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In Diabolic Bliss in Richard Somes’ Yanggaw (2008) December 10, 2008

Posted by Richard Bolisay in Asian Films, Cinema One, Indie Sine, Noypi, UP Screening.


Directed by Richard Somes
Written by Richard Somes and Dwight Gaston
Cast: Ronnie Lazaro, Joel Torre, Tetchie Agbayani, Aleera Montalla

In Philippine folklore, the aswang is generally used to describe different types of night creatures that feed on human innards and blood. From the popular manananggal and mangkukulam to the werewolves and shapeshifters that vary according to one’s regional background, the aswang is understandably a striking facet of local belief that manage to endure through the years. In our continuous ascent to the standards of Western living in exchange for cultural amnesia, it must be noted that the aswangs are doing us a favor of sustaining this heritage. Interestingly, this bloodthirsty figure has that strong and timeless halo over its head that it remains the most exploited character in Pinoy horror stories, from short pieces of fiction to TV serials, in every Halloween episode of magazine shows and documentaries, as well as news reports of terror in provinces. But where else could it be given such esteemed overuse but in cinema, specifically the annual Metro Manila Film Festival that breathes life to endless Shake Rattle and Roll flicks that scare less than their ability to frustrate.

What has long been missing in these efforts is depth; what should be less explored are the aswang‘s grisly exploits, the number of dead increasing every day, children, pregnant mothers, their intestines scattered in the fields; what must be thought of is giving their stories a fresh yet unconventional dimension, a revision of an overused plot by reflecting on the harsh realities that the aswang and its family has to face, not just cardboard scenarios and poorly executed sequences taken from shallow brainstorming and weak social observation. Given it has the benefit of that unpardoning contrast, still, Yanggaw succeeds in re-defining the myth by acknowledging its psychological nuances, that by commanding the most perfect ensemble of actors in a narrative of unstoppable force, it has put forth what I proudly believe as one of the finest revelations in the fickle landscape of contemporary Philippine cinema.

The film is quick to introduce the conflict. The mystery is easily established in the first sequence. But from there it chooses to emphasize the buildup, from how an ordinary family in a remote town lives a difficult but happy life on their own to the moment when they discover that one of their members is afflicted with the disease, the poison that runs through her blood that makes her crave for human flesh. The transition from the peaceful household, mirthfully punctuated by the father offering every one a gift after winning a stake, a piercing farewell to their emotional misery, to the massive disturbia that follows after the monster has become full fledged, until it starts to escape by the room’s window, until it returns with its fangs still drenched in blood and hair in warlike disarray, until the corpses in the town start to pile up, until everyone becomes suspicious, until it begins to harbor the darkest guilt, until the monster has to be tied up, until it has to be let loose because of the father’s hinge on his principles, until the monster begs for its death, until the father decides against all laws of his abiding life to slaughter it, in a severe force that turns him into an animal, until every memory of it becomes a nightmare that only afterlife can erase.

The pacing in that critical transition transforms Yanggaw from a lowly, piteous flick into an admirable effort that resuscitates the hackneyed genre, in which there is only one or two serious filmmakers who truly embody a sense of maturity. Richard Somes, whose prior experience in production design has lent a great deal of credibility in his first full-length, is one of those very few. The acute similarity of horror stories to crime fiction, let’s say Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot series, is the emphasis given to murder. Whereas detectives are responsible to bring justice in accordance with the law, using several clues that come along their way, the principal character in horror, the murderer itself, creates the tension, provides the clues, and wreaks havoc to the community. It is a play between the active and passive roles of their characters in which a reversal of role is likely in the end. In thrillers, we uncover the crime bit by bit until we reach the truth; in horror, however, the crime is right there in front of us, clearly asking for our reaction, us waiting for another turn of event that will lead to the conclusion. The price of seeing the murder, of keeping the truth to ourselves, is the need to face the consequences with them. In this regard, the horror genre seems to work its assailing blow: the psychological. It starts from the nightmare and springs forth to various threads, personal relationships, social betrayal, moral uprightness, and more importantly, spiritual obedience. The good thing about Yanggaw is that while it is more of a tragedy of a Filipino family, specifically in a town where faith is as unquestionable as the need for food on their table, it doesn’t press too much on religion, so what happens becomes more tangible.

