Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jose Javier Reyes' "Dilim" - Short on Fright

Boy Abunda, who’s seemingly cured from his fungal hepatic abscess, was in top form and being himself one Sunday afternoon, i.e. trying to appear like an intellectual. “Why is your movie called ‘Dilim’ ?“, he asked with exhaustive gravity as though the fate of humanity depended on it . Kylie Padilla sat on her chair with stunned silence, as though slapped by bitter realization, or the dearth of one. She searched for answers, mouth half open, from The Buzz’s studio audience. Nothing.

She didn't know what darkness had to do with her character, it was almost comedic. Nada. Elvis left the building. She could've gone profound or lazily called it metaphor, but she instead looked electrocuted. Wasn't she the Padilla intellectual who was raised in Sydney, sang "Lonely Without You" and “Sulat” for her own CD outing, painted, wrote blog articles and dreamt of being an actress? The movie title would be the first clue if I were to embrace the character of Marites Almario. That same moment, I saw an expression that permeated throughout all the scenes in Padilla's movie debut.


In Jose Javier Reyes’Dilim”, Marites (Kylie Padilla) moves from Cagayan de Oro to Manila to pursue her college education. Two weeks prior to the start of her classes, she finds herself alone at the 3rd floor of a four-story dormitory. Her landlord Mang Damian (Manny Castaneda) has to attend to a family emergency in Pangasinan, leaving the disconcerted girl by her lonesome. “Bukas may kasama ka na, yung taga Baguio,” Damian reassures Marites.

That night, as she navigates the empty hallways of De la Rosa Dormitory, Marites gets acquainted with her new home’s creaky floors and dark corners, acutely aware of the sound of a girl crying nearby. Soon there after, she finds Mia (Ella Cruz) who’s more than convivial to meet her. “Taga Nueva Ecija ako. Nagre-review para sa Nursing Board exams,” Mia shares. 

In the morning, after attending mass, Marites is spooked by an old lady who tells her that she has a special gift, and that spirits are drawn to her ("natatangi... tulay"). She shares this with new friend Emerson (Rayver Cruz), a cheerful Criminology student whom she met at Aling Payang’s (Ruby Ruiz) eatery. 

But when another student Ellen arrives a day later, Marites realizes that the Mia she earlier met was the same who disappeared 5 years ago, along with her friend Aya (Nathalie Hart). They were never found. Marites transfers to another dorm hoping to get rid of Mia, but the latter still persistently appears in her dreams, asking for help. When Marites gets hold of Mia’s diary, their back stories start to unravel; a story that leads them to the son of an influential personality, Quinito Castaneda (Rafael Rosell) and his friend Danny (Joross Gamboa). But why is Marites seeing puddles on the floor and sandy foot prints? Are these tip-offs from beyond the grave?

Regal Films once again delivers the story of a protagonist with a “third eye”. Remember Carla Abellana in Aloy Adlawan’s (hold your breath!) “Third Eye”, the movie that initially toyed around with Earth-bound ghosts that soon transformed into zombies that eventually became cannibals? (Someone got so excited he got confused delineating the differences among his monsters.) A not-so-original variety resurrects 8 months later in "Dilim" (Darkness). Exciting, right?

Kylie Padilla turns in a one-note performance framed by a single facial expression seen from scene one until the last frame. If she wore a mask, it wouldn't have made any difference (reference: Derek Ramsay in all of his film appearances). Padilla’s joyless demeanor is so dour you’d wonder why anyone would even bother to speak to her. While I was made aware of her back story (father left when she was a child; she’s estranged from her mother; her next of kin is an aunt who works as a nurse in Hong Kong), Padilla effortlessly captures the essence of somnambulism in all its clinical criteria.

When Marites tells the police about a new name that could lead them to solving the crime, the cop tells them, “Pakitaan nyo ako ng pruweba.” Wasn’t that his job? Does this mean that in criminal cases, such as this, common people should gather all the evidence and interrogate witnesses? Present the aforementioned to the police before they make arrests? Huh? Then the same police man contacts Quinito informing him of Marites’ interest on the case. Why did the cop even care for Quinito’s sake? The latter didn’t even seem to know him. There is a fragmented series of ideas here too indicative to be real.

