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Film / Manila in the Claws of Light

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"You know, in India, there are people who walk on burning coals, yet they feel no pain. They're called fakirs. Think you can do that? Think you can put out that cigarette on your palm?"

Manila in the Claws of Light (Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag in Tagalog) is a 1975 drama film by Lino Brocka. It is an adaptation of the 1966-1967 serial novel Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (translated in English as In the Claws of Brightness) by Edgardo M. Reyes.

Like much of Brocka's filmography, the movie is set in the "then-present day", in this case The '70s when the country was under a martial law dictatorship. Its protagonist is Julio Madiaga (Rafael "Bembol" Roco Jr.), a hardworking everyman from the rural island province of Marinduque. He had travelled to Manila to search for his girlfriend, the beautiful Ligaya Paraiso (Hilda Koronel), who disappeared after supposedly being recruited to study and work in the city. Julio takes up a job at a construction site to support himself, but witnesses abuses by the men in charge while crime and prostitution run rampant around him. When he finally gets a lead on Ligaya's whereabouts, it leads him to some horrific truths.

The film was digitally restored in 2013. A stage adaptation of the film was released in 2017.

Provides examples of:

  • Allegorical Character: Julio is a metaphor for the hand-to-mouth Filipino poor, who are kept in hopeless situations by those in power and can only respond with either patience or small-scale violence.
  • "Blind Idiot" Translation: The English titles for both the movie and the original novel are overly literal translations of a Tagalog idiom, so it doesn't make much sense in English. A more natural phrase in English would be akin to "Manila, at the Verge of Dawn" or "Manila, at the Light's Edge".
  • Break the Cutie: Julio was a naive country bumpkin before he arrived in Manila. The city's horrors turn him into a bitter and vengeful person.
  • Cycle of Revenge: Ah-Tek kills Julio's girlfriend Ligaya. In turn, Julio kills him... in broad daylight, causing an angry mob to form and go after him.
  • Downer Ending: The film ends with Julio learning Ah-Tek has killed Ligaya. Julio kills Ah-Tek in revenge, but is then targeted by an angry mob. The last scene of the film is of his tear-streaked face as the mob closes in on him.
  • The Film of the Book: The film is an adaptation of the novel In the Claws of Brightness.
  • Forced Addiction: The sex trafficking ring run by Mrs. Cruz turns its women into morphine addicts to keep them compliant. Ligaya tells Julio about fellow prostitutes who go insane from morphine addiction/withdrawal, and says that while being a Sex Slave to a rich man sucks, it's still better than that.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Bobby, a friendly call boy who offers food and shelter to Julio at a low point. He offers to recruit Julio into prostitution not predatorily, but as a solution to his economic situation.
  • I Will Find You: Julio wanders Manila in hopes of finding his girlfriend Ligaya.
  • Gilded Cage: Ligaya's life as Ah-Tek's kept woman is a step above being a morphine-addicted prostitute at her old brothel, and he buys her nice gifts, but she can't leave the house or he might kill her.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Ligaya Paraiso's first name means joy, and her surname means paradise. She's the beloved of protagonist Julio, but it also takes on a darker meaning when we learn she was forced into prostitution.
    • Julio Madiaga is a Filipino everyman, and his surname is derived from the Tagalog word for hardworking (matiyaga).
  • No OSHA Compliance: The construction workers work in very unsafe conditions and their foremen take a large cut of their wages. It's unsurprising when an accident from poor infrastructure causes the death of one of them. To make it worse, the bosses just pick up the body and tell everyone to keep working as if nothing had happened.
  • Staircase Tumble: Ligaya allegedly fell down the stairs and died, but it is suspected that she was pushed by Ah-Tek.
  • Sex Slave: Ligaya was forced into prostitution by Mrs. Cruz and her associates, lured there with the promise of work and trapped in the profession on pain of morphine addiction. She has since been "rented" by Ah-Tek to act as his mistress for months, having even borne him a son.
  • Wrong Side of the Tracks: The film is set in the dirty urban sprawl of the Philippines' capital city. The Filipino urban poor are victims of a system that can't and won't help them, but there is a lot of solidarity among them. Julio is often shown caring and generosity from poor construction workers, prostitutes, and other societal outcasts.