When you think about Asian cinema, it’s easy to picture Japanese and Chinese films, and Bollywood. In countries like these, film industries are heavily funded by the government. That’s because cinema is an important vehicle for exporting cultural identity, and sometimes political messages, to the rest of the world.
By contrast, the Filipino movie industry thrives on independent, low budget productions. And while costs are low, creativity and innovation remain at an all-time high. Continue reading to discover some of the Philippines’ best ever movies and why you should watch Sine Pilipino.
1. Insiang (1976)
Lino Brocka‘s Insiang was the first Filipino film to be released in the Criterion Collection as part of Martin Scorsese‘s World Cinema Project initiative. It’s about a girl who gets involved in a scandalous affair with her mother’s boyfriend, Dado.
After being betrayed by her lover, Insiang seeks comfort in the arms of her would-be boyfriend, Bebot. Finding him to be only a little better than Dado, she returns home, where she begins to exact her revenge.
Insiang is one of the most influential Filipino films ever made for its powerful feminist message. Its 1976 release immediately made Brocka one of the leading voices in Philippine cinema. Parasite director Bong Joon-ho credits Brocka as an inspiration in his creative projects.
2. Himala (1982)
“Himala” meaning “miracle” is based on a script by Ricardo Lee, and is inspired by a Filipino girl who claims to have seen the Virgin Mary. Set in the remote town of Cupang, the film explores the concept of community, and how it’s shaped by politics and faith.
Cupang is plagued by poverty and bad harvests, a sign the place has been cursed, according to its inhabitants. On the day of a solar eclipse, a young woman named Elsa is on the outskirts of the village when she suddenly bows down and prays in front of a small tree, believing it to be the Virgin Mary. As Elsa begins healing some of the sick villagers, many people, including her stepmother, believe she is possessed by an evil spirit.
Soon, a small flock of followers gathers around her, with the word of her healing powers spreading beyond the village borders.
Meanwhile, a childhood friend of Elsa called Nimia returns to Cupang, where she plans to open a nightclub. Along with others, Nimia notices how Elsa’s healing gifts have changed the village and soon starts planning to exploit her friend’s powers for their own gain.
3. Sana Maulit Muli (1995)
Translated as “I wish it happens again”, Sana Maulit Muli tells the story of Agnes (played by Lea Salonga) who’s invited to live with her estranged mother in California. While Agnes is reluctant to go, her long-time boyfriend Jerry encourages her to go so that he can focus on his career as an advertising executive.
Agnes struggles to survive in the United States and tries several times to return to the country, but Jerry insists on prolonging her stay as he struggles to save up for their wedding and to support his family.
Even when Agnes starts working as a caregiver, she tries to convince Jerry to let her return as she now has the money to support herself. But as the man of the relationship, Jerry refuses, leading to the classic rom-com conflict, i.e. the break-up.
When Jerry travels to the United States intending to get her back, he’s overwhelmed by the cultural difference between the two countries. Despite this, they still manage to mend their relationship, but ultimately Jerry can’t adapt to America and returns home.
Days later, Jerry returned to his former job in the advertising agency. After work, he walks alone in the busy street, and miraculously, he notices that Agnes has returned to the Philippines too. Although painfully predictable, Sana Maulit Muli remains a popular guilty pleasure for many Pinoys at home and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs).
|Did you know? Lea Salonga was the voice of two Disney princesses. That’s right, the actress and singer supplied the vocals for Princess Jasmine in Aladdin and Princess Mulan in Mulan.|
4. Evolution of a Filipino family (2004)
Director Lav Diaz’ epic masterpiece took nearly ten years to make and more than justifies its running time. At a staggering 10 hours and 43 minutes, it would be easy to dismiss this Filipino classic as self-indulgent. But Evolution of a Filipino Family is not just a film or a documentary, it’s a cinematic experience meant to test the viewer’s mental and physical endurance.
The film tells the story of a poor farming clan in the 1970s and 1980s. Mirroring the fortunes of the Philippines, the story follows the rise and fall of the farming family during and immediately after the rule of Ferdinand Marcos.
Diaz explained, “My films are so long because I don’t fit with industry conventions anymore. It’s free. So I am applying the theory that we Filipinos aren’t governed by the concept of time. We are governed by the concept of space and nature. In the Philippines, you’ll see Filipinos hanging out a lot. We are not that productive. It’s all about space and nature.”
5. Urduja (2008)
This animated film portrays the life and struggles of Princess Urduja, a warrior princess in Pangasinan – a coastal province located in the Ilocos Region of Luzon. Actors Regine Velasquez, Cesar Montano, Eddie Garcia, Johnny Delgado, and Jay Manalo formed the cast, giving familiar voices to the lead characters.
In the story, Princess Urduja is the only daughter of the Tawilisi chief, Lakanpati. He wants her to marry Simakwel, someone she despises. Instead, Urduja falls in love with Limhang, a Chinese pirate on the run from his nemesis, Wang.
This unlikely union worries Lakanpati and drives Simakwel into madness. Afraid of losing the Crown and Urduja, Simakwel does everything to drive Limhang away. Eventually, Limhang’s good deeds and genuine kindness win the respect of the Taliwisi tribe.
When Wang tracks down Limhang, he surrenders voluntarily, assured that Wang won’t attack the Tawilisi. In the end, the evil Wang attacks the tribe anyway, with Urduja and her people bravely defending the onslaught. During the ensuing battle, Limhang escapes and defeats Wang with the help of the neighbouring Badjaos people.
6. Boy Golden: Shoot to Kill (2013)
While the United States has The Godfather trilogy and Brazil City of God, the Philippines has Boy Golden: Shoot to Kill. This Philippine action biopic is loosely based on the life of Arturo Porcuna as he rises through the Manila underworld in the 1960s.
Growing up as Boy Anino, Porcuna ascends to head of the notorious Bahala Na gang. But when rival gangster Tony Razon kills Porcuna’s entire gang and family, he’s forced into exile. Returning under a new alias, Boy Golden, Porcuna wreaks havoc on the city’s toughest gangsters, with Razon top of his list.
7. Block Z (2020)
While 2020 signalled the start of the pandemic, it also ushered in a new wave of zombie films in Asia. Films like #Alive and Peninsula were joined in the genre by Pinoy director Mikhail Red’s Block Z. Fittingly, Block Z follows a group of university students who try to survive a zombie pandemic in the Philippines, drawing comparisons to 28 Days Later, Train to Busan, and World War Z.
PJ, a pre-med student, and her friends investigate the death of a patient who exhibited symptoms of rabies. Things take a horrific turn when the patient comes back from the dead and infects the people on campus, causing a lockdown and trapping the students inside.