Heroes Wanted: A Tribute to the Pinoy Action Movie

I was watching a movie in Cinema 1 last weekend starring Raymart Santiago and Gelli de Belen. I didn’t get to finish it, but I got the impression that it was about a rookie cop (played by Raymart) who refused to go along with the corruption of other police officers. They told him there was more money in their shady activities, but Raymart’s character had enough integrity not to buy into their beliefs.

There wasn’t really anything spectacular in the movie, but I realized that they don’t make films like this anymore. That once staple feature of Philippine cinema – the Pinoy action movie – has reached its demise. 
We may put the finger on piracy here, since it has no doubt partly cut the number of mainstream films produced every year. But it doesn’t answer the question of why the Pinoy action movie, not other genres, became the unfortunate casualty. Love stories and love teams are still alive, well and good and so kilig, but the action star has run out of bullets, so to speak. FPJ has passed and Lito Lapid, along with Bong Revilla Jr. has traded their prop guns for political office. Gawa na’t tumama na ang balang pumatay sa Pinoy action movie.

Whatever the cause, I lament that passing of this genre in Philippine cinema because I see has two advantages over two types of movies we see today. For one thing, it is more socially conscious than love stories. Of course, romantic films are political to some extent, but even if they are, their main goal is not to open our eyes to the harsh realities of Philippine society, but to move us, give us that kilig feeling, and make us swoon.

I do not expect love stories like You Changed My Life to drop their power hugs and pick up their political ideologies. It’s not that romantic films per se are bad; it’s just that these days, they are really the only mainstream movies coming out. There is little room for anything else, let alone more politically conscious films, and this is where the Pinoy action movie gets ahead. It gave audiences a chance to look at social issues more directly than some love stories ever did and could.

In various examples of the genre, we get to witness the injustice done to the protagonist, who rises up to avenge the death of his loved ones. We get to see the enemy, usually a corrupt politician and/or a wealthy businessman. We also sometimes observe, as has been done, that the police arrive only after all the shooting’s been done and the villains are dead. We get to take note that the action hero takes the law upon himself because of the failure and unreliability of authority figures. Hayaan mo ang batas, he is told, but stubborn as he is, he refuses.

All these directly hint at, if not portray the socio-political problems of Philippine society:  in the examples above, we get to see crime and corruption about the country’s elite, if not the oligarchy. We see the hero’s reliance on himself as a critique of legal-making, law-enforcing bodies, seen in these movies as unreliable at best, if not in cahoots with the villains at worst.

The mainstream Pinoy action film has one up on another type of movie these days: indie productions. And the advantage has to do with audience. More people saw an action movie back then, whereas not a lot watch independent films today. It doesn’t matter if indie films are more intelligent, profound, technically proficient, and socially conscious. The fact that they don’t have a lot of reach practically negates those otherwise admirable traits, as far as the social impact of media is concerned.

But as it is, we don’t have Pinoy action films – popular yet politically conscious. Their presentation of issues may be flawed or “reactionary,” as leftists might have it, but at least they did try to depict issues more directly. So not unless we can really say that romantic or even comedy films are as political as any, we instead have entertaining cinema with hardly a social thrust on the one hand, and serious, solemn, independent productions with a social message yet with little reach on the other.

I don’t mind Star Cinema’s romantic comedies or Cine Manila entries. But I am just waxing nostalgic for the Pinoy Action Movie. Given the problems we Filipinos face today, we could certainly use an action hero, one who could stand up against the crime and corruption of the powers-that-be. Where is an FPJ, Lito Lapid, or Ronnie Ricketts when you need them?

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