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First Posted 07:33:00 01/17/2010

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Unlike friends who whined about the imposed diet of Metro Manila Film Festival movies (a case of cultural imperialism we wouldn?t mind so long as the movies were good), I was lucky to have skipped the fodder right there in Manila by watching ?Avatar? in Imax 3D (thankfully, Carlo J. Caparas? recent ?Panday? wasn?t shot in this format using government funds), a delightful innovation in illusionistic cinema.

But the most pleasant surprise came from Cebuano filmmaker Kerwin Go who, after leaving us in the University of San Carlos for more serious film studies that included a course in Los Angeles, returned to his alma mater to screen his ?Eskrimadors: A Filipino Martial Arts Documentary?.

What was supposed to be a small sneak preview for the press turned out to be an SRO event in USC?s digital theater and we did not even require students to watch it. There was loud applause at the close of the film and I was proud to tell the students that the director/ producer had once been like them, making short films and advertisements for our TV Arts class.

The last thing I?ve seen from Kerwin was his documentary ?Siargao: Philippine Surf Stories,? a film which he did while he was still creative director of RCTV, the local television channel. It was a video travel diary format but Kerwin managed to take very difficult tracking shots of distant surfers slipping through tunnels of waves in the famous Cloud 9. I myself almost drowned there trying to get a close view of the waves with a disposable underwater camera.

Unlike ?Siargao,? which was a film about my father?s hometown, I watched the film with less priori interest on the subject, not having been seriously involved in martial arts, much less an actual hand-to-hand combat situation.

But perhaps it is exactly this detachment that made me focus on how skillfully the film was shot, edited, scored, and narrated. Co-producer Ruel Antipuesto, another Cebuano filmmaker, expectedly came up with well-lit, tightly composed photography for this film.

Fight scenes are probably the hardest to shoot or edit. You better be convincing as any slight mistake can turn a serious death match into a comic situation. The staccato montage of the fight scenes in ?Eskrimadors?, for example, mimics the rhythmic choreography of combat, a strange dance macabre.

Most effects were done in the usual ?invisible? style, with artistic techniques so subtle you forget about it, but the scene where Lapulapu and his men face off with Magellan and his well-armed troops, featured shadow play techniques that Coppola used in ?Dracula?. But it alludes just as well to our Majapahit roots.

Another reenactment, that of a juego todo or no-holds-barred duel, in which silhouettes of eskrimadors in Pasil were shot in smoky backlights recalled a similar scene I witnessed through slightly opened louvers of two thugs, who apparently knew a little martial arts, fight in middle of a basket court of a slum area.

As in ?Eskrimador,? they appeared almost totally silhouetted against the strong yellow lights of the electric lamps in that dead of night. At that time, I already thought that the scene was cinematic.

But sophistication in film craft aside, this movie is also proving to be a definitive account of the story of Eskrima, the indigenous form of Filipino martial arts that saw its full development in Cebu. Many of us who grew up to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan movies never fully realized that we have ourselves originated a comprehensive and highly advanced fighting style that even these Hollywood master admired.

That makes you doubly proud of this Cebuano film, which unfortunately is lost in the hype of Manila?s latest blockbusters. Like true eskrimadors, the Cebuano filmmakers hone their art quietly and without public support. And ironically, they get vindication not from home but from abroad.

The recent report that Eskrima will soon replace Sepak Takraw as the national sport is a good recognition of this Cebuano heritage. That makes Kerwin?s film very timely. It?s our turn to show that, yes, there is intelligent life in Philippine cinema, and that you don?t need to go far to experience it. It?s being done here at home without us knowing it.

?Eskrimadors? will have its world premiere on January 30, 6:30 p.m, at SM Cinema. Visitors in Cebu who are staying here longer should not miss this rare opportunity to see the best of Cebuano heritage in both film and martial arts. Pit Senyor!

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