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Movie Review for Urduja

(Because I can.  Yay.)




I watched Urduja the very day it officially started showing in local theaters: June 18.  I watched it for probably the same reason other people—Filipinos, certainly—would go to the movies to do likewise: out of sheer curiosity.

Did I have fun?

Why, yes, I did.

Urduja is touted by APT Productions as ‘the Philippines’ first full length traditional and digital animation film’, and I suppose it is, although I do recall an animated movie adaptation of ‘Adarna’ shown sometime in the mid-‘90s.  They should have added ‘musical’ to the billing as well, because there’s a small collection of song performances thrown smack-dab into it, which is very much welcome, though a bit overdone.  GMA-7 aired a very informative primer the Sunday before the film’s premiere, where we were given a walk-through on how the entire movie was made.  And thus, upon entering the theater come Wednesday afternoon, I was aware that over 50,000 pages of drawings were done to complete the film, that three animation teams from Palawan, Cavite and Manila had to work round the clock to bring the world of Urduja to life, that the movie boasted an all-Filipino cast and production crew—a veritable milestone by itself.

The animation quality is, by Hollywood standards, a few years and quite a few bank accounts behind.  Admittedly, it’s been a while since Disney or Dreamworks has done an animated movie in 2-D (that’s two-dimensional folks; think Pocahontas, Mulan, or The Prince of Egypt, as opposed to the more current 3-D, CG-fied trend a la The Bee Movie, Ratatouille, and the Shrek movie franchise), and traditional frame-by-frame, hand-drawn animation at that.  But given the limited budget and an abundance of home-grown talent, Urduja does its best—and acquits itself delightfully.

The production teams tasked to bring the story of the legendary warrior-princess of Tawilisi to the big screen made use of both hand-drawn and computer-generated animation.  The end result is a seamless, lushly rendered reproduction of what life in the archipelago may have been before it was named after a Spanish prince.  Character movement is well-executed (the fight scenes are certainly of note), but for some awkwardness with the facial expressions (which was easily made up for by the superb voice-acting of a star-studded and yes, talented cast).

If there's one thing that shines throughout this film, it is the voice cast.  Miss Regine Velasquez delivers a strong performance as Princess Urduja, the title character, and Cesar Montano outdoes himself yet again as the handsome, daring and quick-witted Chinese pirate captain, Lim Hang.  Likewise, Eddie Garcia is perfect for the role of Tawilisi leader Lakanpati.  Ruby Rodriguez as Urduja's wacky best friend, Mayumi, is a certifiable scene stealer, especially with Epi Quizon's Daisuke.  Johnny Delgado as the corrupt imperial general, Hwang, is utterly despicable.  And who’ll be able to forget the wily rat, Kukot, masterfully voiced by Michael V.?  His laugh-out-loud misadventures alone make the movie all the more enjoyable to watch.

And yes, the humor in Urduja—and there's enough to keep both kids and not-quite-kids giggling in their seats, thank you—is another case in point.  Leave it to the tandem of Kukot and Tarsir (Allan K) to defuse a particularly climactic series of events with good old comic relief.  Or to Mayumi to make one laugh out loud, right at a rather solemn occasion in the story.  Witty banter abounds and keeps the plot moving along at a most agreeable pace.

The manner the story is presented is pretty straightforward and easy to follow, which works for and against the film overall.  No overload of plot details and irrelevant bits of info that could be potentially confusing to the viewer here; something that is, sadly, a common pitfall of big-budget productions.  It’s easy to grasp what’s happening, and, more importantly, why it’s happening.  However, after watching the entire film, one is left with the impression that a few more plot and character details could have been added in.  I am particularly intrigued by the character Daisuke, Lim Hang’s co-pirate, and, presumably, Japanese.  What brought him to work with a mostly Chinese crew, and why does he wear his robe right side over left, the way corpses do (Note: Kimono or yukata are traditionally worn with the garment’s left side over the right.  It is only when a person dies, and is dressed for his or her funeral, that the robe is worn right side over left)?  Does he have an angsty back story?  Or is it safer (and yes, cattier) to assume that the character designers didn’t make too fine a point to rectify a potential cultural faux pas?  (Another aside: I personally vote for the ‘angsty back story’ explanation.  Because that means we could get a spin-off starring Daisuke and his self-proclaimed sea-faring-wife, Mayumi, and their pirate adventures in the South China Sea.  Whee.  Lusot.)

