Freeman Cebu Entertainment

Hollywood film ‘1521’ to bring Lapu-Lapu’s tale to an international audience  

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines —  Filipino representation has recently been making inroads in Hollywood, with Fil-Am comedian Jo Koy headlining his own movie “Easter Sunday” based on his own family, Broadway star Lea Salonga starring in HBO Max’s “Pretty Little Liars: Original Sin”, among others. Yet these are centered on the Fil-Am experience – not necessarily on Filipinos in the Philippines.

Fil-Am filmmakers Francis Lara Ho and Michael Copon thus wanted to take it to the next level by creating a Hollywood film set in the Philippines that is based on Philippine hero Lapu-Lapu.

Produced by Ho and directed by Copon, the upcoming film “1521” has an international cast that includes Copon himself, Pinay actresses Bea Alonzo and Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan, renowned American actor Danny Trejo of “Spy Kids” and “Desperado” fame, and Puerto Rican actor Hector David Jr.

Told from the perspective of Lapu-Lapu (Copon), “1521” is set in pre-Spanish colonial era Philippines where Diwata (Alonzo) falls in love with Lorenzo (David Jr.), a Spanish soldier under the command of Ferdinand Magellan (Trejo). Diwata and Lorenzo’s clandestine romance is put to the test by their conflicting tribes.

According to a press release, “1521” opens with the character Didi or Diwata, who dreams of being transported to pre-colonial Philippines while exploring the ruins of an ancient Spanish fort. In her dream, she becomes a native princess who falls in love with Magellan’s handsome translator Enrique.

But their romance will be caught up in the conflict. The events become more complicated after Didi awakens, and soon finds the line between her dream and reality blurring.

Ho stressed during a virtual conference that although it is based on the epic Battle of Mactan where Lapu-Lapu declared victory over Magellan, the film is fictional.

“While the production did a lot of research and we consulted a lot of historical experts, this is not a historical film,” Ho clarified, comparing the plot to the likes of “Pocahontas” and “Romeo & Juliet.”

“We didn’t want to make a movie that is just about the battle in Mactan. This is more of a beautiful love story between Diwata and Lorenzo who are the heart and soul of the film.”

While the film focuses more on the romance between a local tribeswoman and a Spanish colonizer, Lapu-Lapu’s heroic exploits is crucial to bringing the story to life. It started with Ho’s dream of introducing Filipino heroes to his children.

“About four years ago during Memorial Day, I was in Puerto Princesa, Palawan and I was trying to teach my children what it means to become a hero,” he recalled.

Ho noted that Puerto Princesa was where Filipino and American soldiers died during the Palawan massacre when former Imperial Japan occupied the country during World War II. “It dawned on me that no one has told stories about these Filipino heroes,” he said.

The US-based producer was developing stories about Filipino heroes when he met Copon in Washington, DC during a session at the Fil-Am Creative Council. Copon, known for playing Felix Taggaro in “One Tree Hill” and Lucas Kendall in” Power Rangers Time Force”, was often offered Latino roles despite not being one.

“Hollywood always forces me to play Latino characters. They never allow me to play a Filipino in a movie, but I always try to fight for my characters to be Filipino anyway,” Copon revealed.

“While I don’t mind playing Latino because I love the culture, I have always wanted to show love to my heritage and to my dad who is Filipino. I want to embrace my Filipino heritage on a global level.”

Copon said he undertook the project to highlight Filipino history and culture. “People don’t know what happened to Magellan. Some people in America think he just died. And a lot of times, the history of the Philippines gets pushed under the rug, unnoticed, which led to the passion that we wanted to embrace those stories and embrace the culture, and say ‘Hey! Let me get this out there,’” he said.

“Even more historic is, this is the first time a Hollywood director and producer are producing a movie about a Filipino story with Hollywood stars and Filipino stars in one movie,” he added.

Copon’s aspirations matched with Ho’s own and so a collaboration wasn’t far off. “We had this great moment of connection as filmmakers,” said Ho. “As Filipino-Americans, our desires are the same. We want to tell our story and make our dream come true.”

Ho added that “1521”, which is being entirely shot in Palawan, is a Hollywood production with a multi-cultural cast and crew that appeals to an international audience.

“This is a global story that includes Filipino, American, and Latino collaborators with the special participation of our friends from Australia,” he shared.

The choice of Palawan as a filming location was its scenery harking to the period setting of “1521.” Observed Copon, “There are so many parts of Palawan that still look like it’s in the 1500s. It would be difficult to shoot in Cebu and in Mactan because of how completely commercialized it is now.”

“We didn’t want to go to Thailand or any other places,” he added. “We wanted to stay in the Philippines to introduce the fact that Palawan is a good area to shoot because it feels like we are really in the islands.”

Ho, himself a Palaweño, wanted to provide more opportunities to the people in the province through the project.

“I am actually pleasantly surprised when we did the casting that there are quite a few Palaweños who are really incredible in talent. They just need the opportunities and so that’s what we are bringing here,” Ho said.

“Sad to say that Palawan is one of the richest in terms of natural resources but our poverty level is very high compared to other provinces. That’s why I’m hoping that bringing projects here would change that.”

“1521” is scheduled for a June 12, 2023 theater release, coinciding with the 125th celebration of Philippine Independence Day.

Ho hopes that the film would not only be one that Filipinos will be proud of, but also an opportunity for foreigners to learn about Philippine history and culture.

“We want to make a great movie that will impact people with the goodness and greatness of the Filipinos,” he said.

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