Saturday, May 15, 2010

Sunday 30th May 2010: Dara vs The Planet Women!

Darna vs The Planet Women

Philippines 1975 colour

Director/Writer Armando Garces

Cast Vilma Santos (Darna), Rosanna Ortiz (Elektra), Eva Linda, Lita Vasquez, Lieza Zobel, Diana Villa, Zandro Zamora, Bentot Jr (Ding)

Tonight we delve into the uncharted world of Philippines superhero films with another of our exclusive translating and subtitling for Schlock Treatment. Tonight's film features the Queen of all Filipino superheroes and heroines in the 1975 Darna vs The Planet Women.

The film dates from one of the last Golden Ages of Filipino cinema, the early Seventies, in which over 200 feature films a year were produced for an exclusively Philippines audience. One of the reasons of the local industry's phenomenal success is the audience's close identification with their superstars, and none more so than a duo of teenaged girls, Vilma Santos and Nora Aunor. In fact to this day Filipinos over a certain age will argue over whether they were a Vilmerian – a fanatical follower of the mestiza or lighter-skinned regal beauty Vilma – or Noranian, those who favoured the shorter, flat-nosed and darker skinned Nora. Fan clubs and magazines, TV shows, press interest over their teen love affairs with fellow co-stars (the “love-teams” of Guy and Pip, Vi and Bot): an entire mini-industry sprang up devoted to their lives, loves and supposed rivalry. Both became two of the most respected actresses of their generation, and yet it was Vilma who landed the role of the most successful komik character in Philippines history.

Darna may be easily dismissed by many as a cheap Pinoy knockoff of Superman or Wonder Woman, but there's much more to her. Since her first appearance in the burgeoning komik industry in 1947, she captured the imagination of the komik-reading underclasses: Narda is an innocent country lass who has superpowers thrust upon her transforming her into the costumed Darna to protect the world, the Philippines, her village, her family, and most of all, her younger brother Ding. It's wish fulfilment for girls, pure cheesecake for boys, and after sixty years - her first film appearance was in 1950, the last TV series three years ago - Darna is still a much-revered staple of Philippines pop culture.

Vilma took over the role in 1973 in a crazed, Mad Magazine style satiric reimagining called Lipad, Darna, Lipad, and over four appearances in the next seven years, would arguably become the actress most associated with the role. Darna vs The Planet Women from 1975 is the most fun and certainly most colourful of Vilma's stint, thought strangely enough it's as if the previous Darna adventures had never occurred, or had slipped into a Black Hole where most of the Philippines' lost cinema must also exist. Instead we are reintroduced to Narda, unremarkable country lass with a heart of gold and serious limp. Her two great loves, it seems, are chubby little brother Ding, and her awkward beau Ramon. An altercation with the local goons ends with a flying saucer suddenly appearing over a field, and Ramon is beamed aboard. It's a ship piloted by Elektra (Rosanna Ortiz), blue leader of a pack of painted space floozies clad in primary colour wigs, shower caps and AM radios strapped to them. Narda feels bad about losing her guy to a space sorority, but a kindly voice tells her to stop worrying, and plonks a magic stone in her lap. On the cry of “Darna!”, Narda transforms from unglamorous barrio girl – unassuming, with very little makeup - into gaudy statue of pure womanhood. No wonder poor Ding's eyeballs are almost dropping to the ground like marbles.

The Planet Women, it seems, are here to study human behaviour- whether they like it or not – and are intent on kidnapping the world's leading scientists. Not so, says Darna, who flies into their space ship to play the jealous girlfriend bit. She gets back Ramon, but it won't be the last time the Planet Women gain control over the weak-willed boob. It's a real battle of minds: desperate kung-fu kicking Star Slappers against the self-righteous Darna in an escalating series of face-offs and showdowns for the ultimate prize – the fate of the Universe itself.

It's a triumph of Seventies Tack, a distillation of pre-Star Wars sci-fi to its gaudiest elements, and a tinfoil tribute to Barbarella: ugly styleless furniture painted silver and doubling as cosmic chic. The Planet Women themselves are sex on a stick for the under-twelves; my favourites are a toss up between The Blonde, bewigged and bejewelled, with a gorgeous set of love handles and looking like a Twenties' flapper straight out of Ken Russell's rejected costume sketches for The Boyfriend, and the Blue One, primarily because you can see under the bikini line where the blue makeup ends!

At times cheerfully derivative, and at best a vivid interweaving of overseas archetypes and local folk tales, you'll have to admit you've never seen anything like it before, as we bring you for the first time translated and subtitled into English, Darna vs The Planet Women.

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