That said, what brought the male lead himself, Lim Hang—a noble, albeit roguish soul—to a life of swash-buckling and piracy?  And what exactly did the villainous Hwang mean when he addressed Lim Hang as ‘former captain’?  Also, whatever happened to the traitorous Simakwel (Jay Manalo) and the skinny imperial Chinese guy at the end of the story?

Just a few loose ends, for sure, but  certainly still worth pulling.

Enjoyment factor aside, the movie resounds with quite a few themes quite apart from how true love triumphs over all.  A happy ending is standard fare when it comes to films such as these, and on this note, Urduja does not disappoint.  Love and its many aspects abound.  There is love for one’s land and one’s people; there is love between father and child, husband and wife.  In this movie differences between different sets of people are overcome, and the greedy and evil are ultimately vanquished by the good.

On a socially relevant note, too, the movie does seem to tackle, although does not delve too deeply into, the role of women in society.  One scene in particular speaks volumes about spousal abuse, and rings all too truthfully about the plight of certain battered housewives in this and other countries.  In this scene, Urduja berates the lazy pig of a husband of Piraya, one of her attendants.  The lazy pig of a husband talks back to Urduja and attacks her.  Urduja fights back, and is about to kick the sorry husband’s ass, but Piraya, the martyr-wife, intervenes, saying he is still her spouse.  The message is subtle but there to pick up on: Walang mang-aapi kung walang nagpapa-api (There’s no abuse if nobody allows it).

All in all, Urduja is an enjoyable film.  Don’t be so quick to dismiss it as ‘nothing but a second-rate, trying-hard copy-cat’ of certain Disney movies; Hollywood has done much, much worse, and at vastly bigger budgets.  By itself, Urduja is an earnest, honest venture—and it shows.  Watch it.  You may be pleasantly surprised.


( 18 comments — Leave a comment )
Jun. 19th, 2008 09:07 am (UTC)
Nice review
I love your review. Not because i'm a regine fan or a a fan of anything that's connected to her. It's because of you having an open mind. I find the story just "payak".
I'm aware of the many things that the movie lacks. Even the flaws. But the movie itself is a proof that we can do it. We have resources, budget lang ang kulang. Isama mo pa ang mga taong may crab mentality.
ANyway, this is just a start.
Love the theme most!
Jun. 21st, 2008 08:51 am (UTC)
Re: Nice review
LOL, I just thought the film deserves a review. Knowing there'd probably an army of utak-talangka who'd thoughtlessly bash it. :D
At tsaka, frustrated animator ako. Wehehe.
Jun. 26th, 2008 03:15 am (UTC)
Well....Crab Mentality for me is....
There's a difference between Crab Mentality and criticizing a movie for its flaws. That's why some people in the U.S. for example, wants a second opinion and go to websites like RottenTomatoes.com just to hear those opinions, because movies over there are so expensive (15 dollars per person, without confectioneries). The movie industry here - by my worst fears - is probably going to the way of the Dodo, and that shows in the price tag of the movie. I spend like 200 pesos going to a movie and I expect that last movie I watched will leave me with a smile on my face as I get out of the theatre. That happened a couple of times last month in HULK and IRONMAN.

My point here is that people who saw it, I think has a right to say what they feel about it as long as it's an honest review, and telling what are the things to improve. And they should because they paid money to see it in the first place. It's not refundable. If they say the movie sucks, then that's honesty for you. Let them say it sucks. But a good review shows HOW THE MOVIE SUCKS, and putiing up a list for improvements.Crab Mentality, on the other hand destroys any expectations for improvement. It's next to the "Keeping up with the Jones'".

Anyway, can you blame me for crab mentality if I simply say that "I don't like it?" Nobody likes everything all the time, that would be abnormal. And its the other party's choice if they want to hear their side or not. If you hear a person say this movie is so bad, even if you haven't seen the movie yet, don't accuse the person of crab mentality just yet. Maybe what the guy was saying... was probably right.

Jun. 27th, 2008 07:41 am (UTC)
Re: Well....Crab Mentality for me is....
Well said. Granted, I should have been more precise in defining what I see as 'crab mentality' (or as an example, thereof) earlier. :D Simply put, it's like flaming/bashing: rendering derogatory judgment--yes, saying 'this sucks', without specifying why in a logical, fair manner. But even that definition is, again, open for debate, yes?

I have no bones for well-thought-out reviews which may outline how something sucks, why it sucks, and how it could be improved. Everyone has the right to voice their opinion, good or bad.

That said, I'm sorry if my reply offended you (or any other reader) in any way. Ayoko namang tamaan ang hindi dapat matamaan. And in terms of differing opinions (i.e. whether a movie was 'good' or 'bad'). I don't think it a matter of being 'right'... or 'wrong'. What works for you may not work for me, and vice versa.

And for the record, I still like Urduja, flaws and all.

Peace, and have a nice day. ^-^v
Jul. 10th, 2008 06:43 am (UTC)
Re: Well....Crab Mentality for me is....
The most expensive movie I've been to in the U.S. is $12 a pop in New York which is an insanely expensive place to live. I personally don't know of anywhere that's $15. Here in the midwest where I live movies are $10 and if you go to a matinée (that's before 5pm) AMC theaters are only $5 per person. Just fyi. My wife and I always catch a matinée and we skip the concessions, unless she is just craving nachos.
Jun. 25th, 2008 05:24 am (UTC)
I Like Urduja
I hate people who has a crab mentality. I like it's drawing though it need some improvements. I like the character, daisuke because it is like sasuke in naruto, hahahaha, joke! There are some of the funny scene I like. I am proud that Urduja made its first length pinoy animation. The story is simple but how I wish, make it complicated but because Urduja is for general audience, well, accept na rin.... Naiinis ako sa lesbian kagabi, kung anu ano ang pinagsasabi sa Urduja. Well, iba iba naman ang tingin ng mga tao sa movie na yun. Masarap lang ipaliwanag sa kanya pero stop na ako. Dapat nga kaunting support e.
Jun. 26th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC)
Stary falls short
Aside from the wonderful talents of the animators and in-betweeners of this project, the story, the script and execution falls short on this one. Some people pointed out racism and political incorrectness too. Does the Badjao really live on trees? I thought they are a water tribe. Will the Chinese blame us for historical political incorrectness by telling everyone how corrupt their ancient government was? Maybe. Animation is too fast paced: "Tignan mo yung tanawin!" What landscape? I didn't see it. Dialogue is really dumb: "Si Simakwil, Di ko siya feeeel!". Di ko rin feel ang dialogue mo, Ruby. No alternative camera angles as if camera stays in one place throughout the entire movie. All characters takes up a lot of space on the screen, as if they're gargantuan! Not much full body animation. (This thing they're doing only works on TV.) Coloring is flat, and lighting is too dark (I thought this is an animation targeted for younger viewers. Take note: younger viewers like bright colors.) Musical numbers are not appropriate. Too cheesy! I cringe when Cesar Montano's character comes on...and hugs a tree. Is he gay? My friends asked. Flashback! Same kind of feeling when I saw Ogie Alcasid's character in Ibong Adarna back in the nineties. I still can remember that awful coconut man-bra he had on, and I cringe some more in my seat.

The stories fom the animes I saw on TV are edgier compared to this, as if the creators of this film expects their target market to dumb down just to see it. Personally, the only bit in this movie I like is the Urduja bathing scene. If the animators could only just make out some more details on her body....and if she can just stand up.......ahem! Anyway, I hope the people who made this doesn't put their heads into the clouds just yet. Too many things to improve until they can make a movie with the quality like that of Disney's The Rescuers.

Jun. 26th, 2008 02:44 am (UTC)
Err Typo...Sorry
In my last comment, the title should read "Story falls short". Hehe. Sorry!
Jun. 27th, 2008 07:44 am (UTC)
Re: Err Typo...Sorry
Alright. :D I respect your opinion and suggestions about the movie (I think I've read some of it somewhere before, but who knows?). I do hope the producers and the animation teams take notice, too.

Happy weekend!
Jun. 29th, 2008 02:26 am (UTC)
urduja is a good pinoy animation
Hey we should be grateful that there are people w ho tried to revive the passion in making original pinoy film especially in animation. i hate people who pull down Urduja just becuase they can say anything. tayo-tayo lang ang sumisira sa isat-isa. we should be one in saving Philppine cinema and pinoy animation. we are talented but there are lots of talented pinoy crab-heads. kala mo kung masalita parang si steven spielberg na...hey it's time to save our animation industry. how can we raise our standard if we won't help each other. i was dissapointed to check some blogs and other website wherein they create negative reviews and unfair judgements on Urduja. I was happy I saw one good review here. By the way, the film was truly entertaining, the comical talks of mayumi was an attempt to be modern and hip since gay lingo is poart of pop culture these days. I could feel the budget constraint is an obstacle but i can see that they their best to make a good film. the animators are great...they give good execution of their talent. mabuti na to kaysa nangagnarap tayo makagawa ng tunay na pinoy animated film...it's a good start and ther'e room for improvements. the actors esp. regine is very good, her song is empowering women. Hell those idoitic pinoys who keep making bad comments about the film. feeling mo mga japanese or american sila...di naman. hehe.

good luck sa animation industry and for Urduja sana mapansin sa international film fests.
Jun. 30th, 2008 07:15 am (UTC)
Re: urduja is a good pinoy animation
Siya nga, siya nga. *nods* Madali lang maghanap ng mali. My heart goes out to the animators (at sa lahat ng aspiring) and producers. Mga taon ang pinag-laanan mo, hirap at pagod, tapos aapak-apakan lang, ang sakit. :P Oh well, at least siguro naman 'yung may puna nanood nung sine... that goes to show that they gave the film a chance, right? Hindi naman siguro masokista 'yung mga nanood.

As a heads-up, mukhang pinipirata na rin pati Urduja. Dumdumdum.

Magandang araw sa 'yo. Suportahan po natin ang gawang-Pinoy!

'Ika nga ng isang wise man, 'A journey of a thousand miles begin with a single step.' :)
Jul. 1st, 2008 12:43 pm (UTC)
For everyone.na may balak pang mag comment din
Relax lang... puro mali lang nakikita... pinoy nga naman bast mali.. madling nakikita... qng sabagy.. kahit saan namn.. BasTa Tao lang yan PInoy pa... kaya intindinhin nyo nalang... atlst kahit papanu improving na ang Pinas noh.. apriciate nalang natin.. at saka wala ka ng magagawa.. 2lad naming mga required manood nyan... (wow anung konek kaya nya sa klase namin) ahhh basta mga Pips... just focus on the deep meaning of the story,, wag lang ang mga mali ang punain.... Ingats.. DAWN=)
Jul. 3rd, 2008 07:20 am (UTC)
Re: For everyone.na may balak pang mag comment din
Siya nga naman. :D Ah, well, kanya-kanyang perception din 'yan. OK lang ako ano mang opinion, favorable man o hindi, basta may pag-galang pa kahit papano, hindi 'yung tipo ng o-kray na parang hindi nakatuntong sa elementary school.

Mabuhay sa lahat ng Pilipino!
Jul. 12th, 2008 11:13 am (UTC)
i love your film review about Urduja
the delivering of the words were good
how great you have manage in making about this review
:) Let's be proud that we are Filipinos ;)
Aug. 10th, 2008 12:26 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the great movie review
I like your movie review because it's not boring, see i'm a 3rd yr. highschool doing my 1st moview review about the clip "lapu-lapu" the movie is boring so i guess making it's movie review will be boring too but i'm inspired in your movie review thanks a lot!
Aug. 16th, 2008 09:50 am (UTC)
sayang po kuya, tagalog kasi kailangan ko
tinagalog ko nalang pero thankss na rin!!
malaki na rin ang naitulong nito
babalik nalang ako next time
Aug. 18th, 2008 05:02 am (UTC)
Re: Beautiful
Oy, 'wag n'yo pong sabihing na-plagiarize n'yo itong review ko? Bad cheetah. Nakaka-flatter na nakaka-insulto. Magsulat kayo ng sarili ninyong review, mga taong people. Paano pa po uunlad ang Pilipinas kung pina-iiral ninyo ang katamaran ninyo?

Payong-nakakatanda lang.
Sep. 7th, 2008 08:04 am (UTC)
Nice`review`though...I've`got`some`ideas.. for`our` Movie`Review`to`be` passed`tomorrow`even`we`watched`
( 18 comments — Leave a comment )