Movies made from books combine the Filipinos’ craving for cinema and their love for literature, but this artistic alchemy has been accomplished far less often than you would expect, particularly on the big screen. This has to do both with the amount of time it takes for a book—or published literary work—to become a classic in the past as well as the logistics of making a movie. In this time of quarantine, one can find several of these exemplars. Here is where you can stream some of these adaptations and the stories behind them.
One can begin with the novels of National Hero José Rizal, who essentially self-published his books in Germany. “Noli Me Tángere” was printed in Berlin in 1887 and “El Filibusterismo” in Ghent in 1891 by F. Meyer van Loo Press. National Artist for Film Gerardo de León’s “Noli Me Tangere” was released in 1961 with Eddie del Mar as Crisostomo Ibarra and Leopoldo Salcedo as Elias. This black-and-white classic, considered one of the greatest Filipino films, has recently been remastered in Germany by the Goethe Institute and the German Embassy. In 1962, De León released “El Filibusterismo” with Pancho Magalona as Simoun (This movie can be streamed on iFlix).
It is not surprising that the greatest books become the greatest films, most notably Edgardo M. Reyes’ 1968 novel, published by Liwayway Publishing, “Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag,” brought to desperately beautiful filmic form in 1975 by director Lino Brocka and screenwriter Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. This uber-gritty portrait of urban tragedy in Manila remains among the definitive works in Philippine cinema (it, too, can be streamed on iFlix). “Kuko ng Liwanag” was originally serialized in Liwayway magazine, and many movie plots came from that source as well.
Komiks has been a rich source for adapted material, as Carlo J. Caparas’ “Ang Panday” (Pilipino Komiks), Jim Hernandez’s “Zuma” (Aliwan Komiks), and Mars Ravelo’s “Darna,” “Captain Barbell” and “Lastikman” (also Aliwan Komiks) have become franchises with multiple iterations in cinema and TV through the decades.
Even though these were not books per se, the published works of National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin which led to motion pictures are of note as well. His 1961 article “The House on Zapote Street,” inspired Mike de Leon’s venerable “Kisapmata” in 1981, his short story “The Summer Solstice” turned into Tikoy Aguiluz’s “Tararin” in 2001 and his 1950 play “A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino” was adapted twice; first, in 1965 by National Artist for Film Lamberto V. Avellana, and then in 2017, as “Ang Larawan,” directed by Loy Arcenas from the musical theater adaptation translated with lyrics and music by National Artists Rolando S. Tinio and Ryan Cayabyab. These films are not available for streaming; it was announced in 2019 that Avellana’s restored “Portrait” would soon be available on iFlix. Martial law’s turbulence bubbles to the surface in Lualhati Bautista’s masterpiece, 1983’s “Dekada ’70,” published by Carmelo & Bauermann Print Corp., presenting the life of the Bartolome family just trying to live ordinary lives but are inevitably become collateral damage. For anyone who’s lived through martial law, it is as heartbreaking as it is inevitable. The excellent 2002 Star Cinema adaptation was directed by Chito S. Roño and featured Vilma Santos, Christopher de Leon and Piolo Pascual. The remastered version of “Dekada ’70” is available on iWant.
Bautista has another novel that’s been adapted well on screen, and that is 1988’s “Bata, Bata . . . Pa’no Ka Ginawa?,” also published by Carmelo & Bauermann, a before-its-time slice of life about smart working mother Lea and the pressures and expectations that come with being a woman in Philippine society. The award-winning 2002 adaptation features Vilma Santos as Lea with a great turn by Serena Dalrymple as precious Maya; it is available to stream on iWant.
The pseudonymous author known as Bob Ong is one of the top-selling and most popular Filipino authors of all time, so it shouldn’t be surprising that his work has been adapted to cinema. His first book, the charmingly honest 2001 autobiographical novel “ABNKKBSNPLAko?!,” the first book published by the iconic publisher Visprint, Inc., was adapted by Mark Meily in 2014 with Jericho Rosales as Bob Ong. You can stream it on Netflix. Meily has also adapted Ong’s 2011 satirical horror anthology “Lumayo Ka Nga sa Akin” in 2016. It is available for purchase or rental on YouTube and Google Play. Ong’s 2010 mystery horror novel “Ang Mga Kaibigan ni Mama Susan” will be adapted by Roño.
The first Philippine detective novel, F.H. Batacan’s “Smaller and Smaller Circles,” was first published by the University of the Philippines Press back in 2002, and then rewritten extensively, to be published by New York-based Soho Press in 2015. The book centers on a Jesuit priest and forensic psychologist named Fr. Augusto Saenz, S.J., who must investigate a rash of gruesome child killings in the Payatas dumpsite. In 2017, TBA Studios produced a chilling, clinical big-screen version directed by Raya Martin with Nonie Buencamino as Saenz. This film is available on Amazon Video, but only outside the Philippines.
A new generation of komiks creators found a new subversive heroine in Carlo Vergara’s ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, the super-
powered female alternate identity of a male beauty parlor owner named Ada after he swallows a big magical rock from outer space. Not only is this 2002 two-volume series, “Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni ZsaZsa Zaturnnah,” later published by Visprint as one volume as one of the most gorgeous, influential titles in all of Philippine comics, but it gave birth to a whole super-team of adaptations. Joel Lamangan directed Regal Entertainment’s “ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh” with Zsa Zsa Padilla as, well, ZsaZsa. The movie was on HOOQ but it is no longer available. It is now slated to become a full-length animated film.
Fictionist Eros S. Atalia tapped into the zeitgeist’s romantic reality with his 2009 novel “Ligo na Ü, Lapit na Me,” published by Visprint, and this in turn was reflected in the 2011 film directed by Erick Salud with leads Edgar Allan Guzman and Mercedes Cabral; this film is not available for streaming. It was announced that there will be a sequel based on Atalia’s 2012 novel, “It’s Not that Complicated: Bakit Hindi pa Sasakupin ng mga Alien ang Daigdig sa 2012.”
Adaptations can emerge from unexpected places. Comedian Ramon Bautista’s 2012 novel—which has a humorous self-help approach to romance—“Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo?,” published by PSICOM Publishing, Inc.—became a box-office-hit 2012 comedy from Star Cinema directed by Joyce Bernal starring Kim Chiu and Xian Lim. The ugly-duckling-finds love story can be watched on YouTube.
The online Wattpad platform has proven a very effective place to mine material for filmmakers; after all, Filipinos represent its second-largest audience. The Wattpad novels already had an existing following so publishing them in print form only made sense. That several of these novels would be made into movies only made sense as well.
One such example is 2012’s “Diary ng Panget,” by Denny R., later compiled by PSICOM which was then turned into a 2014 Viva Entertainment rom-com directed by Andoy Ranay, the first motion-picture pairing of James Reid and Nadine Lustre. Perhaps the most successful of these adaptations is “She’s Dating the Gangster,” the Summit Media novel by Bianca Bernardino. Also released in 2014, the Star Cinema coproduction was directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina and featured the breakthrough pairing of Daniel Padilla and Kathryn Bernardo. “Diary ng Panget” and “She’s Dating the Gangster” are streaming on Netflix.
The future may prove that authors can skip movies theaters and TV networks entirely to find new audiences for new content on a different screen. The #romanceclass community announced last year they would be producing Agay Llanera’s 2018 romance novel “Mango Summer” as a web series; it’s now in preproduction. It won’t be the last. The Internet is fast becoming a library for Filipino content adapted from books by Filipinos, offering access to these transformed works even in our homes in these strange times, for everyone, anywhere in this transformed world. INQ