In another scene, Danny tracks down Marites’ whereabouts. He then invites Marites and Emerson to go with him to Sirena Beach Resort in Cavite – the same night they were introduced. What was so urgent five years after a disappearance that the meeting would have to be done on the same evening they first met? And why all the way to Cavite? If you were Marites, would you allow a complete stranger to take you to a distant place – just to discuss something that transpired 5 long years ago? Can’t they discuss this over, hmmm, coffee? I’d say a Starbucks scenario would be convenient for a mysterious disappearance, right? (wink wink) So if a stranger took them to Mars, they wouldn't think twice about it? The sense of urgency is baffling.

If Marites indeed was a magnet for ghosts, why was she being pursued by Mia alone? Aya didn't even bother talk to her. Selective affinity, perhaps? Maybe the other ghosts smell something rancid in her - or she just wasn't a very personable seance?

When Marites and Emerson finally meet Quinito, gunfight and fisticuffs ensue. Marites and Emerson were dragged to the sea, a scenario that duplicates Mia and Aya’s fate five years ago. Just before drowning them, our restless ghosts suddenly walk up from the bottom of the sea to help Marites and Emerson. Hell hath no fury like a couple of scorned ghosts, debah? Ay, so kaaliw. Mia and Aya, decked with sea weeds hanging down their heads, attack their murderers as our hapless bidas watch in horror. Then the story abruptly ends. Credits roll.

Quinito and Danny frequent the same beach resort where Mia and Aya were murdered. And why not? Quinito seems to own the resort. But what prevented the "ghosts" from attacking Quinito and Danny before? They obviously don’t need Marites to exact revenge, do they? In fact, Marites did not do anything special to coax our restless ghosts to rise from the bottom of the ocean. No magic spells nor special incantations were cast. What was Marites’ raison d’etre for this story then?   

Jose Javier Reyes is no stranger to horror films. He’s done half a dozen of the genre in the past, including “Malikmata”, “Spirit of the Glass”, “Matakot Ka sa Karma” and “Kutob”. Though not particularly innovative as a film maker, Reyes tells engaging stories. I was looking forward to his insight on the genre. After all, this is one film maker who can dish out about film language as eloquently as the scholars and cineastes. 

Moreover, the director is also a self-proclaimed fan of Stephen King (not to mention Edgar Allan Poe) whose short story inspired Peter Askin’s recent film “A Good Marriage” (2014), thus I was hoping for an unsettling time at the movies. In “A Good Marriage”, a contented wife (Joan Allen) wakes up one morning and realizes that her husband (Stephen Lang) of 25 years could be the serial killer who’s been murdering women all over the state. 

Dilim” isn't just derivative. It is short on “fright” as well. The narrative details don’t mesh like hand in glove. Detail is usually Reyes’ strong suit, but in a genre where he obviously grasps at straws, Reyes gets desultory. He is technically ill at ease weaving his narrative, especially when he starts building up suspense. At the peak of what could have been the climax, he loses steam and fails to find an appropriate narrative denouement. The sudden ending stunned me as much as it did Kylie Padilla when she was asked by Abunda why her film was called “Dilim”. Here is one unfinished story. Budget constraints? Or just plain lazy film making?

In an interview, Reyes discusses his thoughts, “As a filmmaker, your mettle and technical skills using film language are brought (???) to a test when you do horror projects.” Someone just failed his test.

Rayver Cruz and Kylie Padilla

Pretty Kylie

Rayver Cruz

Rafael Rosell

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Chito Rono's "The Trial" - Riveting Cinema

Ronald Jimenez (John Lloyd Cruz) is 27 going 13; mentally that is. But he is about to graduate seventh grade. Helping him catch up with school work is Bessy Buenaventura (Jessy Mendiola), his kind-hearted teacher and the school president’s niece.

Though Ronald is “developmentally delayed”, his functionality approaches “borderline normal”. Still slower than most, he is able to perform tasks and function like most people. In fact, he's a brilliant gardener in school where he works part-time in exchange of his admission. Back home, he lives with lesbian “father” Santi (Sylvia Sanchez) and cross-dressing “mother” Nando (Vince de Jesus), his biological parents. He is surrounded by the oddball horde who populates the comedy bar where his parents work.

