A recent article in the Philippine Star mentioned of there being only one Filipino movie that made it to the ten most searched movies by Filipinos in 2014. This is Starting Over Again which stars Vhong Navarro who figured significantly in the front pages this year. Goes to show that demand for certain movies is often proportional to that of the popularity of real personas behind the camera, which brings me to the subject of Filipino action movies and the actors in these.
What is it with Filipino action films that movie goers like? Let’s start with myself. I’m not really into the genre unless the story’s based on a true story that I’d like to know more about, otherwise it’s basically about whether or not I’m gripped by the story’s synopsis. In general, I think that Filipino audiences watch these films because they’re die-hard fans of the actors playing in them as for instance the late Fernando Poe, Jr. It’s the celebrity power of the actors basically. But, have we stopped to think what these action films are about? If I’m as average as the people sitting next to me in the theater, which I am, I don’t stop to think because I watch movies for the sole purpose of being entertained. In order to analyze a film or critique it’s technique a different pair of eyes is needed to watch it with. I’ll put them on right now.
Filipino action movies mirror the way the average Filipino community handles conflicts in their villages and neighborhoods. In the stories, one perceives the values motivating individual and collective actions. One is also offered a glimpse of the world view of the average Filipino.
Example, from Video 48: In this 1964 film starring the late “Action King”, FPJ, the theme’s English translation goes:
Anywhere in the world when cruelty and oppression prevail, there will always be a group of stout-hearted men who will rise up and fight against the oppressors.
The story starts off with a band of bandits disrupting the peace of a certain quiet town. The bandits settle in the town and makes life a living hell for everybody there. Then enters FPJ’s character, a stranger who appears from out of nowhere and takes up residence there as well. His stay isn’t entirely welcomed and as a consequence he had to contend with constant verbal assaults from suspicious locals. He becomes fast friends with a local boy who urges him to fight the bandits. He refused, preferring to retreat and maintain his own peaceful corner in town. The situation with the bandits gets worse. The residents get down in prayer pleading for a miracle. Their prayer is answered because soon afterward another band of men – of heroes – rises up. Guess who their leader is? They go fight the bad guys and decimate each and every one of them. The town is saved. As mysteriously as when he appeared FPJ’s character ups and disappears into the horizon. The end.
Improbable but then that’s the point of the story, the audience is happy convinced that: Anywhere in the world when cruelty and oppression prevail, there will always be a group of stout-hearted men who will rise up and fight against the oppressors. Such is the recurring theme in Filipino action movies.
There’s also always that part where the good and bad guys exchange fire, the rat-a-tat-tat of their AKs and handhelds playing nonstop for about an hour or so. One wonders early on if they actually make bullet cartridges that long and how infinitely rich those guys must be to afford indefinite loads of ammunition.
And the golden rule is, the good guy(s) don’t die. They might have been shot at during a skirmish but they get up immediately after because: Anywhere in the world when cruelty and oppression prevail, there will always be a group of stout-hearted men who will rise up and fight against the oppressors.
So what real Filipino values and world views can be glimpsed here?
- The gangstas as rulers of neighborhoods and villages. These are not your neighborhood punks as popularized in Western media who plagiarize streets with their spray cans and bully anyone straying into their corner but rather these lean toward the Godfather-ish kind. Cross their path and well we’ve all probably seen why Don Vito Corleone was greatly feared.
- Justice is served in the way of rogues, that is, tooth for a tooth, eye for an eye, the amassing of and indiscriminate use of guns (as implied by the half hour of straight gunfire). If and when the law and the court gets into the picture, it’s to show that corrupt ways prevail. Rare is the movie that has depicted the triumph of reason and order.
- Restoration of peace and freedom has always been portrayed as the outsider’s role, whoever that outsider is perceived to be. The oppressed, the community of insiders, do their part by praying for the coming of such a savior.
- The meaning of ‘hero’– the word’s now loosely used as if by just snapping one’s fingers the hero will appear. No. The real hero does not come out of a bottle.
- Long after the movie was shown, the line separating the actor from his character remains a blur. The audience came away with the belief that the actor is the character. Or to put it in another way, the character has effectively swallowed the actor. The actors are happy they’ve been.
We need to rewrite the story. We need to imagine new plots. We need to develop characters more authentically, separate from the real person. We need to bring depth to dialogue, to be more courageous in exploring sides to the story. And we need to project these new attitude and behaviors even on the wide screen. Instead of a rehash of the country’s grim reality and dead-end solutions, the new story should engage audiences’ minds to re-imagine the new reality and future that we want: one based on rule of law, a social order based on the positive interpretations of Filipino values such as of lakas-loob, pagkukusa, pagkakaisa, pakikipagkapwa, takot sa Diyos/maka-Diyos, etc. There is no better time to do this than now.