Poster for The Fatima Buen Story (Mario O'Hara, 1994)
Maybe I need to backtrack, and mention where all the Filipino films I keep writing about can be found. Please note that I will be updating this particular post from time to time, and will provide a permanent link to it on my sidebar.
On recommendations on Filipino films, I posted a list of 13 favorites here:
Thirteen Important Filipino Films
with the added warning that anyone who began writing about Filipino films from the '80s onwards struggles against the deterioration of film prints, even of films from the '80s (I note that in the article); in fact our earliest available prints come only from 1939. We suffering from an increasingly serious state of amnesia, in effect, with regards to our film heritage.
I rewrote the article, modifying the list some, here:
Twelve Great Filipino Films
An article on one of the cinema's best artists, Mike de Leon, here:
The thin line between genius and sanity
As for available copies of the cinema's best-known filmmaker Lino Brocka's best known work Maynila sa Mga Kukong Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon, 1975); I remember seeing VHS copies in New York's video stores, presumably subtitled, and for a time kabayancentral offered copies--which has since vanished. A DVD is being planned, but that's in the future.
Two Brocka films can be found at Facets in Chicago; Orapronobis (Fight for Us, 1989), and Macho Dancer (1988). I wouldn't know if they have subtitles or not.
Recent Filipino films I recommended can be found on VCD or even DVD format here:
Search for titles like Mario O'Hara's Babae sa Bubungang Lata (Woman on a Tin Roof), and Pangarap ng Puso (Demons); Peque Gallaga's erotic noir Scorpio Nights; Lav Diaz's science-fictional Hesus Rebolusyonaryo (Jesus the Revolutionary). All, unfortunately unsubtitled.
Kabayan Central boasts of a selection of classic films from their
LVN Films catalog and Sampaguita Pictures catalog. They also have more recent pictures, including Mike de Leon's Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising and Bayaning Third World (Third World Hero) and a selection from Viva Films (Tikoy Aguiluz's erotic noir thriller Segurista (Dead Sure), and his independently produced historical verite piece Rizal sa Dapitan--in which, full disclosure, I have story and dialogue credits). Again, most probably unsubtitled.
The website also offers a few worthwhile films with English subtitles: Mario O'Hara's Babae sa Breakwater (Woman of the Breakwater, the first Filipino feature film to go to Cannes in fifteen years), Tikoy Aguiluz's Biyaheng Langit (Paradise Express); Lino Brocka's Macho Dancer (not his very best, but quite good); Ishmael Bernal's Relasyon (The Affair) and Manila By Night (both among his best; Manila in particular being his masterpiece, in an unfortunately not very good transfer); Jeffrey Jeturian's Tuhog (Larger Than Life--note: I know Jeturian's film has a subtitled DVD; I don't know if the website offers that DVD.
And I should mention a new company, Cinefilipino, dedicated to distributing Unitel films and Filipino classics in the United States, whose DVD releases had been reviewed recently by the New York Times' Dave Kehr. Their titles--all subtitled, though I can't vouch for the quality of the film transfer--include the aforementioned Manila by Night, Macho Dancer and Relayson, Lino Brocka's Ina, Kapatid, Anak (Mother, Sister, Daughter), plus an intriguing one by Mario O'Hara: The Fatima Buen Story, a true life tabloid story given a gothic flavor by one of the finest filmmakers in the industry.
Another alternative is Cinema One in The Filipino Channel (TFC), which a lot of Filipinos seem to subscribe to; they show almost all the films I've mentioned above (untitled, unfortunately); if you have a friend who has a subscription, he could tape it for you, maybe even do "benshi."
Lastly, while I haven't written about these particular pictures (but I mean to, one of these days), here are a few Gerardo de Leon* films available on DVD:
Terror is a Man
The Blood Drinkers
Blood of the Vampires
Brides of Blood
Mad Doctor of Blood Island
Walls of Hell
I recommend Terror is a Man and Blood of the Vampires. But if you can't take my word for it, read Mark Holcomb of The Village Voice and his take on Gerardo de Leon.
*Correction: Gerardo de Leon never worked for Roger Corman.
Kabayan Central lists all available DVDs with English subtitles. Of this list, I recommend Lamberto Avellana's tribal classic Badjao (1957); Maryo J. delos Reyes' youth angst film Bagets (1984); Ishmael Bernal's near-hallucinatory treatise on religious hysteria (Himala (Miracle, 1982)); Brillante Mendoza's 'omnibus' film Kaleldo (Summer Heat, 2006); Mike de Leon's political drama Sister Stella L. (1984); and Auraeus Solito's provincial drama Tuli (2005).
Meantime Cinefilipino has not been idle; it's managed to release bare-bone but nevertheless handsome DVDs of two of Brocka's best works: Insiang (1976), and Tinmbang Ka Ngunit Kulang (You Were Judged and Found Wanting, 1974). They have also released Lino Brocka's gay-man-adopts-angel-child film Ang Tatay Kong Nanay (My Father the Mother, 1978) and omnibus trio of short films Tatlo, Dalawa, Isa (Three, Two, One, 1974).
I've already mentioned their collection of Regal Film classics earlier, though the titles are worth repeating (Manila By Night; Ina, Kapatid, Anak; Relasyon; The Fatima Buen Story).
Most intriguing in Cinefilipino's catalogue are the Sampaguita Classics, films by Mar Torres and Carlos Vander Tolosa, titles I've heard of but never dreamed could ever be available on DVD. I can speak up for Jack 'n Jill at least--it's a delightful comedy, with Lolita Rodriguez as a butch, jeepney-driving Jill and the great comedian Dolphy as a fragile flower of a Jack (or is it the other way around?).
Of Unitel's original productions, I can recommend Mark Meily's green card comedy La Visa Loca (2005); director Maryo J. delos Reyes and writer Michiko Yamamoto's child drama Magnifico (2003); and Solito and Yamamoto's Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros (The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros, 2005).
Mike de Leon's Kakabakaba Ka Ba? (Rough translation--Does Your Heart Beat Faster? 1980) is, of all films, available on DVD! Mike De Leon's one out-and-out comedy isn't the funniest Filipino film ever made, but is easily one of the wittiest, not to mention demented.
And two major Mario O'Hara releases, on VCD! Kastilyong Buhangin (Castle of Sand, 1980) is a commercial vehicle starring acting diva and singer Nora Aunor and stuntman Lito Lapid; accommodating the two lead stars resulted in a film that can only be described as a cross between George Cukor's A Star is Born and Ringo Lam's Prison on Fire.
O'Hara's Bakit Bughaw ang Langit (Why is the Sky Blue? 1981) is O'Hara treading in longtime collaborator Lino Brocka's social realist territory; the results, however, are (I submit) quieter, subtler, more intimate, more intense. Some say this is O'Hara's masterpiece; I don't quite agree, but I think I know where they're coming from.