Monday, August 12, 2013

Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (Lino Brocka, 1975)



My first attempt to watch the newly-restored Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag was futile. SM Megamall allocated only two screenings for the film on Thursday, 8 August. Dang, this is one of the greatest Filipino films and it merely gets a pair of early screenings?

I finally caught up with Brocka’s masterpiece yesterday, a rainy Sunday afternoon. There’s nothing like watching a great, almost-mint film on the big screen. The gorgeous colors come alive. The neon lights are truly dazzling and seductive even from afar. The gleaming yellow hard hat on slimy Balajadia’s head effectively exposes the lack of hard hats for the poor workers.

The restoration is surely worth it because of small, important things being uncovered by viewers. The best new thing I’ve discovered is that the story of star-crossed lovers was set in pre-martial law Philippines. A calendar on the background has December 1970 on it. This kind of information will surely be missed out when the film is seen on a small screen. Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. originally wrote the screenplay in 1970 for a scriptwriting course handled by Nestor Torre.

Another discovery for me is identifying the movie being watched by the two lovers. The film King of Kings alludes to the heavy cross borne by a suffering Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel). Ligaya takes care of her child with a man she does not love, Chua Tek. The cross can also refer to Ligaya's recruiter, Miss Cruz, who is the person responsible for bringing her to the infernal city of Manila.

Images of Manila in this film have been copied countless times in other movies. Maynila shows Luneta as a place frequented by sex workers. There is even a scene showing doves flying freely in the area. Maynila nga ang pugad ng mga kalapating mababa ang lipad. Manila By Night also features the city as a breeding hotspot of sex workers and shadowy characters.

Viewing the film (aka Manila In the Claws of the Neon) is easily one of the best film experiences I’ve had in a long time. The feeling I had is akin to seeing Gilas Pilipinas win over the South Korean basketball team or watching Manny Pacquiao knock out Ricky Hatton. All those great images and moments are etched firmly in my mind along with the film's final scene showing a cornered Julio Madiaga at a cul-de-sac.

I believe that the Taiwanese film Rebels of the Neon God has a few nods to Manila In the Claws of the Neon. Both films have the word Neon on their titles. Kang-sheng Lee's Hsiao-Kang is similar to the built and countenance of Bembol Roco's Julio Madiaga. The films' street chases are similar.

Brocka's film will be shown at the Sineng Pambansa Film Festival in September 2013.

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