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