Filmography: Alyas Baby Tsina (1984)

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Basic Information: Directed: Marilou Diaz-Abaya; Story: William C. Leary; Screenplay: Ricardo Lee; Cast: Vilma Santos, Rez Cortez, Rolando Tinio, Zeny Zabala, Cecille Castillo, Chanda Romero, Len Santos, Raquel Villavicencio, Johnny Delgado, Phillip Salvador, Caridad Sanchez, Maria Isabel Lopez, Dindo Fernando, Dexter Doria, Mary Walter, Vangie Labalan, Harlene Bautista; Executive producer: Vic del Rosario Jr.; Original Music: Willy Cruz; Cinematography: Manolo Abaya; Film Editing: Ike Jarlego Jr.; Production Design: Fiel Zabat; Art Direction: Charlie Arceo, Melchor Defensor, Jay Lozada; Sound: Vic Macamay

Plot Description: A woman hardened by the underworld, Elena Duavit falls in love with Roy, a notorious gang leader. Elena is raped by members of a rival gang who are killed in a gun battle with the police. Implicated, she goes into hiding with her boyfriend but is captured, resulting to a death sentence for Baby Tsina. This tested team-up of award-winning performers Vilma Santos and Philip Salvador gives credence to this true story that hit the headlines in the 60’s. From the educated direction of Marilou Diaz-Abaya and the cinematography by Manolo Abaya, the story is by perennial contest awardee Ricky Lee. – Pinoy Torrentz (READ MORE)

Film Achievement: 1984 FAP: Best Musical Score – Willy Cruz; Best Production Design – Fiel Zabat; 1984 FAMAS: Best Actor Nomination – Phillip Salvador; Best Supporting Actor Nomination – Dindo Fernando; Best Supporting Actress Nomination – Caridad Sanchez; 1984 Gawad Urian: Best Actor Nomination – Phillip Salvador; Best Cinematography Nomination – Manolo Abaya; Best Director Nomination – Marilou Diaz-Abaya; Best Editing Nomination – Ike Jarlego Jr.; Best Music Nomination – Willy Cruz; Best Production Design Nomination – Fiel Zabat; Best Sound Nomination – Vic Macamay; Best Supporting Actor Nomination – Dindo Fernando; Best Supporting Actor Nomination – Len Santos

Film Reviews: “…Ang istoryang ito ay matagal nang ikinukuwento sa akin ni William. Wala pa akong asawa, pangarap na ni William na magawa ang pelikula. He had the story at hand. Siya talaga ang nag-negotiate para makuha ang istorya. Noong una nga raw, ayaw pumayag ni Baby Tsina at ng kanyang asawa dahil gusto na nilang kalimutan yun. Eh, si William alam ko yan kung magpilit, tsaka personal kasi niyang kilala si Baby Tsina, nakuha rin ang istorya,” salaysay ni Vilma…”Noong una kong mabasa ang script, ayoko sanang maniwala na nangyari talaga yun. Masyadong cinematic, eh. Para bang sa pelikula at sa komiks lang nangyayari. Until the day nga that I met the real Baby Tsina. Nang siya na ang makuwento sa akin ng naging buhay niya, lalo na after the crime at sa loob Correctional, saka ko lang nalaman na ang nakalagay sa script ay kulang pa pala. Mas matindi ang istorya niya, pero hindi na maaring isamang lahat sa pelikula. Baka namang masyadong humaba eh. Malakas ang istorya. I think the story alone will sell the movie. Lalo na kung iisiping isa itong celebrated case at nasundan ng mga tao noon sa mga diyaryo. Front page stories pa raw lagi iyang si Baby Tsina noon eh…” – Ariel Francisco (READ MORE)

“…You know, I did a movie before, Baby Tsina, but I wasn’t really Chinese there. In Mano Po 3, I play Lilia Chong-Yang, a socially conscious anti-crime crusader and I get to know more about Chinese culture. We were even taught how to speak Fookien Chinese by a private tutor. Sa dubbing, the coach was there to make sure we’re perfect with our pronunciation of all our Chinese lines…” – Mario E. Bautista (READ MORE)

“…Marilou Diaz-Abaya will forever live with her magnum opuses like Brutal, Moral, Karnal, Muro Ami, Baby Tsina, Sa Pusod ng Dagat, Bagong Buwan and the multi-awarded period masterpiece Jose Rizal released in the ’90s and still gets screened to this day in schools and historical festivals even abroad…” – Ricardo F. Lo (READ MORE)

“…What Marc found out only recently was that none of the original copies of the films Marilou directed in the 1980s had been preserved. “While movies like ‘Moral’ (1982) and ‘Baby Tsina’ (1984) were all on VCDs, their original reels are nowhere to be found. It’s frustrating. Archiving is really bad here in the Philippines,” he said. Marilou’s debut film, “Tanikala,” was released in 1980…” – Marinel R. Cruz, Philippine Daily Inquirer, August 30, 2012 (READ MORE)

