From fantasy to reality: 10 films from the Gallaga-Reyes tandem

The beautiful history of the Gallaga-Reyes tandem summarized in 10 films.

Words FRANCIS JOSEPH A. CRUZ

It was a decade marked by shifting tastes. From the hard-hitting socially relevant melodramas of the 1970s—made essential by the indelible voices of Lino Brocka, Ishmael Bernal and their ideological descendants—the Filipino audience found itself inching toward blatant escapism. The movement was gaining traction elsewhere in the world with the release and success of films like George Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985), Wolfgang Petersen’s The NeverEnding Story (1984), Jim Henson’s Labyrinth (1986) and Ron Howard’s Willow (1988).

Moviegoers, fed up, perhaps, with the real world’s messy state of affairs, trooped to fictional lands where the difference between good and evil was apparent, heroes triumphed, and villains were punished. Noticing the trend, Filipino studios followed suit and made films that satisfied the craving, from Fernando Poe, Jr.’s Ang Panday (1980) to Tata Esteban’s Salamangkero (1986).

Lily Y. Monteverde, the famed rags-to-riches producer whose love for movies could only be rivaled by her indisputable business sense, sensed an opportunity. She had Peque Gallaga, a fearless visionary who could direct everything from sprawling period pieces like Oro, Plata, Mata (1982) to faux westerns like Bad Bananas sa Puting Tabing (1983), in her stable of directors. Gallaga, however, needed a partner to tame his artistry and make sure that his movies would get made and seen. Enter Lore Reyes, who would become Gallaga’s long-time collaborator. Their first outing was Once Upon a Time (1987), which starred Dolphy, Joel Torre, and Richard Gomez. It was a lovely, even if technically subpar, clone of the Hollywood imports it was based on. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Here, summarized in 10 films, is the beautiful history (so far) of the Gallaga-Reyes tandem.

1) Tiyanak (1988)

Tiyanak

In between Once Upon a Time and Tiyanak, Gallaga and Reyes made two films: Kid, Huwag Kang Susuko (1987), a decent actioner starring an up-and-coming Richard Gomez; and Hiwaga sa Balete Drive (1988), a typical ghost story. It was Tiyanak that marked Gallaga and Reyes as the experts in bringing cinematic life to horrific creatures that once roamed the bedtime stories of overworked nannies and the cheap pages of local comic books. The duo recruited Janice de Belen, Lotlot de Leon, and a grisly puppet to weave a humorous, frightful and undoubtedly memorable tale about a baby morphing into a murderous demon. Tiyanak also turned the not-so-meaningful line “Oh my God… ang anak ni Janice” into a pop-culture reference.

2) Shake, Rattle and Roll III (1991)

Tiyanak was so successful that Gallaga and Reyes landed the job of directing all the three episodes in the second installment of the Shake, Rattle and Roll franchise, which previously was directed by Ishmael Bernal, Emmanuel Borlaza, and Gallaga. While Shake, Rattle and Roll II was an effectively entertaining triptych of horror tales, it is its successor, Shake, Rattle and Roll III, that deserves a place in this list. It is here that Lilia Cuntapay’s unique facial features are seared into the Filipino psyche. And it is also here that a maternal monster called Undin manages to win people over, despite its warts, fangs, and propensity for murder.

3) Aswang (1992)

At first blush, Aswang seemed to be nothing more than an expansion of the third episode of Shake, Rattle & Roll II (1990), also titled Aswang. Starring Manilyn Reynes, Joey Marquez, Aljon Jimenez, and Aiza Seguerra,  it was obvious that the film sought to shock and tickle audiences (the first through Alma Moreno’s gratuitous morphing into the mythical monster, the second through a healthy dose of jokes and teenybopper romancing). The result is something truly entertaining despite its unevenness.

4) Batang-X (1995)

Clearly inspired by Marvel’s X-Men comic books, Batang-X, on the surface, might be dismissed as corny and derivative. However, lurking beneath the gaudy production design is a story that pits power against innocence. Each child forced into becoming a superhero has issues to deal with, some of them truly compelling.

Although the film is riddled with awful special effects and predictable plot points, it is buoyed up by an excess of wonderment.

5) Baby Love (1995)

The pull of Baby Love is not its originality since there are countless examples of romances between minors. What Baby Love does is provoke discussion by blanketing youthful romance with an air of defiance. By eschewing typical tropes that favor the conservative telling of love stories, Gallaga and Reyes visit a seldom-explored area in teenage relationships—that gray area between fluttery feelings and adult responsibility. Anna Larrucea and Jason Salcedo inhabit their roles with heartbreaking earnestness, lending credibility to what is essentially an incredible proposition.

6) Magic Temple (1996)

Magic Temple is pure spectacle. Even after close to two decades since its release, it still enchants. See, the barometer for good fantasy is how it is able to suspend disbelief and Magic Temple, with its topnotch production design, special effects, and familiar tale of kids attempting to save a fantasy land despite their youth and inexperience, satisfies from start to finish.

7) Gangland (1998)

The 1990s saw the return of grit and grime, and Gallaga and Reyes, who explored the other side of childhood in their pop films, were bent on going further. Gangland is the result. It explores wayward kids stuck in the wayward part of Manila, far from the enchantment and escape of the fantasy worlds of previous films. This is their Scorpio Nights, if Scorpio Nights tackled violence instead of sex.

8) Puso ng Pasko (1998)

In the same year they released Gangland, Gallaga and Reyes still managed to make a charming musical cum comedy cum fairy tale in time for Christmas. Puso ng Pasko is a result of the Philippines’ addiction to melodrama, what with the proliferation of weepy cartoons like Princess Sarah or Dog of Flanders where innocent children are forced to suffer at the hands of evil adults. Puso ng Pasko follows a similar thread, with kids rendered homeless by a group of nasty adults, played histrionically by Rita Avila and Jaclyn Jose. Effective and enjoyable, Puso ng Pasko proves that the duo is capable of exploring youth from all angles.

9) Sonata (2013)

In between Puso ng Pasko and Sonata, Gallaga and Reyes, either as a duo or individually, struggled to find their role in a cinematic world pushing toward innovation. Sonata, one of several movies that the Film Development Council of the Philippines produced for veteran filmmakers, is surprisingly fresh despite its penchant for classic tropes and narrative movement. The film, about the friendship between a Manila-bred kid and an opera singer-turned-recluse, is technically up-to-date, and grounded by an award-winning performance by Cherie Gil manages to cover a lot of storytelling hiccups.

10) T’yanak (2014)

Tyanak 2014

Gallaga and Reyes’s update of Tiyanak has a lot to owe to Wanggo Gallaga’s revisionist appreciation of the lore. Instead of wrapping the narrative in Catholic symbolism, which seems to be the staple for a lot of local horror films, the younger Gallaga turned the monster into a force of nature instead of a spawn of Satan. The  film explores motherhood like no other and makes the desperation of Judy Ann Santos’ character believable given the context that we are all animals driven not by logic but by instinct.