This Generation Will Never Understand the Impact of FPJ
This generation will never experience moviehouses where you can smoke, eat absolutely anything (i.e. manggang hilaw with bagoong), pay for one ticket and stay inside the entire day, or enter at any point in the screening thanks to lax ticket takers in Cubao cinemas. (I will forever be grateful to these nameless heroes.) This generation will never get to watch an entire film standing in a thick crowd, or sitting on suspiciously sticky aisles. Like lining up for a payphone, changing television channels by tweaking a dial, sending telegrams, there is something else this generation will never experience—the latest Fernando Poe Jr. movie in theaters.
The beauty of an FPJ fight sequence is the precision. On the giant screen, an FPJ raining fists on his enemies is consummate poetry.
The FPJ oeuvre can be largely categorized in two: Westerns in the ‘60s to ‘70s and thereafter, cop stories. In between are the fantasies, the costume-and-sword epics, and the comedies. The generation of the ‘60s idolized FPJ the brooding, stoic, meditative gunslinger riding across the empty plains. The FPJ I grew up with was the probinsiyano cop who suddenly finds himself in savage gun battles in decaying Manila streets.
I preferred the police dramas. Not because my father was part of the Western Police District (he was a true fan but wouldn’t admit to it on the dinner table, citing the physical impossibilities of disassembling a .45). But this was also the time of Rambo, Death Wish II, and other explosive stories of urban carnage. FPJ’s police dramas were snappy and broiling with wit, and the bloodshed was almost gleefully operatic.
Muslim .357 (1986)
As actor and director, he operated with such uncanny understanding of his audience. Un-neurotic, brooding, yet he is a dispenser of monumental violence, so when the hero finally erupts, the audience might experience “catharsis” of the Aristotelian sort. I remember the whole of Coronet Theater erupting in wild applause and laughter when FPJ buried Eddie Garcia alive in Ako Ang Huhusga (1989). Partida is one of my favorites because here he goes up not against Eddie Garcia or Paquito Diaz but a mortally distressed Armida Siguion-Reyna—something mildly Shakespearean about the whole conflict.
Average shot length in mainstream Philippine cinema has decreased significantly (unless it’s Lav Diaz, but I did say “mainstream”). Understand that FPJ constructed this legend within the classical narrative tradition.
But in his fight scenes, there is a deftness that can never be matched by any of today’s action stars—if any. (Fuck you, ER Ejercito.) The beauty of an FPJ fight sequence is the precision. No steadicam, no shaky handhelds whose disorientation is meant to mask actors’ physical limitations. I don’t know how it registers to the kids of today, on their LED screens and tablets, but on the giant screen, an FPJ raining fists on his enemies is consummate poetry.
Consider this sequence in Ang Probinsyano: Seated on a table across his brother’s assassins, he punches the guy on the right and pumps nine bullets into the one in front. Cut to reaction shot of people panicking. It lasts all of four seconds but it blisters with the completion of a miniepic in itself, if you believe Kubrick’s dictum about editing being the heart and soul of cinema. Silence. Precision. Rhythm. Violence. Then silence again—the basic cinematic unit of the cinema of Fenando Poe Jr.
There’s a scene in Muslim .357, after Rene Hawkins insults Muslims—“Matatapang…pero utak lamok!”—the camera cuts to a protruding handle in Poe’s pants. Next thing we see is FPJ carving a diagonal slash across the bad guy’s face, and eviscerating four more. That explosion of violence, justified by being prefaced with such a glaring insult... You could understand why they cheered for him in Mindanao.
In another scene: “Kumain ka na at magpakabusog… dahil ang sunod na kakainin mo ay tingga,” he says in an apocalyptic half-whisper before slaughtering Vic Diaz, who slumps to the floor with a mouthful of pancit. Of course, at the time, it was important that the cop-era movies contain one powerful line of campy, macho dialogue, which always had an almost biblical resonance. Time was when that particular line would easily find centrifuge in many aspects of popular culture, often quoted even in political columns and parodied in sitcoms and recited by schoolchildren. But the ‘80s in particular was a Renaissance period for deathless lines—lines we’ll keep repeating and remembering until Baby James (now Bimby) enters rehab.
The cop films got more imaginative when it came to violence. In Muslim .357, through the crosshairs of his pistol, we see a growing map of blood on towel covering Romy Diaz’s face in the barbershop. More slaughter ensues via the POV of the telescope. There was something coldblooded and nihilistic about it. Oh, the cruelty—shooting George Estregan in cold blood. The Western FPJ would rarely do such a thing. Oh, and one other important thing: from an FPJ movie I learned what enema was. I asked my father what “labatiba” meant. It was because Eddie Garcia said, “Si Maramag…nilabatiba mo ng shotgun.” See, in Ako Ang Huhusga, FPJ blasted Paquito Diaz’s rectum with said weapon. So hitherto, I can’t help but associate an enema with shotguns.
Today’s generation of movie brats will be watching FPJ through the lenses of irony. You may upload as many movies on YouTube with your own running commentary and re-edits, but you will never ever see Fernando Poe Jr., beamed on a 30-ft screen, administering Paquito Diaz an enema with a shotgun.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Esquire Philippines. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.