Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ang Panday (2009)

Ang Panday (Mac Alejandre, 2009)
English Translation: The Blacksmith

Somewhere out there, Carlo J. Caparas is beaming with a brand new dose of pride and self-confidence. Caparas, whose status as National Artist for Visual Arts and Film has been tainted because of several procedural lapses in his selection and a widespread and thoroughly convincing opinion among artists' circles that he does not deserve such honor considering that he never drew any of the comics he's most famous for and that his filmography is limited to exploitative films about sensationalized massacres and morally questionable political figures, has again gotten what his naysayers can never get, box office triumph. As it turns out, Mac Alejandre's re-do of Ang Panday (The Blacksmith), based on the very popular comic book written by Caparas and translated to film several times before, is quite a hit.

Caparas, however, cannot and should not claim sole ownership over the phenomenon that is Ang Panday. He may be credited for creating a near-empty vessel, a character that is so simplistic, so archetypal that it readily morphs into an entirely different entity depending on the actor who takes on the role. Fernando Poe, Jr., who is regarded as king of Philippine movies who was charismatic and popular enough to have actually threatened to take away the presidency from Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in an election despite having no political experience prior to his presidential campaign, portrayed the role of Flavio, the blacksmith who was prophesied to rid the land of evil, in several movies in the early eighties, improving Caparas' empty character and turning it into a cultural, if not political icon, a champion of the masses who singularly wages a righteous war against the forces of evil who have enslaved the poor people of the land. Bong Revilla, Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada would later on portray derivatives of the Panday character in Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes' Dugo ng Panday (Blood of the Blacksmith, 1993), about a descendant of the original Flavio who inherits the mythical blade, and Caparas' Hiwaga ng Panday (Mystique of the Blacksmith, 1998), about a gunsmith who discovers Flavio's sword and converts it into a gun, respectively. Matinee idol Jericho Rosales adds youthful vigor to Flavio when he took on the role for the television series. Ultimately however, Poe remains to be the quintessential Flavio as his slow yet assured demeanor, his stylized poses and fighting styles, his undeniable charm, his trademark quietude that makes every word he speaks invaluable have become irreplaceable adjuncts of the character.

In Alejandre's Ang Panday, Revilla graduates from portraying a mere descendant of the legend into stepping into the shoes of the legend itself. It's a tricky proposition, one that Revilla, who is also the main financier of the film, quickly deflects by dedicating the movie to Poe (sympathetically ending the dedication with a statement about Poe being the one and only Panday). Whether or not the dedication is actually heartfelt or an automatic reiteration of what is expected from anyone touching the franchise is beyond the point. Revilla has volunteered himself to be compared against Poe, to be scrutinized for whatever he lacks, to be criticized for whatever changes or modifications he introduces. It really is a daunting task, one that Revilla accomplishes by putting in what essentially is a very safe performance, a performance that is so carefully and deliberately engineered that it is neither wondrous or obnoxious, just inexplicably dull and unoriginal. However, to expect a myth-changing performance by Revilla is close to impossible. Revilla has never been or never pretended to be an accomplished thespian. What he is is an action hero who is gifted with age-defying good looks and an unwieldy heft that makes him a logical replacement for Poe.

Alejandre manages to tie things together with a thread so loosely spun that a minor misstep can cause the entire thing to fall apart. Screenwriter R. J. Nuevas' update on the narrative is understandably simplistic, episodic and quite easy to follow and digest. There's enough room for humor, usually provided for by cameos by some comedians (John Lapus as a gay mananangal; and when a young adventurer throws an insult on his ridiculously long hair, with stoic ease, he retorts with "nakapangasawa ako ng mayaman (I married a rich man)"), but not enough to relocate the film from derivative adventure into camp territory, an experiment that I thought would have made for a far more interesting movie. Obviously, the point of the movie is not to reinvent the wheel (Panggay, veteran comic Joey De Leon's flamboyantly gay version of iconic hero is a funny although short-lived parody; while Guiller, Estrada's gun-slinging variation of the character is an imaginative but half-baked creation) but to embellish a classic with the best special effects, production design, and other technical details Philippine money can buy. It somewhat works, at least to create an experience that nearly resembles the ones offered by Hollywood's expensive epics. The visual effects (from the beautifully animated opening sequence to the computer generated effects that are generously sprinkled throughout the film), the gorgeous musical scoring, and the delightfully meticulous production design display the extent of Philippine talent given a budget that is a mere fraction of what it needs to make one of Michael Bay's bloated extravaganzas.

