Pacquiao as Malvar
Some people are disappointed that I have not taken a stand on the historicity of ex-boxer and now senator Manny Pacquiao playing revolutionary general Miguel Malvar. First of all, the film has not been completed or released, so much of the controversy is focused on the casting rather than the merits or demerits of the film, which are better left to critics and the viewing public.
Historical films are challenging to make, because it is difficult to build suspense when the viewer already knows the ending: Jose Rizal will get shot in Luneta, and Antonio Luna will be massacred in Cabanatuan. A director will also have to make a choice between different versions: Did Gregorio del Pilar get shot while standing on a mountain view of Tirad Pass, or while astride a stunning white horse? Was Andres Bonifacio shot or, to save bullets, hacked to death with bolos?
I am not being evasive when I simply state that a film should be judged as a film, not as a doctoral dissertation. The real test of a historical film is whether the viewer is led to suspend disbelief for an hour or so, to allow a director to tell a story regardless of the set views you may have of what the past is and what it should look like.
Some years ago, I was asked to validate what was allegedly a newly discovered photograph of Rizal that turned out to be the head of Pacquiao “photoshopped” on what looked like Abraham Lincoln’s body. When manipulated in sepia, the Pambansang Kamao was transformed into the Pambansang Bayani! Now we have him posing as Malvar, eyebrows knitted, eyes sharp and mouth in a pout, doing a look he has mastered over many fights for boxing posters.
There are no definitive online measurements for Pacquiao, but there is a lot of analysis on how his vital statistics, estimated 67” wingspan and 8” wrists, made him a boxing legend. Weight varies depending on when it was taken, so Pacquiao hovers between 130 and 154 lb fighting in five different weight classes. Pacquiao’s height is reported to be 5’6½”—slightly taller than Rizal, of whom we have complete measurements based on his clothing displayed in Fort Santiago. We may not have vital statistics for Miguel Malvar, but enemy general J. Franklin Bell, in an effort to capture the elusive Filipino general, provided this physical description based on intelligence reports compiled in Manila as of December 1901:
“Complexion rather dark, weighs about 145 pounds, about 5 feet 2 inches in height, short and heavy set, with unusually thick and heavy jawbones, hair black with perhaps a few gray hairs, about 40 or 42 years old, wears a gold ring with a stone set on the third finger of the left hand, feet a little broad, wears a 5 or 6 shoe (when wearing shoes), has well-shaped hands.
“His hair is liable to grow long in front of his ears, giving an appearance of small side whiskers. He usually wears a small black mustache and while conversing with anyone is liable to bat his eyes in a peculiar way.
“Goes about country with an Indian shirt and trousers cut-off or rolled up to the knee (to avoid detection). If captured will affect being very simple, inoffensive, and ignorant native who knows nothing, and will give a wrong name. Mouth large, nose ordinary, but slightly resembling Philippine nose, eyes black. Sometimes chews betel nut.
“… He passed American troops with a rooster under his arms, and has ridden on a carabao through Santo Tomas and Lipa [Batangas], stopping at Lipa to talk to the president without being detected … When the troops are hunting him he never sleeps twice in the same place, and sometimes changes his place during the night.”
Makeup, costume and adept camera work will make us believe Pacquiao is Malvar, but the acid test will be portraying the historical Malvar convincingly, down to the “ala eh” that punctuates the particular Batangas accent. Malvar is often referred to as “the last Filipino general to surrender during the Philippine-American War,” a title now contested by Bicol general Simeon Ola and also Macario Sakay.
In the end, Malvar the film will be judged not by Pacquiao’s acting or whether he resembles Malvar at all, and not by its historical accuracy, but by box-office receipts and film reviews. It’s too early to comment, so as they say in Filipino: Abangan!
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