‘Manny,’ a Champ With Feet of Clay

Director Ryan Moore filming boxer Manny Pacquiao (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Director Ryan Moore filming boxer Manny Pacquiao (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

"Manny” will open in theaters in 20 cities and is available on iTunes and On Demand January 23, 2015. True, a proposal to film a documentary on Manny Pacquiao alone would attract both resources and admiring talent, but the intimacy with the subject and scale of this project could not have been achieved without the sheer determination of its creator.

Ryan Moore, age 34, devoted the last five years to directing and producing the definitive biography of the only boxer to win world titles in eight weight divisions and who is a symbol of hope to Filipinos worldwide. Through Ryan’s almost unlimited access to the champ, “Manny” conveys the champ’s perspective on the milestones and personal conflicts that defined his boxing career and shaped his character.

“My reason for creating this film stemmed from my dream of sharing inspiring Filipino stories of struggle and triumph,” says Ryan. He was born and raised in Southern California and spent five years of his youth in the Philippines before his mother, Cynthia Agoncillo Moore, and father, Ralph Moore, separated. The senior Moore went on to marry Susan Reid, who’s better known to Philippine cinema buffs as the actress Hilda Koronel. 

Back to the Movie

The film uses 1,200 hours of interviews and family videos from Manny Pacquiao’s life. The movie begins with the squalid poverty of his childhood in the Mindanao fishing town of Kibawe in southern Bukidnon at the height of the Muslim rebellion of the early 1980s. As a teenager, Manny discovers that boxing could support his single mother, Dionesia Pacquiao, and his five siblings much better than casting nets. We catch glimpses of his punishing left hook and punching speed that floor opponents much bigger than the pint-sized villager. He soon outgrows the Philippines market and enters the international arena, collecting championship belts from flyweight to welterweight and six classes in between.

The few Filipinos who didn’t see his title matches on pay-per-view are treated to highlights of his biggest bouts, most prominently his humiliation of golden boy Oscar De La Hoya in 2008, controversial loss to Timothy Bradley and uncontested knockout by longtime nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez, both in 2012. 

Pacquiao signing posters with Moore (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Pacquiao signing posters with Moore (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Midlife crises come earlier for most athletes due to professional careers that seldom last beyond age 30. Turning 36 last December, Manny shows disillusionment stemming from his trust in exploitive father figures in the boxing game. He signs his name to contracts almost indiscriminately without examining the print above his name. The cause of his waning enthusiasm in the ring is also self-inflicted from distractions he pursues on his own. His marriage to Jinkee is in constant jeopardy from womanizing, which Ryan captures with peeks at the aging champ’s roaming eyes at press events.

At the same time the fighter is growing fabulously rich, he becomes increasingly conscious of poverty in his homeland. Out of compassion and possibly hubris, Manny becomes a congressman for Sarangani Province. The resulting government responsibilities and family needs burden his spirit more than the pressure to return to boxing glory.

Manny’s troubles do not lead to the breakup of his marriage but to his estrangement from the Catholic Church. While Filipino Catholics may have felt betrayed by their hero’s conversion to Evangelical Protestantism, Ryan respects Manny Pacquiao’s desperate need for a change.

“Manny’s transition to [Evangelical] Christianity came after the third match with Juan Manuel Marquez,” Ryan recalls. “His lifestyle, filled with gambling, drinking and infidelity, caught up with him and his marriage. I’ll never forget in mid-February 2012, when we met again in Los Angeles after he vowed to change his life and rediscovered his relationship with God a few months before. He seemed like a revived person.

Moore prepping Pacquiao before a shoot (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Moore prepping Pacquiao before a shoot (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

“I wasn’t sure what to think of it [Manny’s religious conversion]. I believe, regardless of how faiths may differ, he is truly a better person, husband and father to his children for the change that occurred,” Ryan observed.

As a filmmaker who became a sympathetic friend of the mortal hero, Ryan submits, “If he had continued going down that road, I don’t know how long he could’ve burned the candle from both ends.”

The audience might question whether a kinder and gentler Manny can beat undefeated welterweight and junior middleweight champion Floyd Mayweather on technical points rather than disabling blows. If the dream bout ever happens, Ryan hopes to revisit his vault of footage to make a follow-up documentary on the culmination of a great career.