Alejandre's Ang Panday is, at best, a showcase of Philippine ingenuity. The movie, probably deservedly, is getting a lot of criticism for being a hodgepodge of Hollywood influences (Philip Salvador's Lizardo is an uncomfortable mix of Jack Nicholson's outwardly insane and Heath Ledger's inwardly insane Jokers; Lizardo's dreary castle seems to inspired by Sauron's tower in Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings series; in fact, much the movie's mise-en-scene (Lizardo speaking to his army of goons atop his castle is a convenient copy of Saruman speaking to his army of orcs atop his tower) are borrowed from Jackson's famous epic). However, Philippine mainstream cinema can never claim originality, since the formulas used, from the slapstick to the heavy dramas, from the horrors to the romantic comedies, are patterned after those that have worked for Hollywood and other Hollywood-type markets in the world. Capitalist logic dictates that those in the entertainment business should create entertainment to survive; and when pressed against competitors that are bigger, brighter, and fancier, the tendency is to bridge the gap, not with money but with sheer craftsmanship. That said, Ang Panday is probably one of silliest films in the decade (and as an aside, Caparas, for all his intuition on what stories the masses are willing to pay to follow, should not mistake artistry with mass appeal) but it's a step forward for Philippine mainstream cinema in its ambition of finally churning out a film that can be at par with the Hollywood blockbuster. Whether that is good or bad in the long run is a different matter altogether.


Ellan Mark Pailan said...

This film really gave me a headache. Unoriginal (yes, it's a hodgepodge of Hollywood influences- Lizardo's HQ being reminiscent of Mordor in the LOTR series, Panday's Dragon of Eragon or even Dragonheart) and campy performances from the actors. Buboy Villar is becoming annoying. Can he do anything else aside from portraying precocious children? Bong Revilla's Flavio was a snore. Iza Calzado was a mere decoration. And Philip Salvador's Lizardo was incredibly one dimensional (which can also be said of all the characters in this film.)I guess you can praise the film for its efforts to improve the quality of Filipino films in terms of special effects. But aside from this, I don't think you can honestly say that this was a good film.

Oggs Cruz said...

It isn't good. It's a step forward for Filipinos in terms of making their films look like Transformers or Lord of the Rings, but do we really want that?

Ellan Mark Pailan said...

Yes, I don't think we need too much special effects if the material itself is already trite and the treatment is even more dreadful. I guess Filipino filmmakers, since they are now delving into special effects which aim to mimic the Hollywood standard, should take their cue from this observation of David Denby in his review of the movie "UP"- "Except for one or two shots, however, Docter and Peterson never exploit the obvious 3-D opportunity of fangs snapping in the viewer’s face. Their use of the technology is relatively chaste; they’re not particularly eager to shock us. They keep their eyes on the story, and on the bond that develops between Carl and Russell. For the filmmakers, 3-D is a narrative tool, which works only if what it is enhancing is strong to begin with."

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/cinema/2009/06/08/090608crci_cinema_denby#ixzz0e44pd5aV

matteo said...

Hi Oggs,

sorry I couldn't find your mail so I post here:

Great blog and writings, thanks a lot!

I'm a film critic (usually writing about Japanese Cinema) and I'm interested in the works of Lav Diaz.
I'd really would like to contact him for a possible inteview so I was wonderinf if you could help me.



Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Matteo,

You can email me at oggsmoggs@gmail.com.


Anonymous said...

When you have a bunch of "actors" who cannot act or "bad actors" who think they can act the best solution is to bombard the poor movie with visual effects, production design copied from every hollywood fantasy movie and have a noisy musical score.

That's the formula. And darn it still works. At least for some people.

H.M. Agustin said...

Caparas never deserved that national artist in film in the first place. Since the one who made panday possible for film is Fernando Poe Jr himself. He directs and acts in it.

I still have to see this one, but I've heard that the fight scenes here are like of those in Encantadia or Sugo (the use of slow motion and all). XD