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:

No comments: