Freeman Cebu Entertainment

‘1521’ producer on bringing Lapu-Lapu, other Filipino heroes to the big screen

Januar Junior Aguja - The Freeman

CEBU, Philippines — Francis Lara Ho, Fil-Am producer of the upcoming Hollywood film “1521” which dramatizes the events of the Battle of Mactan, only had three hours in Cebu when he flew in last January 4. His sole reason: to have a photo of himself taken with the Lapu-Lapu monument at the Mactan Shrine in Lapu-Lapu City.

“I made a movie about [Lapu-Lapu]. I might as well see his shrine,” the Iloilo City native told a select group of Cebu media.

Ho and Michael Copon, who directs and stars in the film, initially planned to visit the shrine together while production was underway in Palawan last year, but their schedules didn’t permit it. Copon would later end up taking a photo with the shrine himself when he visited Cebu in November 2022 after filming wrapped.

The filmmaker expressed his regret that he couldn’t stay in the province longer for the Sinulog Festival as he has a full schedule ahead of him which included overseeing post-production for “1521”. He does have plans of coming back once it’s done.

“We are aiming for either June which is the 125th Philippine Independence Day, or October during the Filipino-Latino American Heritage Month,” he said of the film’s planned release date, adding that they already have a potential distributor waiting for the final cut.

The cast consists of well-known Filipino and Latino actors led by Copon as Lapu-Lapu, Bea Alonzo as Diwata, Danny Trejo as Ferdinand Magellan, Hector David Jr. as Enrique, Costas Mandylor as Lorenzo, and Maricel Laxa.

While it is set around the events of the Battle of Mactan, Ho stressed that the plot, which focuses on the romance of Diwata and Enrique, is fictional. It will be told from the perspective of Lapu-Lapu.

“It’s really more of a love story taking place in the context of the Battle of Mactan so we don’t want people to misunderstand. We are not trying to distort Philippine history,” he said.

Ho compared the love story to Disney’s “Pocahontas” where a native princess falls in love with a colonizer.

On why they decided on a fictional love story set on the backdrop of a real historical event, Ho said they “would like to show a powerful love story that everyone in the world would want to watch.”

Filipinos were not savages

It has also to do with the fact that they want to make the film marketable to an international audience who may not be familiar with Lapu-Lapu’s triumph over Magellan.

“When my American friends heard about my project, they didn’t know who Lapu-Lapu was but they know who Magellan is,” Ho explained. “They don’t have a clue what happened to them unless they Googled it.”

By introducing the real-life national hero, Ho is confident that Lapu-Lapu is going to be a familiar name globally once “1521” is out.

“This is the time that the world will know who exactly Lapu-Lapu was and how we love and fought for our freedom as Filipinos.”

Ho also wants to correct misconceptions that foreigners may have about Magellan’s conquest of the Philippines, which was propagated by the controversial 2019 Spanish animated film “Elcano & Magellan: The First Voyage Around the World” where it depicted Magellan as a hero while Lapu-Lapu was unflatteringly portrayed as a villain.

“Through ‘1521’, we want to let the world see that Filipinos were not savages when the Spaniards came here. We have an advanced civilization, a rule of law, the concept of justice and democracy,” he said. “When you watch the movie, you will sense all of these.”

History buff

When the film’s production was announced, some Cebuanos expressed dismay that the film was not shot in Cebu where the eventual battle took place.

“Mactan is so modern now. It would be tough to replicate the Battle of Mactan here with so much [modern distraction] in the background,” he pointed out, saying they were able to replicate the period setting more accurately in Palawan.

“Our main studio was on the land I owned in Palawan where we built the structures like the dwellings and everything.”

“1521” is just one of five projects that Ho wants to make under Inspire Studios, his studio company.

“Palawan Last Man Out” is based on true events of American prisoners of war who were burned alive by Japanese imperial soldiers in Palawan during World War II. “Angel Warrior” is another fictional WWII story focusing on Filipino comfort women who transformed into guerrilla fighters resisting Japanese imperial rule.

“The Rescue” is based on the Filipino Scout Rangers’ rescue mission of American missionary Garcia Burnham who was held captive by the Abu Sayyaf. “Open Doors” will tackle Jewish refugees who managed to escape from Nazi Germany to the Philippines.

Ho, a history buff with a huge desire to create films based on real historical events in the Philippines, is determined to make Filipinos the ultimate heroes in global cinemas.

“I have been making stories about everyday people who just have extraordinary lives. They were like you and me but their choices eventually impacted the world,” he said. “Lapu-Lapu, for instance, was a ruler like everyone else but he made the decision that impacted the world and it is part of our history.”

“Lapu-Lapu did something that impacted history, at hindi alam ‘yan ang mundo. That’s why I feel honored and privileged to make this movie because Lapu-Lapu’s story is the Philippine equivalent of ‘Braveheart.’”

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