How Has The Drug War Figured In Filipino Films?
Before the Internet and social media became our primary tools and venues for sociopolitical commentary, there was film. In the 1970s and ’80s, we had the works of Mike de Leon, Ishmael Bernal, and Lino Brocka, among many other legendary Filipino filmmakers—films that captured, sometimes abstractly, the realities of the Martial Law era.
Today, even as we take our discussions online, there is power yet in films to express timely social issues and comment on them. And the spirit of our times—no doubt the most polarizing social issue of the Philippines today—is the current administration's war on drugs. It’s an issue that’s come to define us, to the extent that it has bled into our cinema.
Quite a few filmmakers have decided to use movies as a way of saying something about our current situation, and while some are more hilarious than others, all are pretty grim. See for yourself:
Bubog by Arlyn Dela Cruz
The film’s synopsis reads, “In this bloody war, we are all victims.” Bubog, which seems to be a film with a lot of screaming, features motorcycle-riding vigilantes, bodies wrapped in masking tape, and a totally fictional president named Rolando Delgado.
EJK by Roland M. Sanchez
April 2017 (at the Riverside International Film Festival)
Mon Confiado, who stars in EJK, has said that the film has “an obvious gun control message,” but it’s unclear if that’s all it has to say. For his part, director Roland Sanchez, who was once an NBI agent, once told the Manila Bulletin, “Wala namang masama eh. Pinapakita lang namin sa pelikula kung ano ’yung struggle na pinagdaaranan natin sa kasalukuyan [...] Wala akong intensyon na manira o anu pa man. Kung may ma-offend o masasaktan, ganu’n talaga.”
Adik by Neal Tan
On Facebook, director Neal Tan described his film by saying, “Adik is a film that not only translates the desperation and the hopelessness that drugs lead to, but portrays the way that addiction sneaks into existence, without intent or any control.” It has a very clear, anti-drugs stance this way, but also depicts familiar police violence.
Double Barrel by Toto Natividad
The tagline on the promotional posters for Double Barrel read, “Sige, iputok mo!”, which tells you a lot already. The movie, which is named after the drug war itself, was also panned by critics when it came out last August for being a “trashy” film with a “lousy message.”
Durugin Ang Droga by Dinky Doo Clarion
We’d like to let this incredible trailer speak for itself, but you should know—spoiler alert?—that Durugin Ang Droga ends with a clip of President Duterte’s trademark “My gahd, I hate drugs.” At the very least, it’s clear about where it stands. But regardless of its politics, nothing could save the movie from its abysmal production value and its totally incoherent plot.
Respeto by Treb Monteras
Cinemalaya 2017 Best Picture Respeto was more explicit about its Martial Law themes (Doc, one of the main characters, was a victim of the Martial Law era). But it also had something to say about cyclical violence in the context of current extrajudicial killings.
Madilim Ang Gabi (Dark Is The Night) by Adolfo Alix Jr.
September 2017 (at the Toronto International Film Festival)
Madilim Ang Gabi, which stars Gina Alajar, Phillip Salvador, Angel Aquino, and Cherie Gil, has yet to be screened locally, but has already been making the rounds in the film festival circuit. Its themes are explicit as well: it’s the story of a couple who gets caught up in the drug war after their son goes missing. Towards the end of the trailer, the sound of President Duterte’s voice can be heard in the background.
Si Tokhang At Ang Tropang Buang by Roland M. Sanchez
This Pinoy comedy seems problematic for a lot of reasons, but it also happens to feature the drug war in its story. And while that in itself isn’t problematic, it does show you how much the issue has permeated public consciousness. Making light of it, on the other hand—well, that’s another thing.
Neomanila by Mikhail Red
Director Mikhail Red himself has said that Neomanila is not inherently political. But it does present the viewer with real-life events, as all the killing sequences in the movie are actual news. He also says that it’s his personal statement about what’s going on in Manila, and the path we’re going down.
Kamandag Ng Droga by Carlo J. Caparas
November 2017 (by invitation at SM City Cebu)
You can’t get more upfront about an anti-drugs stance than Kamandag Ng Droga is. Its official site lays it all out there. Of the films on this list, it also has the biggest star power: Christopher de Leon, Lorna Tolentino, Sarah Lahbati, Meg Imperial, and—wait for it—Mocha Uson.
The Right to Kill by Brillante Mendoza
Among Brillante Mendoza’s recent works are President Duterte’s two State of The Nation Addresses, and The Right to Kill, a film about “police force’s plans to assault the lair of a notorious drug dealer named “Wagwag” within the slums of Metro Manila.” It’s also described as having three acts that represent three different motivations for killing: for power, for loyalty, and as a form of expression.
Hangyo by Willan Rivera
Lastly, a film with a masking tape-wrapped head on its poster, and the most explicit (almost semi-pornographic) trailer on this list.