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Classic Filipino Films You Should Watch

The passion and themes of these decades-old movies still ring hard and true today

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By KRISTOFER PURNELL

The highest-grossing film of all time, when adjusted for inflation, isn’t Avengers: Endgame, it’s not even Avatar—it’s Gone with the Wind. The film also has one of the most memorable quotes ever, as said by Clark Gable’s Rhett Butler: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” If you asked the average film connoisseur what the best film is, chances are they’ll say Citizen Kane. And who can forget Judy Garland’s ever-iconic “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz?

If you notice one thing these three movies have in common, they were all released before 1950. Yet somehow they have stood the test of time and remain among cinema’s best.

As the Philippines celebrates 100 years of local cinema, it too has classic films to boast of, the likes of Mike De Leon’s Batch ’81, Peque Gallaga’s Oro, Plata, Mata, and Ishmael Bernal’s Himala.]

Thanks to restoration projects by ABS-CBN, people today are able to enjoy these classic films as if they were freshly released in the theaters. Soon more films by Bernal and fellow National Artist Lino Brocka will be restored, even those we aren’t so familiar with. Philippine cinema is so rich that we often overlook some of its features, which include messages that resonate even today, as if our problems have aged with time.

Take a look at some these classic Pinoy films, some of which are already up for restoration, and enjoy the sustaining brilliance of Philippine cinema:

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T-Bird at Ako (1982)
Director Danny Zialcita brought together two of Philippine cinema’s biggest actresses, Nora Aunor and Vilma Santos, for T-Bird at Ako, one of the earliest Filipino films to have LGBT themes thanks to screenwriter Portia Ilagan. Back in those days it was a big risk to heavily dive into LGBT-themed stories (“t-bird” is a local slang for a butch lesbian), so imagine the controversies that surrounded the film even with its A-list actors.

But as you would expect, Nora and Vilma delivered tremendous performances, as did frequent Zialcita collaborator Suzanne Gonzales. Admittedly its depiction of the LGBT community would be considered tame, even lame, in today’s standards given its era of release, but it paved the way for films like Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and Die Beautiful, each a marvel in its own right.

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Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos (1976)
The brilliance in the title is that when translated to English, it could mean “Three Years Without God” or “Three People Without God” (though the former is the accepted translation). Still, Mario O’Hara’s directorial debut starring a young duo of Nora Aunor and Christopher de Leon set during the Japanese occupation has a tale that strikes the very definition of will and discernment.

Beyond the excellent performances of Nora, Christopher, and Rafael “Bembol” Roco, Jr.,    Tatlong Taong Walang Diyos adapts to Mario O’Hara’s naivety in order to show viewers the strength of a woman’s will, the fine line between right and wrong, and above all, the strength of one’s faith.

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For Y’ur Height Only (1981)
Before Verne Troyer’s Mini-Me from the Austin Powers franchise, the Philippines already had its own version of a dwarf spy in comedy actor Weng Weng. At the height of his career (pun intended), he appeared in For Y’ur Height Only, a parody of James Bond’s For Your Eyes Only and everything that 007 was known for—only this time Agent 00 was 2’9”.
Filipinos love their parody films, and For Y’ur Height Only was one of the best of its kind and even predates the likes of international spy comedies such as Johnny English, Spy, and the aforementioned Austin Powers. Unfortunately many of Weng Weng’s films are lost, but in For Y’ur Height Only a benchmark of parody films lives on.

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Insiang (1976)
Lino Brocka was known for many films such as Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, Jaguar, and Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanang, but perhaps his most important work is Insiang, starring Hilda Koronel. Beyond its distinctions as the first Filipino film shot in Tondo, and shown at the Cannes Film Festival, its themes of revenge and despair bring out the genius found in Lino Brocka’s talents.
While Mike De Leon’s Batch ’81 mirrors the atrocities of the Martial Law era, Insiang focuses on the poverty side, bringing to light the hardships poor communities faced during that time and, moreover, centering on one woman’s yearning for revenge after the worst is thrown at her.  Insiang remains one of the Philippines’ best and often overlooked classics.

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Ikaw Ay Akin (1978)
Of course what is a Filipino recommendation list without at least one romantic drama, better yet one riddled by a problematic love triangle. Again starring the iconic acting trio of Christopher De Leon, Nora Aunor, and Vilma Santos, Ikaw Ay Akin is one of Ishmael Bernal’s often forgotten works but definitely one of the most riveting given its plot and all-star cast.
The acting prowess can be expected from the three headliners, but what seals the deal is their silent performances, especially Vilma’s. The roles of partners in relationships are tested in the film, as is strength of faithfulness, and Bernal delivers it in a way that isn’t at all cheesy or over-the-top—a sign that excellent melodramas will always have a place in Philippine cinema.

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