Like A Mother – “…Batangas Governor Vilma Santos, who was directed by Diaz-Abaya in one of her landmark films, said, “Direk Marilou was like a mother to me, especially on the set of ‘Baby Tsina.’ I remember that she would always bring for the cast members pandesal and Spanish sardines, which we ate before shooting. “I love her and her husband, Direk Manolo, who I always requested to be my cinematographer in all of my Eskinol commercials before. “The last time I saw Direk Marilou was at the wake of actor Johnny Delgado. She was already sick then. She was a fighter. She told me, “kaya ko ‘to! I pray for her family and for the eternal repose of her soul…” – Philippine Daily Inquirer, Oct 09 2012 (READ MORE)

“…All the performances in Baby Tsina leave vivid portraits in the mind. Under Abaya’s direction, the actors and actresses do not seem to act, rather we seem to discover them as human beings whom the camera has espied. Vilma Santos projects a lusty but touching portrait of Baby, a victim who greedily looks forward to deliverance from the night-to-night struggle for customers, thrashing about wildly when her savior is killed initiating her into an even more debasing condition. Phillip Salvador weaves in and out of the story capturing the sinister charm of the grubby but good-looking creatures of Manila’s underbelly. Dindo Fernando’s Jorge engages our attention in a portrayal that is by turns comic, caustic and warm indicating an actor governed by intelligence and respect for the dignity of the character he is playing. As Baby’s mother Nena, Caridad Sanchez radiates a tenseness that effectively projects her determination to keep her dignity against all odds. With Abaya as the controlling intelligence behind husband Manolo Abaya’s camera, Fiel Zabat’s sharp eye for the authentic look and detail of the period, the shanties and apartments, the restaurants and the dives, the streets and the alleyways and the teeming crowds that come and go, these are familiar images in Philippine art and life that in Baby Tsina appear more real and feel more real…” – Jojo Devera, Sari-Saring Sineng Pinoy (READ MORE)

“…While there is a palpable sense of femininity in these movies, Abaya abstains from sanctimonious pageantry and puts things in perspective. She raises concerns of women and the violence committed to them, but she also recognizes their shortcomings and susceptibility to moral hypnosis, their fates determined by their resolve or lack thereof. The world is unfair to women, but so is to men.Karnal, for instance, has a strong and suffocating depiction of patriarchy, the overbearing father played by Vic Silayan controlling not just the women of the house but also the men. It’s a horrifying picture of a family maddened by circumstances, and the woman whose importance in the story is emphasized leaves a disturbing impression of subsistence, coming out alive in the end but bereft of spirit. By contrast, Moral is a lighter but sharper piece, one whose observations on the struggles of present-day women, lost in the mazes they create for themselves, are relevant up to now. WhereasBrutal and Alyas Baby Tsina dwell on the criminal and psychological, overplaying hopelessness and suffering, Moral rims its characters by emphasizing their faulty nature, placing them in more realistic situations but with less defined solutions to their problems…” – Richard Bolisay, Lilok Pelikula, Oct 23 2012 (READ MORE)

Grueling Finale – “…Apolinario’s second feature can be regarded as an affirmation of heritage, that of Philippine cinema. Beholding the film’s exposition of life in the Cebu Provincial Detention and Rehabilitation Center, one is reminded that this film operates in Daboy (Rudy Fernandez) territory — wherein the outsider holds his individuality and his dignity amid the dehumanizing confines of prison, and its extension that is Philippine society. Yet for all its filth and insidious atmosphere of violence, there is nothing in this picture that is as harrowing as the prison life one sees in Mario O’Hara’s “Bulaklak sa City Jail,” or in the grueling finale of Marilou Diaz Abaya’s “Alyas Baby Tsina.” The solitary confinement endured, in one interlude, by Dingdong Dantes, Patrick Bergin and Joey Paras could have echoed the grimy horror of such detention as portrayed in “Baby Tsina,” to which its heroine (Vilma Santos) responds with a quiet, defiant fortitude — yet another striking facet of her long career with its comprehensive portrayal of the modern Filipina. Dingdong Dantes and Patrick Bergin, the renowned Irish actor, convey that Vilmanian, shall we say, serenity, amid their harsh confines — which, however, doesn’t look too harsh in this film, when one beholds that beautiful frame of a cockroach in its slow crawl on the dim prison floor…” – Ricky S. Torre, Rappler, 13 June 2013 (READ MORE)

Porcelain Skin – “…This is based on the story of Evelyn Duave, a woman who got sucked into a life of crime and eventually got jailed for murder. The Star For All Seasons plays the woman who was dubbed, “Baby Tsina” (or “Baby China” in court documents), simply because she looked Chinese. Other than that, there are no other Chinese references in the movie. Although, we have to say that Santos can easily pass for Chinese with her petite frame, porcelain skin, and delicate features. However, the movie is anything but delicate—what with the violent content…” – Spot, 23 Jan 2012 (READ MORE)