The scene that conveys the rare joy in Manny’s adult life isn’t so much his new religion as his singing duet with actor Will Farrell on “Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel.” “Manny” portrays the champ’s earnestness over the comical intentions that made the cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” a classic on the web show “Funny or Die.” Within the context of the biopic, nobody with a heart will laugh when the music plays.

A Collaborative Effort

Star of theTaken” trilogy and Oscar nominee Liam Neeson narrates “Manny.” Hollywood actor, producer and philanthropist Mark Wahlberg is interviewed. Pharrell Williams’ partner on the Neptunes producing team and N.E.R.D. bandmate, Chad Hugo, produces the music with Lorne Balfe, whose previous work includes scores for “The Dark Knight,” “Sherlock Holmes,” “Inception” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” The soundtrack features a composition by Mark Foster, the half-Filipino leader of Foster the People, which made “Pumped-up Kicks” a copacetic earworm. “Manny” is a collaborative work that could not have happened without universal adoration for the subject, which Ryan Moore adroitly synthesizes. 

Actor Mark Wahlberg with Moore at Wildcard Boxing Gym (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Actor Mark Wahlberg with Moore at Wildcard Boxing Gym (Photo courtesy of Ryan Moore)

Around the time “Manny” was selected for the South by Southwest Film Festival last spring, Universal Pictures began making overtures. Ryan remembers, “Days before the premiere, I received an email from Universal Pictures and I forwarded it along to my agent. I honestly didn’t think too much of it at first until I received a call from the office of Ron Meyer who has been the head of Universal for over twenty-five years. He personally wanted to watch my film.

“The process of going back and forth took about five to six months until we finally closed the deal. Every day during that period I woke up to emails regarding submitting deliverables which consisted of hundreds and hundreds of releases and contracts plus countless other assets I had gathered over the five years I’ve worked on the film.”

Only recently did Ryan realize the scale of his achievement. “Seeing their (Universal Pictures’) logo on my poster is one of the most rewarding feelings that I still am unable to describe.”

Meeting in a Restaurant Restroom

While the movie didn’t have the maxed-out credit cards, cellphones for cameras and roommates turned actors identified with guerrilla filmmaking, Ryan had to defy social protocol. He had sought out Mark Wahlberg for an interview after he learned the actor had studied Manny Pacquiao for his Oscar nominated role in “The Fighter.” Inspired by Manny Pacquiao’s bruising intensity, Wahlberg gave one of the best portrayals of a boxer since “Raging Bull” and “Rocky.”

Ryan reached out formally to Wahlberg through industry channels but succeeded through informal contact during a promo event before Manny’s fight with Sugar Shane Mosely in 2011. “I stepped away to the bathroom and guess who I ran into? Mark was washing his hands at the basin and I immediately yelled ‘Mark!’” 

The scene that conveys the rare joy in Manny’s adult life isn’t so much his new religion as his singing duet with actor Will Farrell on ‘Late Night with Jimmy Kimmel.’

Ryan looks back with some ambivalence. “I think back to that encounter and how incredibly wrong it could’ve gone. Months later, he invited me back to his house and I interviewed him in his boxing ring. After that interview, Mark continued to keep in touch and made time for me and my film whenever he was home in LA.”

Mark Wahlberg is famous for his gut instincts as the producer and creative force behind the highly successful “Entourage” and “Boardwalk Empire” series on HBO, but Ryan will vouch that his intuitive gift goes beyond entertainment.

“One day before the Timothy Bradley fight (2012), Mark and I sat at a steak restaurant in Las Vegas, and he met my girlfriend for the first time. He immediately told me in front of her that I was going to marry her. He was right! We’re getting married this October.”

Wedding crashers will have to do their own research. Everyone else can sit back and get to know Manny Pacquiao and Ryan Moore through their movie.

Behind the Humanity of ‘Manny’

Before the movie, Ryan worked in commercial real estate and founded the nonprofit Clean Arms for the Community, whose tattoo removal clinics help at-risk youth turn their lives around. He has also worked with youth at a juvenile correction facility in Norwalk, California. His service to the community includes roles as a Leadership Council Member for The Music Center, as personal representative of former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, board work with the Salvation Army and disaster relief with Nike following the 2005 tsunami in Banda Aceh, Indonesia.

Ryan will continue to help the needy as he advances his career in film. 

Anthony Maddela

Anthony Maddela

Anthony Maddela also writes fiction in Los Angeles. He and wife Susan support their two children in their tae kwon do, karate, kung fu, ballet, birding and ukulele pursuits.  

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