and hours ticking away there’s one question: will Ajay and Ria be able to free Mohan and, perhaps more importantly, will their shared experience finally make them romantic partners?

To his everlasting credit King Khan has a habit of developing the talent he works with. Juhi Chawla had a history co-starring with him going as far back as Darr (1993), Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1994), and Ram-Jaane (1995). Chawla stood at Khan’s side when Yes Boss (1997), Duplicate (1998), this, One 2 Ka 4 (2001), and even the enchanting fairytale Paheli (2005) failed to meet box office expectations. And that was unfortunate, because Chawla excels at two things: drama and comedy. In Yet The Heart Is Indian she gets to do both – and the chemistry between SRK and Chawla is off the charts here. Like parallel cinema goddesses Manisha Koirala and Vidya Balan, Juhi (who once considered Madhuri Dixit her arch-rival) is a master of non-verbal acting. Chawla can convey deep emotions and engage in some of the most masterful comedy by simply rolling those big eyes of hers or contorting her face. Juhi has played her share of dramatic roles but what she really excels at is comedy. Also helping tons is that Chawla can dance with the best of them, proudly joining a line-up of starlets including (but not limited to) Kajol, and Sonali Bendre in the 1990s - as well as Preity Zinta, Rani Mukherjee, Deepika Padukone in the 2000s, and Alia Bhatt, and Priyanka Chopra in the 2010s. All of these women had their talent recognized by Khan and he in one degree or another helped define, establish, or consolidate their careers by having them co-star.

The prestige and marquee value of a Bollywood feature is measured at least in part (if not by half) by the success of its soundtrack. Yet The Heart Is Indian has some catchy tunes indeed. Lesser Shah Rukh Khan features seldom have outright bad songs, but they often end up sounding samey or miss the required hook. The longing for simpler days Yet The Heart Is Indian has since apparently seen reappraisal, if not for the movie itself – then certainly for its soundtrack. Which is to say Jatin and Lalit Pandit wrote some insanely infectious tunes for the occasion, most of which are beloved to this day. The two versions of ‘I’m the Best’ are identical and form the ideal introduction to the Khan and Chawla characters and have that kitschy retro-fifties/sixties feel. You have to be one of hell of a cynic not to love Juhi Chawla’s “nanana-nana” chorus from the courtship song ‘Kuch To Bata’ (‘Tell Me Something’). ‘Banke Tera Jogi’ (‘Like Your Devotee’) is a semi-ballad with ethnic percussion and instrumentation whereas ‘Aur Kya’ (‘What Else?’) has very much that romantic 80s feel with string sections. The costumes are bright-colored and Shah Rukh was always prepared to make fun of himself. The choreography from Farah Khan is outstanding as always, and Juhi Chawla gets her moment in the sun. Not only is she given beautiful clothes and dresses to wear Khan and her have a couple of fun routines together. Chawla is a way better dancer than, say, Ameesha Patel in Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai (2000).

Aziz Mirza had been trying to give the on-screen pairing of Shah Rukh Khan and Juhi Chawla their much-needed hit after Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman (1994), and Yes Boss (1997) failed to make a dent. Apparently the tides at the box office only changed in Khan’s favor with the Karan Johar drama Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham… (2001). Two years later Mirza would finally land his SRK hit with Chalte Chalte (2003). The only thing that he would direct afterwards would be Kismat Konnection (2008) (with perrennial LWO favorite Vidya Balan) or a loose Hindi reimagining of the Lindsay Lohan teen comedy Just My Luck (2006). Then there’s the question what exactly turned audiences off from Yet The Heart Is Indian. This has all the glamour and pageantry you’d come to expect from big budget Bollywood entertainment like this. At two-and-half hours there’s little over 30 minutes of song and dance. The romance is sweet and innocent, the message is positive, and the sentiment patriotic. It’s anybody’s guess why Shah Rukh Khan hasn’t caught on in the Western world yet. If Dil Se… (1998) was a bit too cerebral for you, perhaps something light-hearted and fun like this might appeal to you instead.