Meanwhile, grief palpably percolates in the Bien household still reeling from the death of son Martin (Enrique Gil) who perished in a vehicular accident. It has been a year since but Amanda (Gretchen Barretto) is still wrapped in her own guilt and loss that she is unable to move on.

Hubby Julian (Richard Gomez) just wants to start anew so he wants their marriage annulled. To facilitate this, he has decided to sell their house, an idea that Amanda resists, “Ayokong makalimutan si Martin.” But a sensational rape case sweeps the Biens out of their own misery.

When a rape video involving Ronald and his teacher Bessy goes viral, Amanda gets asked by her friend Lallie Laperal (Vivian Velez) to help out. Amanda is, after all, Bessy’s godmother. Meanwhile, Santi and Nando pursue Julian to handle Ronald’s case. Unknown to the grieving couple, Ronald was Martin’s good friend when he was still hosting his Payatas feeding program. Ronald is even privy to some of the Bien’s internal dispute, not the least of which is Julian’s past infidelity.

To honor the memory of her son, Amanda convinces Julian to the take the case in exchange of her signing the annulment paper. Julian can only acquiesce. What happens to Bessy?  Did Ronald, who regularly watches porn videos borrowed from a friend, force himself on the only lady who’s shown him affection? Did he have violent streaks? The video (which shows Bessy parrying Ronalds’ advances) doesn't lie, does it? How can Bessy’s shouts (“Tama na, Ronald!”) be indicative of anything but rape?

As legal dramas go, Chito Rono's "The Trial" examines a world of flawed characters and dysfunctional families navigating a consciously litigious and supercilious society. It isn't easy to second guess its narrative trail. The story telling, from Enrico Santos and Kriz Gazmen’s script, is quite fluid. The build up towards the climax engages the viewer into one resolute viewing. As audience, you’re transfixed on your seat, with bated breath, while the plot gradually unravels into one suspenseful denouement.  Mainstream drama has never been this riveting.  

The Trial”, inspired by a script originally written by Ricky Lee, is a pondering on intents and actions, of causes and effects, and how perception of truth is easily carved by man’s idea of what normal or abnormal is. In so many ways, our existence is defined by these scruples. Moreover, we’re made to scrutinize how some people face bereavement, palpably depicted in extreme contrast by Amanda and Julian’s behavior towards each other.

Grief is dealt with in different ways; some more destructive than others. The past, just like history, has its own relevance, as when Julian watches random videos of his family prior to the accident – quite wistfully gripping in its laidback demeanour. Looking back allows us to see how far we’ve strayed from our intended paths. I realize that there are situations far more devastating than the actual tragedy.

The movie romps away with superlative performances. Gretchen Barretto unexpectedly scintillates with devastating sincerity. In a role that’s conveniently a claptrap for overzealous sentimentality, Barretto is an enthralling study of thespic authority. You could feel her pain in every scene. When she finally runs after Ronald and remembers a similar incident involving her son, it becomes one of the most heart breaking scenes I've had to endure at the cinema this year. Suddenly you realize that it was Amanda’s moment of closure. If cinema were meant to move people like that, then you know it has served its purpose well.

Vince de Jesus, as gender-bending Nando, beautifully delivers a performance that shall define his acting career from here on. In fact, his scenes are high-wire acts, vacillating between comic and poignant (e.g. his valedictory scene with John Lloyd during their victory party). One of my favourite scenes involves Sylvia Sanchez as she recalls how Ronald was once bullied ("ang pula ng siopao"), ending up with blood on his forehead. This would be Sanchez’s most memorable, if uneven, turn as an actress. Unfortunately, her other scenes needed a bit of restraint because wrath or disappointment isn’t essentially realized by sheer auditory volume or nerve-popping histrionics. People don't always shout when hurt.

We’ve always thought of Jessy Mandiola as an adorable but bland pretty face. “Call Center Girl”, anyone? But not anymore. With this star turn, Mendiola is on her way to joining Star Cinema’s stellar league of A-list dramatic actresses (Bea Alonzo, Erich Gonzales, Angelica Panganiban, Iza Calzado, Maja Salvador) as she bowls us over with quiet power in "The Trial". 

Despite brevity of scenes (she is actually not seen in almost a third of the movie), her presence lingers in your head. 