History check: this will need your memories of previous aswang movies. There is no need to cite a specific one, because, as you will find out, the idea is somewhat familiar. Before, the aswang is a stranger, someone in the town whom no one knows much about, and her existence (right now I wish to bring into light the fact that every aswang in every aswang film ever made is a she) provokes nothing extraordinary. She is just like everyone, except for her nocturnal quench for blood. She may even be a figure of purity, like Aiko Melendez as a nun in Shake Rattle and Roll IV. This is clever, for this increases her peril as a character, diverting the attention to anyone but her, she as the unusual suspect. But the problem is that the only thing that the story wants to deliver is the scare, the untying of the knot, the exposition and chase scenes done in the sloppiest way possible. It is a tiring excuse that stretches the vestiges of the genre, doing nothing good in particular. In Yanggaw, however, the aswang becomes familiar, she is among us, we see her transform, we see her chase children, we see her as she rocks the bed with chains on her arms and legs, we hear her cry and scream, we know her, she is familiar, Somes has made her so close to recognition we forget that she is a monster. The aswang has been given life, through her family, the decisions of the father, the misgivings of the mother and the sibling, the terror in the community, even the details of her murder. The illusion becomes truth. Yanggaw prefers depth to schlock, and the longer you watch it the more you realize that it is not so much about the aswang herself but the family that adopts her new persona and their lingering struggle. Once that belief has been suspended, there is really no turning back.

I am tempted to call it a gravely satisfying work but the resolve of the narrative, particularly on how it relies on editing to heighten the drama, is a bit misplaced. A longer version is said to be prepared by Somes, and this may provide the timely orgasm at the film’s end. Ronnie Lazaro and Joel Torre don’t have to do anything to prove that they are indeed the greatest actors of our time, that if we start mentioning names, every one, even Christopher de Leon, will pale in comparison.Yanggaw makes you feel honored just by their presence. The volleyball game between the two camps has that flinch of unsettling strangeness; it makes the remote town far more remote. That it is in Hiligaynon (in an unspecified place somewhere in Panay Island, particularly where aswangs are predominant) does not seem to put any pressure on its mix of professional and new actors; Tetchie Agbayani is regal and utterly convincing. Erik Matti as the violent whip healer is surprisingly effective. Gio Respall and Monet Gaston add credibility to their family’s demise. And finally, Aleera Montalla is appallingly menacing, she is the vamp of our nightmares. Claravall and Sacris fashion a distinct eye for visual character, their light and darkness are moving as if they are part of the story themselves.

As the MMFF is about to commence a few weeks from now, it is agonizing how this brave trailblazer will be neglected by the most. As for my part, I tell you, Yanggaw is peerless, it shows not the limitations but the possibilities of the genre it has raised to hell. It is a fuck you to every Shake Rattle and Roll movie made and will ever be made (incidentally Somes had a segment for the franchise three years ago), and it has a terribly magnetic vision almost close to Masaki Kobayashi’s Kwaidan, the godfather of horror films. If the pen is still mightier than the sword, then dear reader, after the aswangs have made me proud, I rest my case.



1. dodo dayao - December 11, 2008

Agree, Chard. Kailangan ko nang upuan yung review ko nito, sobrang kalat kalat ang notes. Hehe. Gusto kong mag round 2 nito. May mga eksena ako gustong makita ulit – – – mahusay sa atmospherics si Richard, yung Shake niya parang Third World mutation nila Murnau at Kobayashi. Eto napakalakas ng Pinoy sheen pero may pagka-Expressionist pa din. Sana may oras ako bukas.

2. Richard Bolisay - December 11, 2008

Totoo, eto yung tipo ng pelikula na gusto mong panoorin ulit. Sana kasingganda rin ng sa una. Gusto kong mapanood yung Lihim ng San Joaquin, san kaya? Sulat lang ng sulat! Sana maraming makapanood.

