Here’s the Pitch: Three Local Superheroes Reborn

With superhero blockbusters and high fantasy TV series raking in viewership and big bucks these days, do our local heroes and heroines stand a similar success?

by Rogue, photo by CJ De Silva-Ong

With superhero blockbusters and high fantasy TV series raking in viewership and big bucks these days, do our local heroes and heroines stand a similar success? Three writers attempt to revitalize classic Filipino characters

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Stepping down from a movie high has never been more difficult, with the Metro Manila Film Festival fresh in our minds and awards season now in full swing. But as we sink back into the reality of mainstream high fantasy and reboots outside the cinema, it’s a little difficult to get excited about the state of pop culture characters and their stories.

On the one hand, local superheroes like Darna make household names out of actors Angel Locsin and Marian Rivera; on the other hand, middle-aged senators are tapped to play the legendary Panday (it’s okay if you didn’t hear about the reboot — let alone care).

But there is hope this year. Based on its initial trailer, director Erik Matti’s upcoming Darna movie promises to give a fresh and modern take on the beloved heroine. Until then, we enlisted three writers to see if a good idea can breathe new life into age-old characters.

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ANG PANDAY

by Paulo Ferrer, Associate Creative Director, A Saatchi & Saatchi and head writer of Jasmine

Set in an alternate version of Metro Manila where mysticism, magic, and technology live side by side with extreme poverty and violence, Kalawang Sa Bakal stars Lovi Poe as Isa, a street-smart welder of Baklas, a gang of scavengers who raid old government junk shops for supplies for their families living in the subterranean mega slums of Tondo.

In a routine raid on one of the junk terminals, Isa and her young friend Tukmol are severely injured by government troops called buwaya, who mercilessly massacre the rest of their crew. Isa is tortured, sexually assaulted, and left for dead in the garbage pits. They take Tukmol away to be indoctrinated back at the capital.

Meanwhile, a raving old vagrant named Kaloy rescues Isa and nurses her back to health using a mysterious metal ore that begins to glow when it touches her skin. As Isa slowly regains her strength, she is consumed by visions of the ancient power of the ore. By the time she can stand up, she is obsessed with the visions. Doubting her own sanity and seemingly possessed by the power of the ore, Isa makes her way back to her gang’s hideout and there, she begins pounding the ore, fashioning it into what looks to be a crude dagger.

Back at the capital, the evil dictator called Supremo (who is rumored to be hundreds of years old) also sees Isa’s visions. He takes a special interest in her and orders the buwaya to find her, kill her, and bring her dagger to him.

Fueled by revenge and the desire to save Tukmol, Isa travels to the capital. Along the way, she defeats the buwaya and saves a village of elders. They regale her with tales of the Supremo’s violent rise to power. She learns that the Supremo was once a simple man, the second burdened with the mantle of Panday. Corrupted by his own power, he transforms into an immortal tyrant.

Can Isa harness the power of her dagger and save Tukmol? Is she worthy to be the new Panday? What is her connection to Supremo? To find out, fund this movie and get Erik Matti to direct it.

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DARNA

by Philbert Dy, film critic

Darna has been done so many times by so many different people that one really ought to start with the possibility of considering her a legacy character, the magical stone passed down from one Narda to the next, each of them driven by destiny towards their heroic ideal.

Our new Narda starts the movie by saving a bunch of kids from some sort of disaster. Her little brother is paralyzed in the incident. Cut to a few weeks later, and Narda is accompanying her brother to an event where the governor of the province is giving away wheelchairs. The governor, who might as well be played by Vilma Santos, takes notice of our new Narda and entrusts her with the stone, at the same time warning her that power isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

Narda and Darna have always been played by one actress, but there might be merit in using two different ones. It might be interesting to have an identity crisis as part of the narrative. Maybe Darna is played by an actress considered more conventionally beautiful. Or to put it bluntly, maybe she’s whiter. Maybe it’s Anna Luna turning into Bea Alonzo. And maybe Narda is starting to hate being herself, drawn not just to the literal power that the alter ego brings, but the soft power implied in just looking different in an increasingly superficial society.

The villain of the piece is a guy who knows about the legacy and wants to steal the power of Darna for himself. He plays the benign love interest for most of the movie, but eventually reveals his real agenda. He steals the stone and becomes a dark version of Darna, co-opting the power of her femininity for evil ends, like men have done. But Narda was a hero before she got the stone, and in losing the stone, she realizes she’s stronger than she’s ever been.

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KUMANDER BAWANG

by Mihk Vergara, director of Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo

A refresher: Kumander Bawang tells the tale of Tikboy, a bumbling kid who finds out that his father was a great aswang slayer. Through a garlic-shaped pendant, he becomes Kumander Bawang, ang kalaban ng mga aswang, a colorful costumed hero dedicated to stopping the forces of evil. What’s interesting about the premise and the original movie is that Kumander Bawang is first and foremost, a comedy, with a blue-collar Everyman in the titular role making the best of the abilities given to him. Though he wasn’t the best, he just did the best he could.

ABS-CBN’S Super Inggo bears a re-watch just so everyone re-discovers the Power Academy, the school for gifted youngsters in the Inggoverse. It was home to a bunch of old fantasy-action properties, including Kumander Bawang.

Here’s what the magical what-if reboot machine came up with: Play it like Ash vs. Evil Dead. Kumander Bawang is already a lighthearted, playful romp; add a dash of Raimi-esque splatstick and we’ve a potential cult comedy horror hit. Hitting that sweet spot between genuine chills and comedy, a redesign of the costume, and the removal of flight sets up Bawang to be a fun monster-of-the-week affair.

What’s great about the Bawang mythos is that it is insular, the legacy of Tikboy’s father is only in that town. Bawang isn’t the hero the town needs, or the one it deserves—he’s the only game in town. Think of it as the town with only one electrician, and he’s supper shitty at his job. We have a blue-collar aswang hunter who barely understands the forces he’s fighting and the powers given to him. Give him a hole-in-the-wall office support team and rivals in the form of local tanod, a visiting love interest, and low pay per kill and we have a season’s worth of fun. With Ketchup Eusebio as the lead, this thing will write itself.

Read the full article in Rogue’s December 2016-January 2017 issue.