Gerardo De Leons Sanda Wong was a (fairly) big-budgeted
fantasy co-produced with Hong Kong, Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo
(The Python In The Old Dome, 1952) was the great original
that very possibly helped inspire it.
where Sanda was all about the love-hate relationship between
two men compelled to look at each other as brothers, Sawa
focuses on only one man, but an outsized one: Tulume (again,
Jose Padilla Jr.), a former farmer driven to banditry when Spanish
"Guardia Civil" (Civil Guards) kill his wife (the
film is set during the years of Spanish rule). Now hes
leader of his own bandit gang, with thousands of pesos in bounty
put on his head.
(a variant on Tamerlane?) is the kind of great character Clint
Eastwood or Arnold Schwarzenegger would have loved to play,
a taciturn anti-hero with magic powers (he uses an amulet to
call down deadly pythons), a bitter past and undeniable sex
appeal. Padilla, in fact, combines the laconic leanness of Eastwood
with the wall-to-wall chest muscles of Schwarzenegger, plus
the subtlety of a genuine acting talent (think Daniel Day Lewiss
deft interpretation of Hawkeye in The Last Of The Mohicans).
Tulume is ruthless, Padilla suggests that its a ruthlessness
borne of necessity, to evade the "Guardia Civil" and
retain control of his band of rowdy, not-too-loyal outlaws;
if he seems furious, Padilla suggests that the fury was totally
provoked, that on the whole Tulume would prefer a quiet life,
if only his wife were still alive...
in fact, people nearby (and this is where Teodorico Santos and
Pierre Salass script, from the komiks story by
Amado Yasona, feels uncannily perceptive) seem to pick up on
this; they know if the bandit in hiding is truly a criminal
or is someone strong that you can count on for help.
As the film begins, Tulumes men bring to him a young woman
named Sabel (Anita Linda). She has come to Tulume seeking his
aid in rescuing her father, who has been arrested by the "Guardia
Civil". The rescue is a failure (the father dies before
they reach him), but Sabel remains with Tulume, as a goad to
his conscience and better nature (much like Montess Liu
Chen was to Sanda Wong), and as a possibly dangerous source
of tension between Tulume and his men, and Tulume and Marta
(Rita Gomez), jealous daughter of the gangs former leader.
comes to a head when Tulume finally decides what he will do
with his treasure, a fabulous hoard of jewels he has hidden
in an old bell tower (that belongs to a century-old church in
Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur), guarded by one of his magical pythons
(hence the films title). The way he resolves his problem
tells us much about Tulumes attitude towards his hoard,
towards wealth and power in general - how it can be both powerful
blessing and corrupting curse.
works fine as a fantasy; de Leon adds to the enchantment
with his inimitable visual style (aided by cinematographer Emmanuel
Rojas, who also shot Sanda Wong), all low camera angles (when
Padilla leans exhausted against his horse, the shot is framed
so that he looks like hes straining to keep from plunging
down the mountainside) and long tracking shots with tiny figures
lost under an enormous sky.
what makes it transcend its genre - what makes it feel fuller,
more substantial than most local fantasies churned out by one
or the other local action star - is the rootedness of the fantasy,
the way it sprouts from common history. We know of the tyranny
of the "Guardia Civil," of how hard life was for Filipinos
(called indios or "monkeys") in those days;
we know of men driven to banditry by the cruelty of the Spanish
authorities; when we look at Tulume, we feel his struggle is
ours as well.
Its our story, the history we grew up and grew familiar
with (Tulume recalls Cabesang Tales, the oppressed farmer-turned-bandit
in Jose Rizals El Filibusterismo, which de Leon
also turned into a great film), but with a judicious twist of
magic added to make it new and exciting.
Magazine, December 2003. The above
also appears in Noel Vera's Critic After Dark: A Review Of Philippine
Cinema (BigO Books).
Click here to order.