There are several worth mentioning where she displays cinematic brilliance: her reaction after failing to answer a student’s question (about the difference between genetic drift and random mutation) while being observed by a CHED supervisor. Her deceptively “ordinary” scenes with her abusive boyfriend Benjamin Alves were likewise affecting. After all, what is there to fight for when someone you love has seen through your self-worth. Then there’s the scene when she tells Ronald, “Ikaw ang pinakamabait kong kaibigan sa buong mundo.” Mendiola, I suspect, is still evolving in her craft. Isn't that exciting for someone who’s a relative upstart in the business?

John Lloyd Cruz is a virtual force of nature. He inhabits Ronald Jimenez with fierce earnestness, it’s hard to presuppose his performance the way we can’t second guess persons with intellectual crutches. He is never predictable. Cruz, in attacking a character, combines intellect and intuition, and he’s quite consistent in it. His exquisite command of craft is evident in several scenes, like when he tells his teacher, “Ma’am Bessy, di ka naman okay, eh.” Or when he asks Gretchen how Martin’s younger brother isn’t Amanda’s son: "Paano nangyari yun?". Or when he realizes what Amanda’s asking, “Sikreto nga eh. Akala mo ha?” This list is long – and is thus proof of Cruz’s enviable commitment to his character.  


We do have reservation about Vivian Velez’s character. She may have valid concerns, but she is compromised by a black-and-white characterization. “Punch line of the academic community?” Don't we just love hyperbole?

The Trial” compels its viewers to sit back, if a tad uncomfortably, for an engaging narrative ride. It doesn’t allow passive spectatorship. You couldn’t help but dissect the motives presented by its characters – from Ronald to Bessy; from the grieving household of the Biens to the dysfunctional family of Santi and Nando Jimenez. You even find yourself examining Lallie Laperal’s motives – or her lawyer’s “too involved” attitude. With its mellifluous plot unraveling before your very eyes, you expect one perfect story, right? Or was it?

For the sake of discussion, allow me to nitpick. Bessy’s own intellectual inadequacy is so subtly suggested that we actually believe her predicament, i.e. that she’s also “slow”. Being that way, such individuals don’t briskly form conclusions or react with proficient problem-solving skill. In the scene where Ronald and Bessy engage in sex, when Bessy saw a phone filming their liaison, she immediately “concocts” a scenario that would make her look like the victim (thus her repeated cries, “Tama na, Ronald.”) This reaction seems incongruent to that of a slow mind. Lesser mortals would just scoot, skedaddle and hide, not engage in improvisational dramatics. Did she actually anticipate a litigious scenario to unravel as a result of their indiscretion? She isn’t all that slow, is she? 

In another scene where Julian discusses his strategy to save Ronald from imminent incarceration, Sylvia Sanchez’s undue wrath seemed too extreme – her vocal histrionics almost dug a hole in my tympanic membrane. After all, she was talking to an illustrious lawyer who’s had years of experience - and who had to be pursued to take the case. You’d think she’d be circumspect dealing with someone who agreed to help – instead she flew off the handle! Who cared if their family would look eccentric before the court? Eccentricity won’t send them to jail. Wasn’t their goal saving Ronald at all cost?  


Now let’s discuss my "favorite" part. Attorney Patricia Celis, portrayed by the usually brilliant Isay Alvarez, meets Amanda for the first time. The lawyer carries undue vitriol, regarding Amanda with absolute acrimony. She's haughty and morose. You would think that Atty. Celis has a personal stake on the case. You’d likewise mistake her as the aggrieved party. As counsellor, wasn’t she supposed to approach the case with sobriety and rational savvy? Which lawyer involves herself in a slapping incident with a would-be witness? Talk about misplaced theatrics. But then Alvarez is a luminary in Philippine theater. How very apropos.

As for the scene where Ronald finally takes the witness stand, was Bessy’s admission from the audience gallery even admissible in court? (She was asked if Ronald’s confessions were true.) Shouldn’t she take an oath first – that she’s telling the truth and nothing but – before anything she divulges would actually amount to much under the court of law? What’s the judge doing while this drama was happening? Cogitating on her morning bowel movement? Was she dozing off? You see, more credible admissions have been deemed inadmissible under the wrong platform. How different is this?