3. dodo dayao - December 11, 2008

Nasa Shake 8 or 9 ata yung San Joaquin, kasama ang Aquarium ni Rico(Ilarde). Still the best two Shake episodes for me, maliban sa Pridyeder ni Ishma. Ngapala, nabasa ni Richard Somes tong review mo. Lakas daw at hindi niya ine-expect. Tama ka. Sulat lang ng sulat. Kailangan kong ulit-ulitin sa utak ko yan, sobrang tagal na kong paprente-prente lang. Hehe. Congrats pala sa Entertainment Blog of the Year. Well-deserved.

4. Richard Bolisay - December 11, 2008

Of course, Pridyider is destined to be a classic back then, I do not know anyone who did not like it. Haven’t caught up with the recent Shake for reasons I’m sure you know. Too bad I missed those two. By the way, do you know who will direct the three stories for this year? Grabe taon-taon na ata to. Haha blog of the year, salamat sa lahat ng konting bumabasa nito. Naging acceptance speech, haha. Pakisabi kay Richard Somes salamat at unang kita ko palang sa set ng Exodus alam ko na magaleng talaga siya.

5. me - December 11, 2008

humihingi ako ng tawad. hindi na po ako muling manggagambala sa inyong abang lingkod. naniniwala akong naging istupido ako sa mga sinabi ko noong nakaraan. muli, patawad. hindi na ako muling babalik dito upang magsabi ng anumang walang kabuluhan.

6. dodo dayao - December 13, 2008

Sana tsumamba na magkita-kita tayo nila Somes sa Cubao X, pakilala kita. Mabait tsaka masaya ka-jamming si Richard, lalo na kung mahilig ka sa mga B movies nung 80s and 90s(which I am). Pero dapat magkita-kita muna tayo nila Oggs. Hehe. Si Topel ata tsaka Mike Tuviera ang for this year’s Shake. Not sure who the third is.Tumigil ako sa pagpanood after Topel’s Yaya(?) and Tuviera’s LRT, both also good, but the formula was starting to wear. Well . . Regal kasi eh. People still flock to the damn things, though. Hopeless talaga. Apparently the last one had an episode with a monster Christmas tree that was so horrendous, I’m curious to see just how much. Just those three words – – -“monster Christmas tree” – – – have me piqued. Hehe.

7. Richard Bolisay - December 13, 2008

That Christmas tree segment had me on the verge of crying for the extreme silliness of its treatment. Sa bahay kasi paputul-putol manood e, pirata pa, hehe. Will really check out that Ilarde and Somes installments. Mike Tuviera is related to Tony Tuviera producer, right? Why is it that when I google Richard Somes’ name, a guy in brief is turning up? Oggs told me, laughingly, it wasn’t him. Lend me some B-movies!

8. dodo dayao - December 14, 2008

Richard played the frustrated director in that Cinemalaya TVC on YouTube. Pusang Gala ‘ata ang title. The Tuveiras are father and son, I think. His LRT was handsome and competent but Topel’s episode had the advantage of being rawer and somehow subtler in terms of its artifice. B Movies,yes!!! Perfect viewing for the coming holidays. Meron na ‘kong dibidi ng John Rambo awaiting serious re-viewing. (Loved that film, incidentally. There goes my film crit cred, I guess. Hehe)

9. gurlee - January 2, 2009

Hello :)

Meron po bang e-mail si Richard Somes?
Gustong-gusto kasi mapanuod ng family ko yung Yanggaw kaso hindi na kami nakaabot sa showing ng pelikula.
Super big big big big fan ng Yanggaw ang family ko yun nga lang hindi namin mahagilap kung saan maipapalabas yun.

sana kind si richard somes at mabigyan kami ng copy. :)



10. richard somes - January 25, 2009

my email is xomes1@yahoo.com. sure anytime. pwedeng nyong mapanood. just let me know

11. richard somes - January 25, 2009

richard….salamat sa review ha….sana mag kita tayo in person, marami tayong pag uusapan..si dodo, pwede nya akung ma contact anytime. nagulat ako sa review mo…hindi ko enexpect…sori ngayon lang ako nag reply…nasira kasi tong laptop ko…anyways..salamat ulit….

12. Richard Bolisay - January 26, 2009

katukayo! ayus, ayus, asteg ng pelikula mo. estudyante ako ni lyle na dinala niya dati sa set ng exodus. may bago ka bang pelikulang ginagawa?

