Pinoy B Movies For Beginners
Learn more about the country’s cinematic treasures of camp, cheese, gore, and so much more. By Bernice Bautista
From Juice Magazine, February 11, 2010
So you’re one of those people who scoff and roll their eyes at this familiar, star-driven formula of Philippine mainstream cinema: when boy meets girl, their social backgrounds clash, their families come to the fore, and finally, their love conquers all, climaxing to the strains of a popular ballad from which the film takes its title. Like the predominantly bored intelligentsia comprising a small but significant portion of Philippine audiences, you’re ready to move on from these studio films that recycle the same old boring story with unfortunate clockwork precision. While the obvious answer involves looking for hope in our indie film revolution, there’s always another route for the adventurous film lover. Enter the Pinoy B-movie.
Before you argue that all Philippine films are B movies by definition, consider the genre and think again. No matter how much you look down on what passes for quality cinema these days, would you class a romantic comedy starring John Lloyd Cruz with an action spy film featuring a midget named Weng Weng? What about a dramatic, OFW-related opus versus gory flicks about vampires in the jungle and sexy women in prison? The possibilities for these crazy films back in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s were endless – and probably remain so today – so shake off those bourgeoisie blinders and step back into the exciting world of B-movies.
Much like the local films we all know and love, there’s a veritable amount of camp in B-movies. The choice of genres they fall under just gives them a little more alternative material to play with, like war, horror, sex, fantasy, crime, and any other theme that can be used in an “exploitation film.” According to Pinoy B-movie junkie and film critic/historian Andrew Leavold (www.andrewleavold.blogspot.com), even an A-list filmmaker can join the fray by dipping into a “disreputable” genre like softcore porn. Diehards would also mention notable names like Cirio H. Santiago (Tarantino is a huge fan) and Eddie Romero. In any case, a quick scan of Philippine film history (jump to Andrew’s blog, www.bamboogodsandbionicboys.blogspot.com, for more) reveals just how interesting, to say the least, this subcult really is. Our B-movie filmmakers and audiences have undergone several fixations through the years, including vampires, sex, spies, ninjas, kung fu, jungles, black women, and post-apocalyptic wars.
Any Pinoy B-movie beginner would suffer from information overload, so it’s necessary to narrow down the list to the standout films of the genre. It’s an impossible task, we admit, but trust that each of these films holds a little something to amuse, confuse, thrill, and shock you – all at the same time. Before you settle in for a Pinoy B-movie night, don’t forget to gather your friends and stock up on the alcohol. And if you’re still a sceptic, think of it this way: these films are so bad, they’re good. In fact, they’ve streaked past awful and rounded the spectrum to shoot all the way to awesome. Enjoy!
The Midget Spy Film
“He’s tough. He’s tender. He’s three feet tall…” Any good discussion wouldn’t be complete without the little man in For Your Height Only (1981). Weng Weng, dubbed by Leovold as the “poster little boy” of the genre, starred in James Bond rip-offs as Secret Agent 00, a stunt-performing, gadget-toting, crime-fighting ladies man. The film is a showcase of all the elements highbrow cinema would eschew, almost serving as a template for the slew of bad Pinoy movies that we have suffered through since. It has all the (bad) textbook goon elements: bad guys always gather in a warehouse, they must have unbelievable slow recovery time in fights, and they should make exaggerated, dramatic noises when they die. Oh, and the boss – played to a T by Max Alvarado – always has to wear a leather jacket and sunglasses, even at night. And did we mention that it stars a midget as the secret agent who kicked ass? Give it a chance and the unexpected ending just might convince you to get copies of the sequels.
Thug 1: Where's that little midget?
Thug 2: Probably hiding in her handbag!
The Campy Comedy
The Miss Manila Sunshine beauty pageant cruise comes to a tragic halt as the ship sinks and maroons a group of catty beauty queens, a few guys, and a gay man on a desert island. Throw in explosive characters, delightfully witty dialogue, and hilarious situations and you’ve got yourself Temptation Island (1980), the campiest film imaginable, thanks to director Joey Gosiengfiao. This is another cult classic to be enjoyed with your barkada over popcorn – just be careful not to choke on those kernels when you find yourself laughing uncontrollably. We’ll forever remember the bikini-clad girls giving up on finding food and water – “Walang tubig, walang pagkain…eh ‘di magsayaw na lang tayo!” – and launching into a gratuitous, five-minute dance sequence that eventually evolves into a catfight. Watch out for the conyo script delivered with striking aplomb and fearless Pinoy accents.
Maria: What are bitches (pronounced beetches) for but to bitch around with their fellow bitches?
The Bold Movie
There are skin flicks, and there’s the skin flick. Elwood Perez’s Silip (1985) is easily the boldest “bold” movie there is. Sure to shock audiences even today, the film showed everything from graphic animal butchery, outdoor sex, porn-level nudity, and foreplay, to – spoiler alert! – decapitation and gang rape. No less than three ladies bared their all for the sex scenes, and, come to think of it, even in the regular scenes (they usually went braless in a barely-there white kamison). Simon, the lead male, was nearly always naked and fornicating, and even the village children weren’t spared from nudity. But, of course, considering what the kids had to do towards the end, being naked was probably a trivial issue.
Just as shocking as the graphic scenes were the attitudes portrayed in the film. The puritanical views of the Catholic village people, especially when it came to sex, proved to be the undoing of the entire community. Oh, those poor children.
Pia: Papano ko makikilala ang demonyo?
Tonya: Dumarating siya sa anyo ng lalaki. Ang sino man ang may lawit sa ibaba ay demonyo!
The Tarantino Seal of Approval
Disciples of Quentin Tarantino would know that he is a huge Pinoy B-movie fan. Ebony, Ivory, and Jade (1976), Cirio H. Santiago’s blaxploitation collaboration with Hollywood producers, featured blazing guns, high kicks, and hot girls on “a roaring rampage of revenge,” as referenced in Kill Bill. Women in Cages (1971) by Gerry de Leon, another sexploitation film set in the jungle, also served to inspire Tarantino to use it in Grindhouse.
The Future Classics
Get ready for those relatively newer movies that have already started gaining cult-classic status, permeating the zeitgeist with their unforgettable lines. The nineties gave us Machete: Istatwang Buhay (1990), starring pre-Rizal Cesar Montano and Rita Avila, who both took on the naked-wooden-statue-coming-to-life premise a bit more seriously (which made it more amusing) than the sexier remake with Rosanna Roces. Apoy sa Dibdib ng Samar (2006) is bound to be a classic, with son-of-Lito-Lapid spouting the dialogue that social networking sites are keeping alive and well: “Oo, inaamin ko na saging lang kami. Pero maghanap ka ng puno sa buong Pilipinas…saging lang ang may puso. Saging lang ang may puso!”
Another valuable contribution is from director Ronald Gan Ledesma: Kapag ang Palay Naging Bigas, May Bumayo (2002). No explanation needed. Just look at that title.