Production Values – “…Abaya and Lee’s next project, Alyas Baby Tsina/Alias Baby China (1984) was also based on a true legal story, that of Evelyn Duave Ortega, aka Baby Tsina. (She was called this alias in court documents because she looked Chinese. Otherwise there are no references to anything Chinese in her story or the film.) Duave was found guilty in 1971 of murder, and several appeals while on death row culminated in a Supreme Court decision seven years later that declared her innocent and released her from prison. A producer for major production company Viva had purchased the story rights and long wanted to turn the Duave story into an award-winning vehicle for superstar Vilma Santos. Abaya signed on and brought in Lee to adapt the story for film. As it turned out, as happens so often, the film strayed so far from the actual story, the producers might as well have spared themselves from paying story rights in the first place. The documents record that an Alfredo Bocaling was killed one night in a dark street by stabbing and hitting with blunt instruments. Accused of the killing were Baby China, a call girl, and her three male friends. She had allegedly told the men that Bocaling and his friend raped and robbed her and she wanted revenge. Their guilt by murder, adjudged by the Courts of First Instance and Appeal because of the consistency and corroborative nature of the three men’s confessions, were overturned by the Supreme Court due mainly to the inadmissibility of their extra-judicial confessions. The Supreme Court commuted their verdict from murder to homicide and their sentence from death penalty to reclusion perpetua. Baby herself, who did not confess, was found innocent after the extra-judicial confessions of the three men were rejected. One of course should never expect fidelity to an original story source, only a sense of integrity and believability in the adaptation. Did this adaptation succeed?In the struggle to fashion a crowd-pleasing story with an overarching social theme and an award-worthy role for its lead star, the film invented a number of characters and devices not in the actual story.

Baby’s lover Roy (Philip Salvador), with whom she plans to start a new life in America is fictional, and so is Roy’s death by shooting in a chase by rival gang members. In the real story all the principals were apprehended by the police while they were still in hiding. The Bocaling character has morphed into the film’s Toto (Johnny Delgado), a leader of an extortion syndicate that visits a sweeping wave of mass killings and rapes on Baby Tsina and her prostitute friends. The homicide scene of the real Bocaling is pumped up here into a chase and mass confrontation between gun-wielding gangs and the police. Neither did the real Baby (and Roy) seek refuge at the home of a lawyer friend, Jorge (played as an abugadong pulpol/cheap lawyer with sly wit by Dindo Fernando) where they debate the difference between what is law and what is right. When the fictional Baby is eventually committed to prison, she takes on a noble new role as resolute and impassioned advocate of more humane prison treatment for women, at one point making a speech before the whole prison population that spells out her message: “We are not robots that can be switched on and off! … We should be treated like human beings!” The film was a serious attempt to produce a work with significant social import that would be commercially entertaining all at the same time. But shoehorning the original into overused plotlines involving gang rivalries and populist heroine versus the system, add to this the blatant underlining of the “social message,” and credibility is lost, provoking instead a wearying wariness throughout the film. What succeeds in Baby Tsina is the care in production values that became such a prominent hallmark of Abaya’s works. It instilled trust in her, in that whether one liked her latest film or not, the keen attention to production design, lighting and photography at least showed that here was someone who took her craft and her audience seriously. With Baby Tsina, it is this gleaming surface, arising specially from Zabat’s production design and Manolo’s mood-infused lighting, that hints at authenticity and conviction that the narrative glaringly lacks…” – Asian Cine Vision (READ MORE)

Re-shoot of Alyas Baby Tsina – “…Ang payat mo” ang bungad naming bati sa kanya. “Kailangan kasi,” was her reply. “Medyo tumaba na nga ako ngayon. nahinto kasi ang shooting namin ng ilang days. You should’ve seen me a week ako. mas payat ako noon.” But it become her. Mas mukha siyang teenager. She sure that by now, alam na niyang kailangang lang magpapayat ni Vilma Santos para sa kanyang pelikulang ginagawa ngayon, ang Alyas Baby Tsina. Since she is in between pictures, kakaunti ang makikitang artikulo ngayon sa kanya. That’s why we have to write this progress report on her latest films. We asked her kung malapit nang matapos ang Baby Tsina. “Malayo pa eh,”she replied. “Ang dami kasi naming re-shoot. Sabi ni Marilou (Abaya, her director), May nasira raw ang ilang negatibo kaya’t kailangang ulitin. At last week of September, tapos na siguro. Did she like the movie? “Naku, malaking pelikula.”sambit niya. “Three acts kasi ‘yon. Inuna naming i-shoot ‘yung third act nang nakakulong na si Baby sa Correctional. Tapos we went back to perion noong prostiture pa lang siya. Ang hirap maging prostitute! Ngayon, we’re on the second act, love triangle kami nina Dindo Fernando at Philip Salvador…” – Mario E. Bautista, Movie Flash, 1984

“…Isa pang kasaysayan hango sa tunay na buhay, ang pelikulang ito ni Marilou Abaya. Bawat tagpo ay pinalabukan ng mabusising sinematograpiya at detalyadong disenyong pampelikula…” – Star Awards 1984

RELATED READING: Baby Tsina meets Baby Tsina

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