13. In Diabolic Bliss in Richard Somes’ Yanggaw (2008) | Fashion by Sarah - April 12, 2009

[…] original here: In Diabolic Bliss in Richard Somes’ Yanggaw (2008) Fashion | @ 4:12 am Good Odds that Rupert Murdoch Will be Responsible for the Next Timothy […]

14. Have You Watch Yanggaw movie? | jophilsuperman - July 29, 2009

[…] This movie I think is showing last year but I don’t know if this Yanggaw movie also showing here in our place last year. Good to know that someone got this copy of Yanggaw movie. So, luckily I will watch this for sure. You know, I love watching horror movies or something that good in story.  So, what do you think, Have You Watch Yanggaw movie? More info here. […]

15. fonyang - September 2, 2009

i am dying to see this movie. nasanay na akong manood ng mga aswang movies na ang laging binibigyan ng importance ay yun mga victims and their point of view. i guess this movie is different. this is more about the struggle of a family having a family member infected by this venom thingy. ano ba talaga ang nagyayari sa kanila (aswang) masaya ba sila sa ginagawa nila (on feasting human innards, blood whatsoever) or naghihirap din ba sila sa sitwasyon nila. this movie i think explains it all? hmmmm

16. Visit Ilonggo - October 6, 2009

To Richard Somes:

Idol kita! Sana more Ilonggo movies pa kasi ang sarap panoorin if nakakaintindi ka talaga ng Ilonggo. “Hinablos mo na!” Astig!

17. ralph cordova - October 12, 2009

ask ko lg poh im 15 years old..napanood ko na po ung yanggaw..true story po ba ung movie?..tnx

18. Richard Bolisay - October 12, 2009

hi ralph. naku kung totoo yang istorya ng yanggaw nakakatakot naman. pero mukhang si richard somes lang ang makakasagot niyan. tatanungin ko siya pag nagkita kami. pero natakot ka ba na totoo siya?

19. leon - October 12, 2009

ari di ay… pwede kamo dri kadownload torrent sang yanggaw..


seed lang kamo para makalantaw ang iban

20. mike - October 15, 2009

2008 Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival Awards including Best Director (Richard Somes); Best Actor (Ronnie Lazaro); Best Supporting Actor (Joel Torre); Best Supporting Actress (Tetchie Agbayani); Audience Choice Award; Best Sound (Joey Santos) and Best Editing (Borgy Torre)…


21. annie - October 15, 2009

ma ask lng ko,kon ano ni nga movie pang international?ky daw kanami sang story

22. Lil' Miss Taga Bacolod - October 17, 2009

The buzz about YANGGAW is really getting hot, not only in The Phils., but internationally… I think R.Somes should find a distributor of his movie so he could at least cash in on his work! Haaay… how sad to think this movie will just be eaten up alive by the “pirates” and sold on sidewalks, the director & people behind it should get their dues!

23. adong - October 27, 2009

mangkot lang ko tni kung diin pa pwede kalntaw sang yanggaw man? wala gd dbi kmi cni kalntaw ya. daw kanami dbi. proud gd ko sa movie nga ni. :D im proud to be an ilonggo! :)

24. Jong Robinson - November 11, 2009

ako ya? biskan ikapila na ko makalantaw, gatindog dyapon akon balahibo kayman genius ang nag-obra sining Yanggaw. Mabuhay ang mga Ilonggo. Padayon Nong Chard!!! Madamo pa gid nga mga maayo nga palaabuton para sa imo, sa inyo dira sa Manila.
Tani makalantaw man kami dire sa South Korea, no? :)

25. roa - February 17, 2010

freakingly scary………… amor is still alive she’s only dead in movies bu in ral life he’s sill alive

26. Francis Inton - April 21, 2010

yey for richard! im gonna see it at the fort on friday!

27. Michelle Caparas - October 28, 2011

Sa lahat ng local horror film, di ako nagsasawang panoorin ang Yanggaw. I really like the plot, the sound effects, the lighting and shadows. Even if this film is in Hiligaynon, it still succeeded in capturing my heart. Mabuhay ang Pinoy Indie films. Mabuhay si Richard Somes.

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