A stuntman friend lamented that film assignments today are as rare as a chicken’s tooth. I just nodded my head and gingerly sipped from my cup of steaming coffee. What he said in follow-up really floored me: Nawala na nga yata ang action film sabay ng pagka-wala ni Manager.
By Manager, he was referring to FPJ, the undisputed king of Philippine movies. Thoughts and instant deductions raced through my mind. My stuntman friend had nailed down something right in what he just said. If we are talking movies, I suddenly realized that since January this year, there was only one action film– Uno , starring Ronnie Ricketts and Monsour del Rosario– that was produced and exhibited (though as the year ends, two action films were reported to have been chosen as entries for this year’s Metro Manila Film Festival).
I countered that some action telenovelas were serialized or being serialized this year, like Sugo and Panday .
The stuntman shrugged his shoulders: Pero iba po ang TV, Direk. Sa pelikula, disyerto talaga. Kung hindi nawala si Manager, namamayagpag pa rin po ang action.
My retort was automatic: Oo nga. Dahil hindi niya pababayaan yon.
My stuntman friend smiled, nodding vigorously in complete agreement with what I just muttered, stood up to rejoin a bunch of fellow-stuntmen who similarly wore long faces. By myself, I nursed my half cup of coffee, slowly realizing that time makes one more aware of how much someone’s passing or absence sometimes leave a big, empty void in our midst. That is how FPJ is being sorely missed. Then I fell prey to deep thoughts and started sifting possibilities of what might have been if only he had not crossed over to the Great Beyond.
I distinctly remembered that during the early days of December a year ago there were welcomed reports that the King was up and about busying himself in several undertakings– putting together a CD of the theme songs he had used in his movies; renovating the production studios in Del Monte in view of going full blast in film production; preparing to play Santa Claus once again to the displaced and idled workers of the film industry; overseeing the packaging and transporting of relief goods to the flood victims of Quezon; and planning vigorously to revive the moribund action film genre by setting in motion three or four projects simultaneously.
FPJ was neck-deep in these concerns when he passed away.
Today, we realized that we really needed his presence, his leadership, his encouragement, his indefatigable energy, his commitment, his vision for all these projects to take off the ground. We did not just lost a King. We lost a guiding hand and an indispensable ally..
Adversely affected in the King’s passing are those film workers who are involved in making action movies. They include the action stars, as well as the supporting and character actors and actresses, comedians who are cast in this film genre. The action directors. The komiks novelists and scriptwriters specializing in action. The stuntmen, The effects men. The armory assistants and caretakers.The whole gamut of film workers who earn their keeps when action films are thriving.
For if there was one single individual whom these film denizens gravitated toward, it could only be FPJ. I remember how the junior action stars like Rudy Fernandez, Bong Revilla, Lito Lapid, Philip Salvador, et al, sought the King’s advice regarding important career moves. FPJ was always ready to listen and dispense his thoughts but was always careful to make clear that he was not imposing himself on anybody. He was never threatened and felt insecure that so-and-so action star might snatch his title as box-office king. He even told Daboy (as Rudy Fernandez is fondly called) of his plan to start directing Daboy and his contemporary action stars one by one when the right time comes for him to remain behind the camera as a director. But up to the time of his death, FPJ was still good as an action superstar for a great number of years more.
Looking back now, I just feel lucky I was able to work with FPJ as a scriptwriter in several of his movies. My first script for FPJ was Batang Quiapo for Regal Films, an action-comedy film about an ex-convict master pickpocket who hobnobs with the little simple folks of Quiapo. He co-starred here with then Regal Films’ contract comedienne Maricel Soriano. Then, there was Lea Productions’ Daanghari , a mythical action film where FPJ played a man trying to track down and retrieve an image of Christ the King. Two bioflicks followed– on the real life careers of WPD Col. Juanito Lagasca and NBI Director Epimaco Velasco
I will never forgot a chance meeting with FPJ during a birthday party of Producer Jesse Ejercito, the younger brother of President Joseph Estrada. It was a January day just after the Metro Manila Filmfest where I had an entry, the three generation story Sambahin ang Ngalan Mo , starring Eddie Garcia, Christopher de Leon and Jomari Yllana. I saw FPJ seated at the presidential table. He waved to me. I sat down beside him. He congratulated me and whispered: Maganda yung trabaho mo dun sa pelikula nina Manoy (Eddie G) at Boyet. He smiled. I thanked him. Then he straightened up and declared: Joecar, are you ready to direct me now? I was ready with an answer: It will be an honor, Ron. He smiled again and placed an arm over my shoulders.
But it was not to be. There was a project for FLT, another bioflick, this time on the exploits of Ambassador Roy Seneres, the diplomat who assisted several OFWs to get out of Middle East prisons. Mommy Rose told me it was the right time for me to make an FPJ movie. But that was late 2003. And that was months before FPJ answered the people’s clamor to run for the presidency.
Seated alone with an empty coffee cup, a thought suddenly struck me. There are plenty of film workers around who can work together to revive the action genre. Isn’t this one of the best things we can do to keep the memory of FPJ burning in our minds and hearts. The year 2006 might see the action film rising out of the ashes like a phoenix. Lofty thoughts. Lofty goals. But doable. Another favorite word of FPJ.