Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Probinsiyano's Journey Through Hell (Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag)

Rarely have I ever been completely mesmerized by local Philippine movies, not that I'm saying the local movie scene sucks, but for three main reasons: One, I rarely watch local movies. Two, and perhaps the reason for the first argument, they rarely make real masterpieces and if they ever do, its usually on the hush-hush, and three because of this movie., Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, which truly sets the bar really high, as expected no less from its director, the late, great Lino Brocka, one of the greatest Filipino filmmakers of all time and of the film itself that claims to be the greatest Philippine movie ever made.

The film is about a "probinsyano" (people from the provinces or somewhere outside the big city), Julio Madiaga as played by the young Bembol Roco (before known as Rafael Roco Jr.) who went to the big city of Manila to search for his lost love, Ligaya Paraiso (played by Hilda Koronel, the character name Ligaya Paraiso literally translates to "Joyful Paradise") who was tricked and taken to Manila by a certain shady old woman named Mrs. Cruz, who came to their province and promised Ligaya and several other women a better life in the big city if they came with her. Out of worry for his lover who hasn't wrote back to her family for months, Julio decided to brave the odds and search for Ligaya despite having no clues of her whereabouts. Little did he know his adventure would take him farther and deeper than he expects into the dark maw of the city's scum. Crime, poverty, injustice are to name a general few but to get keep getting victimized by it is a different story. After all of the city's hostility, will Julio be able to keep his sanity intact until he finds Ligaya? And when he finds Ligaya, will he be able to bring her back and live happily ever after? Or will it be a shock of reality that would land the final blow, turning the kind and meek Julio into a monster of vengeance.

Julio Madiaga, played by Bembol Roco, frequents and stands like a creepy stalker at the corner of Ongpin and Misericordia street, in front of a Chinese merchandise store in which he believes, Ligaya, his missing lover is kept hidden. Imprisoned probably. But honestly, it was a big surprise to see Bembol Roco this young, and with this much hair.

Julio joins a construction company - the easiest job to get into since he has no proper education whatsoever, in order to sustain himself in he big city while he looks for Ligaya. Also his first taste of the city's bigtime injustice. He's supposed to earn 4 pesos a day while the corrupted and cheapskate of a foreman only gives him 2.50, no questions asked. Another surprise for me is the regular wage back in 1975. When I was a kid (around early 90's) 2.50 would only take you a jeepney ride no farther than 4 kilometers, and today, that much earns me only what, two sticks of gum? Amazing how the economy turned out far worse 36 years later. And amazing that that is Joonee Gamboa on the right.

Julio's lost lover, Ligaya Paraiso as played by Hilda Koronel. Ligaya was duped into being given a chance to get educated and live a better life in the big city by Mrs. Cruz (whom Julio described as fat and ugly, like a pig), a shady person who came to their province and promised several other women the same thing. Nowadays, its still the same thing. Illegal recruiters all around, taking advantage of poor citizens' lack of education and awareness, involving them with shady dealings and such. That aside, it never fails to astound me the beauty of women in classic films. Seems they have something in common, I just can't put a finger on it, that puts them a notch above today's pretty faces in show business.

Julio and his buddy, Atong, went to a local market to shop for clothing. I was totally blown away by the price of the buttoned shirt they went for at 9 pesos. And even haggled it down to a price of 6.80 because they thought the cloth was a bit flimsy (these days, the flimsier the cloth, all the more pricey). Nowadays, stuff like that would cost from 300 to more than a thousand pesos depending on the brand and make - a huge evident economic difference from 36 years ago. Today, 9 pesos would only earn you one serving of cooked rice that isn't even enough to hit the bottom.

A scenery from before that still is, and more evident than ever. A distressing slum area, or in more local terms, "squatters area". Usually formed by informal settlers who are mostly composed of probinsiyanos like Julio who ventured to the big city to try their luck at a better chance of moving up in life. Unfortunately, most of them end up stuck in slums like these. In the movie, The squatters area was second home to Julio as he was welcomed to stay there by his friend Atong who lived in one.

Just like the tagline on this show's theatrical poster:

"Sa bawat latay, kahit aso'y nag-iiba.
Sa unang latay siya'y magtataka.
Sa ikalawa siya'y mag-iisip.
Sa ikatlo siya'y magtatanda.
Sa ikaapat, humanda ka!"

Which literally translates to: "For every lash of the whip, even a dog changes thought. Lash him once and he'll start wondering. Lash him twice and he'll start thinking. Lash him thrice and he'll remember it. Lash him for the fourth time, you'd best be prepared!". Julio like the stray dog who unwittingly entered hell, through the vicissitudes of living around and getting victimized by scum, slowly evolves, turning himself into something that scared even himself. The movie, aside from being a perfect mirror of the sad realities of the impoverished sector in the Philippines (perhaps evident in other countries as well), also serves as a dire example on the downfall of man, that even the most meek of humans, once pushed far enough, can and will do the unthinkable.


From The Idiot Box

From the screen to your lenses to your brain to your nerves to your heart, lungs and muscles and out. Its a compilation of my take, thoughts and impressions on straight up, good stuff (mostly japanese, anime, music and geek-related) from the idiot box that I like and you might like.

... and idiocy. :)

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