The film boasts of a hundred and one messages that make us think. That misunderstandings don’t exactly define a bad relationship. That a person could be worth our affection despite his inadequacies. And so on. This much is true – “The Trial” deserves to be seen by anyone who claims to love good movies.

John Lloyd Cruz

Jessy Mendiola
Benjamin Alvez joining his Tito Piolo in ABS-CBN?

Enrique Gil

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Kit Oebanda's "Tumbang Preso" - Obstacles in Yarn Spinning

Carlo (Kokoy de Santos) dreams of pursuing college education; to become an architect and move his impoverished family away from provincial squalor. When a teacher offers an opportunity (he'll work and get paid P200 a day and, more importantly, he gets a scholarship), Carlo joins his younger cousin Jea (Teri Malvar) to try their luck in the big city.

They instead find themselves working long hours for a sardines canning factory. Once work is done, they, along with other young folks, are kept inside a dark stockroom where they sleep on the floor. What's worse, they are padlocked inside until 5AM when they have to resume work.

They get paid P50 a day (after "placement fee" has been deducted). Conditions in the factory are harsh, what with stern overseer Jose (Ronnie Lazaro) breathing down their necks. They occasionally get reprieve from the owner Miss Liz (Star Orjaliza), a deceptively kind "boss", and her happy-go-lucky nephew Vito (Kean Cipriano).

But Carlo has dreams to realize so he starts planning for an escape. On one such occasion, he falls down a wall and sprains his leg. Unable to work properly, Miss Liz takes him to see a doctor (Jaclyn Jose) who, not long after her examination, realizes the dilemma Carlo is in. The kind doctor hands him a piece of paper with numbers written on it. Carlo then plots another escape, this time for cousin Jea who can call for help. You actually wonder why the good Samaritan in Jaclyn Jose couldn't make the call herself. She wanted to help, didn't she? Isn't it standard procedure that doctors (and caregivers) who suspect abuse on their patients should alert the authorities (Social Welfare, police)? They should do the calling, not the perceived victims - because if they could, they would have done already.

Cocoy De Santos adequately coaxes necessary empathy from his character, making it easy to root for him. He registers well on screen thus this film should rightfully help open doors for the young actor. Teri Malvar, the child who beat Nora Aunor in the Best Actress category of Cinefilipino for her role in "Ang Huling Cha-Cha ni Anita", provided good support, though her character was sorely underwritten. Kean Cipriano, meanwhile, turns in a comfortable performance.

The rest of the cast dove into their characters perfunctorily - Ronnie Lazaro, Jaclyn Jose, Shamaine Centenera-Buencamino, and Star Orjaliza who romps away with the film's most meretricious role. However, the greater injustice was in not giving Dominic Roco enough to "play" with. What a waste. If you edit out his character, he won't be missed.

Kip Oebanda's "Tumbang Preso" ("In the Can") is well intentioned, but it is hobbled by so many shortcomings, both narrative and technical, you eventually end up with a lot less sympathy. Carlo (Kokoy de Santos), our teen protagonist, is an intelligent young man who, just barely two months after he started working for the factory, has forgotten his mother's "face", "how tall she is", "how bad her pedicure was". Two friggin' months in a bright teenager's mind and he's on the verge of expunging all traces of his mother's memory? Maybe he's afflicted with Nora Aunor's "Dementia"? Scary, if you ask me. Give him his share of extreme close ups then. :) If that isn't an illusory bid for sympathy, I don't know what is.

What about Kerbie Zamora's character Don who has been working at the factory for 5 years - he must have forgotten everything, including what he wore when he went to the doctor for circumcision. Tsk tsk tsk! Moreover, what kind of mother would indulge in bad pedicures while his underage son is desperate for tuition? (sniff sniff)


When Carlo was taken out for medical consultation, the physician (Jaclyn Jose) took one look at Carlo's hands. She declared, "Incision... due to sharp objects". Huh? Any physician would know that an "incision" is a cut on the flesh using a blade/knife, usually from a surgical procedure. Butchers, for example, don't make incisions; they cut and slice. Wounds with clean cuts, on the other hand, are called "lacerations". Where did this physician get her education? University of Recto? Anyway, the doctor (Ms. Jose) then takes Carlo to an Xray room. Then she performs the procedure all by herself! I was amazed of course. General Practitioners and clinicians NEVER do X-rays on their own. Heck, even radiologists will not perform the actual procedure themselves. X-ray technicians do! So Jacklyn was essentially the epitome of medical wizardry.

But we're not done with Jacklyn Jose. The first time she saw the child's hands (full of cuts from manually packing sardines in razor-sharp cans), her first impression was classic, "Galis!" (scabies) I almost fell off my chair. So funny.

Some of the lines in the script were flimflammed from random imagination. When Dominic Roco finds Kokoy awake and waiting by the shackled door, he asks him, "Ano bang ginagawa mo dyan at gising ka pa?" Kokoy replies, "Hinahanap ko ang aking mga lata." Roco then shrugs and goes back to sleep, saying "Buti naman." Huh? What's good in finding tin cans? Such writing is feckless and non-contributory to a tighter story. The scenography and the blocking of scenes don't mostly slide as naturally as they should, thus a number of them feel concocted.  

Some scenes are way too stagey or awkward, i.e. Kokoy's "dream sequence" - or was it a "flashback", you're never quite sure. And why was there confetti thrown at Kokoy? Were they celebrating the Edsa Revolution? I never had confetti for my scholastic medals in the past. Poor me!


At the police station, Kean Cipriano's character rats out on his aunt (Miss Liz, the factory's operator), and does a long-ish monologue. Ronnie Lazaro follows suit. All this time, the lady police officer just looked perplexed, as though a snake bit her at the vulva. Didn't she realize it was her job to ask more questions - or document their confessions? This floundering scene stretched on while the police officers just gazed at Cipriano and Lazaro - in sheer bewilderment. Starstruck probably? No further investigative work needed since the culprits were voluntarily spilling the beans without getting asked. How convenient. The aforementioned scene was essentially an anticlimax after the build-up towards a suspenseful third part.

The movie could have been an effective cautionary tale about ambition and trusting strangers, but it ended up into one predictable yarn spinning. Requisite happy endings tend to teach less, not that I am advocating the nihilistic approach of Gino Santos' "#Y" which was, thematically, one of the most irritating films I've seen this year. But to imply that one can just as easily switch back to a simpler life (the last scene) after a harrowing experience feels like a sham. Artificial.

"Tumbang Preso" is a product of 2013's Manila Film Financing Forum where it won "Best IFC Pitch". Real Florido's "1st Ko si 3rd" was among the 17 finalists. The movie's subject matter brims with contemporary pertinence. After all, a voice that speaks against child labor and human trafficking deserves to be heard and circulated. Unfortunately, a noble cause doesn't a great cinema make. No amount of A-grade labeling, courtesy of those clueless dingbats from the Cinema Evaluation Board (CEB), can sugarcoat the film's middling artistry.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Jun Urbano's "Ibong Adarna - The Pinoy Adventure" - Cutting Down Classic

In the kingdom of Maharlika, Sultan Mabait (Joel Torre) reigns over his people with Queen Mabuti (Angel Aquino) and their son Sigasig (Rocco Nacino). The royal family is well loved by their people. But not Datu Maimbot (Leo Martinez), Mabait’s ambitious brother, who dreams of becoming king.

When Mabait falls morbidly ill, thanks to the incantations of a witch (Lilia Cuntapay) tasked by the duplicitous Datu Maimbot, the royal family went out of options. No medicine could cure the beloved ruler as his health briskly deteriorates. Sigasig, as "salinlahi" and a dutiful son, is sent to seek the advice of the Nuno (Gary Lising) who then spoke of a magical bird, the Adarna, whose ethereal singing could cure any illness. Moreover, this avian is believed to excrete gold and other riches. But the path to the mythical bird is arduous and treacherous; and death is imminent. Aware that this was the sultan’s only chance for recovery, Sigasig sets off for the bird-catching adventure. Maimbot, along with bumbling sidekick Sipsipayo (Benjie Paras), volunteers to join his nephew, with the intention of stealing the bird from Sigasig.

On his way to Lupang Tigang, Sigasig strays away from his uncle and meets a motley of characters who become either an ally or obstacle: the Aeta child Labuyo (whose task is to assist the gentle heir); fierce Bontok warrior Dulamkaw (Ronnie Lazaro); and a thirsty beggar who transforms into a deity, diwatang Masuri (Patricia Hernandez).

