The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

Natatanging Gawad Urian kay FERNANDO POE, JR.

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By LITO B. ZULUETA

FERNANDO POE JR. is the quintessential Filipino action hero: sensitive, ruggedly hand some, a loner although not necessarily a recluse, sporting a kind mien and blazingly quick with his fists, slow to anger but quick to the draw, a man who leaves in his wake the bad guys upbraided, the good ones upheld, and the altar of justice served.

In short, Fernando Poe Jr. is the people's champion. In the escapist and reality-denying ambience of Philippine cinema, the image Poe has assiduously carved for himself as a lonely but ultimately public man, one who is forced to take on the cause of the people because he has no other choice but to do so, has been one that has suffered relatively negligible wear and tear. The image continues to dazzle, impress and convince because as an actor and an artist, Poe is in full possession of his person and his craft.

Sometimes the person gets in the way. But it is only because Poe is conscious that his public persona is ultimately something personal and irrevocable. Ordered at one time to break down in one crucial scene in the war classic "Santiago" by the late master, Lino Brocka, Poe balked and instead stuck to his usual pose: hurt and pained, but undaunted and impenetrable. Brocka later chided him for sticking to his "macho" image.

But the public did not mind. Poe, the alleged promoter of Pinoy machismo, was later named best actor by the Catholic Mass Media Awards, and in accepting the award, tried to appease the temperamental Brocka by saying he probably won because he didn't cry as profusely as the director had wanted.

But if Poe indeed has perpetrated some of the traditional cultural images and practices of the Philippines with his macho posturing, it cannot be denied that he has brought a certain coruscating realism to Philippine action movies. The Philippine cinema pre-Fernando Poe Jr. was a factory of fantasy spectacles that had only the remotest connection with the objective conditions of the people. Action was an ancient or medieval swordfight and conflict was over as something as mythical as a nightingale whose singing had magical effects.

Enter Fernando Poe Jr. (Ronald Allan Kelly Poe in real life), son of matinee idol Fernando Poe Sr. who himself had starred in several fantasy films. The son followed the father's path through costume and other anachronistic dramas such as "Simaron" (1955) and "Anak ni Palaris" (1956). But when he starred in the underworld drama 'Lo' Waist Gang,"(1956) Poe found his image. The movie itself signaled a shift from the fantasy movies that were the main fare in local cinema to the gritty realism of contemporary action movies.

In his next movies such as "Tough Guy (1957) and "Kamay ni Cain" (1957), and much later, "Mga Alabok sa Lupa" (1967), "Asedillo" (1971) and "Durugin si Totoy Bato" (1979), Poe perfected the Filipino paragon of the action hero—a peace-loving, sensitive man who is pushed to the wall by oppressive forces and fights back in the defense of the poor and the abused.

Today Poe is known as the king of Philippine action movies and one of the stalwarts of the local film industry.

Poe could not have carefully established his fame and image if he had not taken control of the resources and techniques of the cinema. A shrewd, visionary businessman and an artist in his own right, Poe invested his earnings from acting and built his own movie company, FPJ Productions, which has since established a steady record of well-mounted productions that have reaped commercial success. He has also promoted awareness toward film preservation; he has wisely kept and assiduously stored the films his movie outfit has produced, a practice that smart producers are well-advised to emulate. As "Ronwaldo Reyes," his nom de guerre as director, Poe has shown a nearly unerring film sense, transforming mass-based but sometimes crude materials like the komiks and popular legends to movies with their own sense of logic and breathtaking spectacle. Poe as director is a master of locale, color and magic. He chooses his settings carefully and trains a nearly perfect cinematographic eye on everything he frames. His "Panday" series, based on the tawdry Carlo J. Caparas komiks novel, is an awesome orchestration of spectacle, setting, and special effects. His more recent movies such as the comedy "Isusumbong Kite sa Tatay Ko" and the action drama "Ang Dalubhasa" show Poe hasn't lost his touch. He remains an artist with an uncanny feeling for the popular taste without unnecessarily debasing his art.