“Bagong Hari”: A lost gem of a film retrieved, March 12 at CCP!

BY: DENNIS ADOBAS

Mario O’Hara’s “Bagong Hari”, filmed in 1985 to launch Dan Alvaro to action stardom will finally be screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Manuel Conde on Saturday, March 12, 2pm. as part of the ongoing series “Overlooked Films, Underrated Filmmakers” by the Society of Filipino Archivists for Film (SOFIA).

The film starred Dan Alvaro, Robert Arevalo, Joel Torre, Carmi Martin, Perla Bautista, ElviraManahan (her first and last film!), Celso Ad. Castillo, Ruel Vernal and other supports.

I chanced upon this rave review of “Bagong Hari” by Jojo Devera in Sari-Saring Sineng Pinoy.  May I quote:  “Bagong Hari (Cineventures, Inc.) is the picture by which all other films of 1986 is measured.  The film is director Mario O’Hara’s best work showcasing a very exciting performance by Dan Alvaro.  Blessed with a good physique and strong features, his characterization of Addon, the cunning street fighter caught in a political power struggle, is memorable for its raw power.  He is competent in scenes that call for bone breaking fist fights as well as scenes that require toned down emotions.  Underneath a cool exterior, the sheer energy expelled by Alvaro in the film’s vicious fight scenes takes the notion of acting with sincere cruelty to a new ecstatic high.

In ‘Bagong Hari’, Addon becomes the symbol of social rage.  He is an angry young man fighting for survival in a community that lives by the gun, where power bestows the privilege of abuse on a select few.  In Addon’s chaotic world, the police are no longer friends but foes in the service of corrupt officials.  Addon is introduced as a diligent riverboat worker with simple pleasures except for Isagani Labrador (Robert Arevalo), his politically well-connected father.  Addon’s world revolves pretty much around his environment in the slums.

When his mother (Perla Bautista) falls ill, the need for money to settle a huge hospital bill forces Addon into a criminal mission that puts him at odds with the town’s political kingpins.  Because of his skill at weapons, he is admired by the powers that be.  In the process, his combat achievements earn the wrath of the Governor Nenuca Lailles’ (Elvira Manahan) murderous son, Rex (Joel Torre).  Suddenly, he finds himself a pawn in the fight between two warring parties for the governor’s office. At one point, he is forced to shoot his father, who had been branded as an opportunist by the enemy camp.  To cover up the crime, Addon is ordered salvaged but the plan fails.  Addon escapes eventually destroying his opponents by fist, gun and knife!

Director Mario O’Hara and screenwriter Frank G. Rivera have created a fresh character who has neither the wealth nor the influence to assert social control but who has the ability to define his terms against those who trample his domain.

‘Bagong Hari’ is difficult not to like.  It has some of the most haunting images in recent movie memory.  One of the film’s most striking compositions shows Addon burying his mother by the roadside, owing to their poor state.  As he digs a hole in the ground, the camera shows the city lights glittering like gems in the distance.  This particular image is one of the film’s most interesting allusions to the idea of the city as agent of seduction and death, the city lures people on the promise of financial gain only to leave them in poverty and despair.

The use of such expressive images is the key to the film’s effectivity.  Mario O’Hara’s direction is outstanding.  His clever use of environment, particularly the riverbank dwellings and the ice factory which he turns into a visual maze is highly effective in creating feelings of fear and suspense.

For sheer visual excitement, ‘Bagong Hari’ is hard to match.  One gets the impression that both ‘Condemned’ and ‘Bulaklak Sa City Jail’ (two O’Hara pictures from 1984) were just sketches in preparation for this thriller.

The cinematography by brothers Johnny and Romulo Araojo is superb.  Antonio Aguilar’s music is imaginatively absorbing and the film’s editing is just brilliant.  To pass judgment on ‘Bagong Hari’ for the sheer aspect of its violence is unfortunate.  Considering its unique qualities and taking its story and direction as a whole, the film merits serious consideration even from the most discriminating Filipino moviegoer.”

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