Friday, July 05, 2013

El Vibora (Ishmael Bernal, 1972)

Loosely based on historical figure Artemio Ricarte, El Vibora is a surprisingly good actioner from Ishmael Bernal. It is of the same mold as an FPJ revenge movie. There are lots of solid action scenes and wicked villains.

In F. Sionil Jose’s book Vibora, Ricarte’s place in history was examined. The General-In-Chief of the Philippine Revolutionary Army was a staunch anti-American. He saw how the Americans massacred Filipinos. He can’t stomach the acts of people who turned a blind eye to the atrocities committed by the Americans.

Ricarte refused to pledge allegiance to the Americans, whom he considered the real enemies of the Filipinos. This strong stubbornness to his ideals and excessive love for the Philippines were also tackled in the film although in various forms.

In the film, Vic Vargas portrays Vibora (Viper), a leader of the revolutionary army during the early years of American conquest in the Philippines. He gets into a fight with fellow revolutionists who kowtowed to the Americans. He believes one of them was responsible for the death of his wife.

Vibora goes on a killing spree. Every lawless man he encounters on the road ends up dead in his hands. His tenacity and notoriety convinces the authorities to offer a huge sum of $10,000 for his arrest.

In the end, the identity of the major villain is a big surprise. Just as in the book, the villains have assumed the air of respectability after ‘collaborating’ with the Americans. They ended up powerful and looked upon as decent people. They are not easily identified as evil. But, the sad truth is they are the true villains. They are the real enemies of the Filipinos. They are the ones who raped and brutalized the Philippines.

Bernal was able to keep the film on a frisky pace. The only chink to his solid direction was the explosion of the church. It was obviously a model.

Vic Vargas : Vibora
Boots Anson Roa : Cecilia
Eddie Garcia : Alvaran
Leopoldo Salcedo : Gismundo
Max Alvarado : Gulimbat

*original online posting in 2008

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