5 stock characters in Pinoy indie films

Independent films try to portray themes and stories that mainstream cinema cannot. Strippedof the artifice, sappiness (and budget) of studio-backed projects, indie films focus on telling a story without necessarily pandering to the box-office bottom line.

That being said, indie films have a tendency to seemingly be made up of th same set of characters, generally taken from Martial Law-era social realist tropes.

The Corrupt Government Official/Cop

Mamang Pulis

Mamang Pulis

The saying goes that you can’t fight city hall,  which does not mean that you’ll never have to. With films set in slums and distant provincial towns, the corrupt mayor/governor/congressman is the law, and pretty much sits in for the Devil himself.

Usually lecherous,  these guys will figure in tragic rapes and the breaking in of young, virgin prostitutes.

Freed from the traditional bumbling movie goons, your average indie film mayor will sooner have someone killed than comically slap his minions around.

With the Philippine National Police in the province pretty much the private army of the local government officials, this role can easily be substituted with a corrupt cop,to the same evil, plot-driving ends.

May or may not die horribly in the end, depending on the film maker’s take on the Philippine justice system (ie there is nonesuch.)

The Tragic Gay


There are two basic truths about the Philippines, if we are to go on the image that our indie film makers show of the country at international festivals: we are a poor country, and that every squatter community has at least one tragic gay.

They usually are of the parlor-gay persuasion, and are prone to talking in gayspeak in exaggeratedly gay tones. Also, they are the object of ridicule by even the youngest street thug.

When not made to serve drinks and dance suggestively by local toughs, they are subjected to attempted (sometimes successful) rape. All while living with the threat of being beaten up for no real reason. Sometimes all three, when the film is particularly gritty and true-to-life.

The Acid-Tongued Nosy Neighbor

Pic Unrelated

Pic Unrelated

Films, and art in general, hold up a mirror to the face of society, forcing us to come to terms with our flaws. This is never as obviously done than with the film’s personification of society itself (and running commentary thereof,) the nosy neighbor who lives to criticize the film’s main characters.

Whether badmouthing the film’s protagonist for being (whatever) or acting as some cheap and easy foreshadowing to the film’s tragic climax, the nosy neighbor is usually played by a veteran actress in a cameo role, and is usually a washerwoman or unemployed bystander. Whichever better emphasizes the abject poverty in our country.

Her death, change of heart, or being the subject of some dramatic irony sometimes serves to tell the film’s lesson on redemption.

The Underdog (with a heart of gold)

not necessarily this guy

not necessarily this guy

The Philippines loves underdogs, and what better way for some cheap pops than to cast your hero as some sort of nice guy hampered from realizing his dreams/getting the girl only by his poverty?

After establishing his poverty with standard establishing shots of slums and street shots of Manila after dark, he will usually demonstrate how fundamentally good he is by, I dunno, defending a kid from bullies, or saving a drowning kitten.

If a romance, scenes of him watching his beloved from afar (with edgy indie or ironic pop music in the background) or being told outright that he is too poor to even look at her are generally a matter of course. Until their paths cross and the two of them fall in love despite socio-economic barriers because love conquers all, or ought to.

Keep in mind that the hero is just as likely to be stabbed  and die tragically in the rain, or lose the girl to some rich dude. You are watching an indie film,and these things happen. It is also possible that nothing will happen at all.

Ping Medina/Meryll Soriano

Ping Medina as himself

Ping Medina as himself

PROTIP: There is a very thin line between school project and serious film, and if you’re not sure where the line lies, you can’t go wrong with getting these two to star in your film.

Seasoned thespians on both independent and studio-produced projects, even getting them as cameos will get you much respect from the film community.


One problem may lie in the fact that both Ping Medina and Meryll Soriano have appeared in dozens (hundreds?) of indie films, so there is a risk of your viewer confusing roles and characters with those from previous films. Also, cameos as a tool for audience pops is a bit underhanded.


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