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'Batang Quiapo' champions Pinoy TV tropes

By Mike Diez Published Feb 25, 2023 5:19 pm

It looks like ABS-CBN has found a way to hold lightning in a bottle. After the long, successful run of Ang Probinsyano, the network has once again dipped into the archives of action movie star Fernando Poe, Jr.’s filmography—and, not surprisingly, FPJ’s Batang Quiapo is a ratings bonanza on its first week of airing. 

As with Ang Probinsyano, Batang Quiapo is headlined by Coco Martin. According to press releases, the show has now earned a total of 44 million digital views on ABS-CBN’s online channels.

Batang Quiapo revels in all the tropes we’ve become familiar with growing up watching teleseryes. The first episode introduced us to the premise of the series, quite jarringly at that. A kingpin was being chased by the police after being involved in a robbery. He found himself holed up at someone’s home, and then soon decided to impregnate the unfortunate woman living at that house just so he could preserve his ancestral line (those were the character’s words before he raped her). He was then arrested and went to prison.

The woman bore a child from that encounter, and that child would turn out to be Coco Martin’s character, Tanggol.

Fast forward to the present day when Tanggol is now a grown man, showing shades of his kingpin father (snatching, getting involved in brawls) while having a heart of gold (defending the innocents and poor)—a typical trope in Filipino movies. He had the misfortune of having a father-figure who happens to be a police officer, and who would try and beat some sense into Tanggol, literally. 

The story has planted seeds to ensure a long, drawn-out unfolding of the drama. The kingpin has escaped from prison and is determined to connect with his son borne out of rape. The kingpin’s father is currently heading a network of criminals in the city of Manila. An adversary of said kingpin’s father is introduced, and is bent on snatching the crown as Manila’s top criminal. All these, and we haven’t even been introduced yet to the love angles in the story.

OG vs adaptation

This ABS-CBN adaptation of the 1986 movie deviates from the light-hearted comedy/action/drama of the original. The story was quite simple: a pickpocket from Quiapo (played by Maricel Soriano) runs into an ex-convict with a heart of gold (FPJ). After a testy first-encounter, they teamed up to take down a drug syndicate and they ended up being together romantically.

The original was a hit for “Da King”, as FPJ was once called, as well as the then-thriving Regal Films. The idea of adapting Batang Quiapo into a series was announced by ABS-CBN a few years ago, but it was put on hold due to the overwhelming success of Ang Probinsyano.

The adaptation’s cinematography is excellent, highlighting prominent landmarks of Quiapo. The action sequences were obviously given much attention and care, even employing the services of Lito Lapid—another legendary action star—as the show’s action director.

The adaptation also features a stellar cast which includes Lapid, Irma Adlawan, Rez Cortez, Christopher De Leon, Ronnie Lazaro and more. The praises for the younger actors’ performances are much deserved, especially Miles Ocampo, who played the woman raped by the kingpin. 

The appeal of tropes

The tropes presented here are nothing new. Sure, you might scratch your head at the sight of characters wearing jackets in the sweltering heat of the streets of Manila, or the stereotyping of gangs with sunglasses and tattoos, or the fact that the characters take pains in explaining to the audience what is happening at the moment. But these are all familiar to anyone who has followed and enjoyed local film and television.

All the story angles presented here may seem implausible, but stranger things have happened in this country. Such things eventually become gossip fodder, which then becomes exaggerated as the story passes on from one person to another.

And Filipinos love these types of escapism. It’s like having a street corner conversation come to life in the form of a TV show. And having one set in your own backyard must be thrilling to the audience. For sure, its like striking oil to the network. 

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These genres have their loyal following, and the networks know this. The actors in these productions know this as well, which explains why Lapid has become a senator several times over, and why FPJ almost became our President. 

The themes presented here are nothing new. The only thing that’s missing is the part where the main characters suddenly break into a song, but it’s the same things we’ve seen before—only with slicker production and improved acting. You can draw a line from the episodes that have been aired to their inevitable paths. 

But it’s nice to see the attempt at giving characters depth. It’s also welcoming to see local TV try and give proper representation to the Muslim community. Granted, there were some missteps, and Batang Quiapo could have employed more real Muslim actors. But we’re pretty sure they’ve got a long run ahead of them to get things right.