Reel Justice: Filipino Action Movies in a Time of Killing

decBelow are the opening paragraphs of an essay I wrote for Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia (Young Academic Voice).

This year saw the premiere of Itumba ang mga Adik (Kill the Addicts) in the Philippines. Shot in streets across the country, from narrow alleys to cramped rooms, the controversial film stars vigilantes, (suspected) drug users and dealers, crime syndicates, and innocent civilians. It has been a bloody tale of crime and punishment. 

There is a dark sense of deja vu about this spate of killings, for they were once the stuff of post-War Filipino action movies. It’s worth revisiting such films because they resonate strongly with current debates and dilemmas about justice, democracy, and human rights. One title says it all: Iyo ang Batas, Akin ang Katarungan (The Law Is Yours; Justice Is Mine, 1988).

Filipino Action Movies were a popular medium through which many Filipinos grappled with and resolved a problem: of how justice can be obtained when due process does not work, especially for the poor and marginalized. How does one get justice when its very agents are in cahoots with the criminals? What if the law enforcer and the criminal are one?

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