With Sigasig’s benevolence and kind heart, the encantada offers him gifts for his journey: “sagitsit”, a plant to be poured over self-inflicted wounds so he won’t be lulled to sleep when the Adarna starts singing its sleep-inducing songs – and a “salakot” (a wide-brimmed hat) that protects him against bird droppings that turn men into stone. Will Sigasig be able to catch the Adarna for his dying father? Guess.

This folkloric tale is loosely based on a sprawling 18th century epic called “Ibong Adarna”, aka "Corrido at Buhay na Pinagdaanan nang Tatl√≥ng Principeng anac nang Haring Fernando at nang Reina Valeriana sa Cahariang Berbania" written by someone who goes by the name of Jose dela Cruz – “Huseng Sisiw” – whose real identity was never uncovered.

The “korido”, a Filipino literary form, came about during the 300-year rule of the Spaniards in the archipelago. It has precise measure, i.e. it contains 8 syllables per line, and 4 lines per verse. Moreover, this poetic form was sung through before an audience. In Adarna, we follow the lives of a king and his three sons, Don Pedro, Don Diego and Don Juan. The story itself is convoluted; one that would probably make good material for a protracted “teleserye” because of its plot contrivance and narrative roller coaster.


GMA Network based its recent television series – “Adarna” which starred Kylie Padilla and Geoff Eigenmann - from this literary work. But there were prior incarnations on celluloid: Manuel Conde, National Artist for Cinema, and more importantly Urbano’s father, directed “Ibong Adarna” twice – a black-and-white flick released in war-torn 1941 which starred Mila del Sol and Fred Cortes, and its color remake in 1945. Dolphy had a couple of Adarna films in 1972 (“Ibong Adarna”) and 1973 (“Ang Hiwaga ng Ibong Adarna”). Even Rene Requiestas had his parody, “Si Prinsipe Abante At Ang Lihim ng Ibong Adarna" (1990).

These loose adaptations are a proof of the creative scale of the story. I can only dream of a more faithful adaptation featuring an all-star cast, duly produced by, hmmm, say the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and directed by either Lav Diaz (because it’s going to be a long movie) or Aureus Solito (because he is familiar with the subculture of ethnicities). Imagine that! This is of course wishful thinking.

Jun Urbano’sIbong Adarna”, as homage to his father, takes a narrative detour in more ways than you can imagine to suit (probably) the production’s finances. That the fabled Adarna eventually transforms into a beautiful princess makes the narrative a tad derivative (“Frog Prince”, “Beauty and the Beast”). Production values likewise tend to be mediocre. In fact, the mythologic “richness” could have been mined further but eventually settles into one that’s run-of-the-mill.

Rocco Nacino suits the dashing, kind-hearted and valiant prince, but he’s mostly wasted by the gaunt, if humdrum characterization. Leo Martinez, once again overbakes his comedic affectations, but his slapstick artifice (delivering familiar aphorisms, then clinches his line with, “Ay tanga!”) soon wears out its novelty. Joel Torre makes the most of his underwritten character. Angel Aquino, while decidedly competent, wears her queen a bit too seriously (after all, her “king” is on death bed). However, you get a nagging feeling that she’s performing on a wayward level, like a discordant note playing on a different musical scale.

There are few moments that will entertain: like when Sigasig and Labuyo ride a giant kite flown by a humongous bird; or when Sigasig escapes from a ravenous giant; or when the Adarna (voiced by Lara Maigue) starts singing her dissonant melodies. There are moments that for a split second take you back to your childhood. But these are way too fleeting to really indulge or enjoy. Once reality slaps you right back, you realize that, in this film adaptation, there isn't much to munch on other than its predictable strain.

If you think this is the “Ibong Adarna” assigned for reading among first year high school students (as Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere” is for sophomores, and so on), you’d be disappointed. This doesn't even have three clashing brothers. But if you like birds transforming into beautiful princesses like that other fairy tale, you may want to reconsider.  

Who wants to paraglide?

Finding the tree of the Adarna.

Hungry carnivorous giant Dagungdong.

Crossing "tulay na poon".

Ronnie Lazaro questions Rocco's motives?

Patricia Hernandez plays Diwatang Masuri


Please read our featured post on Cinema Bravo and why Web Criticism isn't always about good and credible writing: