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Dugong Buhay: The First Week

The afternoon teleserye Paraiso was starting to get really laboured as it wound down to its ending that I rather thought I was done watching afternoon seryes for the meantime. But of course, ABS-CBN was doing some hardcore promoting of the series’ replacement, a remake of the Carlo J. Caparas classic Dugong Buhay, which – after my customary googling of topics that I am not too familiar with – I discovered used to run as a comic strip on the tabloid People’s Tonight.

So, I took a peek when the new serye opened last Monday, the eighth of April. And stayed.

I never really counted People’s Tonight among my reading fare; and while I have a vague recollection of a movie by the same title having been made back in the eighties, I am certain that I did not watch it. I was seeing the serye’s teasers being run by ABS-CBN, liked the cuts that were included but more importantly saw that the story would be an examination of class conflict.

I was happy to investigate if this would, indeed, be a ‘thinking’ afternoon series in stark contrast to the formulaic romances that hogged the mid to late afternoon time slot of ABS-CBN.

So far, I have been quietly impressed by the performances in Dugong Buhay, which can also mean that the series is being excellently directed. I only hope that the series delivers on what it promises; because it has promised a lot on its opening week.
A whole week of the series has elapsed and although the story has barely begun, I have seen more things that I liked compared to things that would have made me snort at all the hype. I think that I will see this through.

For one, the lighting and general photography have been quite excellent. A shade below primetime’s Juan de la Cruz, perhaps; but certainly better than most afternoon seryes. I am extremely visual like a lot of people, so I love my television and movie fare abundant with scenes that please the eye.

Thus, I am always appreciative of colours, lighting and imaginative camera angles; and in this regard, Dugong Buhay has not disappointed.

The class conflict theme is also something that I can totally appreciate, possessing as I do a History-Political Science background. The choice of a sugarcane plantation community as the story’s setting is reminiscent of a feudalistic economy that, it may be argued by some, continues to exist to this very day.

For the benefit of those who missed the series’ opening week, Dugong Buhay is the story of Simon, whose father was a trusted employee of the de Laras of this community called San Isidro. One day, his father was killed in a shootout with bandits. The patriarch of the de Laras took Simon under his wings and brought him up as his own son.

This was something that Enrique, the patriarch’s own son, never accepted. He grew up angry and resentful. This resentment boiled over when the patriarch died and left a sizable piece of the property to Simon, something that Enrique was not prepared to honour.

Enrique did not enjoy the respect that the peasants who worked the field gave his father. His taking over the estate after his father’s death and appointment of a cousin to act as his hatchet man was not well-received.

One day, the peasants felt impelled to March to the gate of the de Lara homestead. Instead of listening to their gripes as a respectable haciendero would have done and being prepared to reason, Enrique set loose his thugs upon the hapless villagers. Many of these were killed, Simon’s wife and son included.

Simon was later mauled and buried alive by Enrique’s goons. A fellow farmer saw everything and dug Simon out after the goons had left. Enraged, Simon had only revenge in his heart for all the injustices that he had had to bear at the hands of the de Laras.

The first step was to kidnap Enrique’s son Gabriel, who he later raised as his own son but with the new name Victor. All the while, Victor was being prepared to be Simon’s ultimate revenge on the de Laras as the story continues to unfold.

If this is not intriguing, then I do not know what is. To send back one of the de Laras to destroy his own clan, albeit unknowingly, that has got to be the height of hatred and deceit. Simon, while the cause of his hatred was carefully laid down, has nonetheless become as tainted a character as Enrique because of his obsession with revenge.

To think that the series will only be on its second week tomorrow; and the story already has more twists and turns than a drive up a mountain road.

The series is not perfect; and there are a couple of things that I wished could have been done differently. For instance, to change actors for the same character – e.g. Carlos Aquino to Nonie Buencamino – to portray the passing of a generation did not sit well with me. I imagine there are enough make-up and special effects techniques to have dealt with the passing of time without having to change actors.

Neither was I impressed with a Malay looking child growing up to be a Filipino-Caucasian adult, as was the case with the Gabriel/Victor character. How in hell does that happen in real life? Indeed, Wikipedia says that EJ Falcon, who plays the adult Victor, is a Filipino-French mestizo.

Of course, I know that the story is fiction; but even fiction ought to be premised on believability.

Other than these, Dugong Buhay has been quite attentive to details. I was impressed, for instance, with last Friday’s festival scenes. The producers obviously did not shirk the costs of the street dancers along with the number of extras needed to make the festival believable.

I will not pretend that I know an awful lot about the actors in this series; and truth be told, I had to go to Google to be able to match the names with the faces. I consider this something of an advantage because it allows me to judge the calibre of acting without knowing of any reputations.

So far, I have been quietly impressed by the performances in Dugong Buhay, which can also mean that the series is being excellently directed. I only hope that the series delivers on what it promises; because it has promised a lot on its opening week.

More of the same, please!

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