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10 Filipino Action Movies You Need to Watch

Fairlane is a devout Asian entertainment fan. On the side, she is a professional screenwriter and author.

Many Filipino movies during the late '70s and early '80s received attention overseas, particularly ones that depicted urban life in the country. The quality is seen to have petered out during the late '80s and '90s, as the industry focused more on easy-to-produce popcorn flicks and low-budget action fare.

However, over the past decade, Filipino filmmakers have gained access to Hollywood-level budgets, and on the other hand, indie filmmakers have also started making their own mark. This led to a resurgence of quality in the industry, and nowhere is this more apparent than in action movies. If you want a good sampling of quality Philippine Action movies, here are 10 films that you need to check out:


1. On The Job (OTJ)

OTJ tackles the subject of corruption among the police and government officials, with two prisoners serving as the focal points of the narrative: the young hot-blooded Daniel and his mentor-figure partner Mario. Both inmates work as hitmen for hire, and are periodically released from prison in order to perform their hits.

Why You Have to Watch It

  • The film is full of twists and turns without losing the plot. Betrayals and sudden reveals occur several times throughout the film.
  • OTJ features rom-com actors showing that they will make effective action stars under the right director and script.
  • The producers will most likely not admit it out of self-preservation, but the story seems to be based on real people and it shines a light on the corruption and bureaucracy that plagues the Philippines.
  • Lots and lots of gunfights that are stylish but aren’t over the top. Coupled with the gritty yet sleek cinematography, the film can be enjoyed as a pure popcorn action flick.

2. The Janitor

Based on the bloodiest bank heist in the history of the Philippines, The Janitor delves into the Mabuhay Savings Bank robbery in 2011, which left 10 employees dead and more than 10 million pesos stolen from the vaults. The film frames the narrative using an ex-cop who has been ordered to hunt down the perpetrators one by one.

Why You Need to Watch It

  • It’s based on a true story, but it doesn’t mean that the action is boring. There are a lot of adrenaline-pumping shootouts throughout the film, both in daylight and nighttime.
  • The film does not paint everything in black and white: the title “Janitor” refers to the fact that the protagonist is a law enforcer that has been tasked with going beyond the law in order to clean up a messy case, as the people behind the robbery have connections that would otherwise drag influential people down. The film ultimately questions if catching criminals justifies breaking the law itself.

3. Mistah

Mistah focuses on a platoon of Filipino soldiers who have been stationed away from their families, as they help fight against fellow countrymen who have chosen to fight against the government as rebels.

Why You Have to Watch It

  • If you like military warfare, the film might scratch your itch. It features tons of engagements between the protagonists and the rebel armies, and despite some of the cast members being popular '90s action stars, they have completely toned down the over-the-top acrobatics and gun ballet scenes that defined the '90s.
  • The film also tackles the sacrifices that soldiers need to make in order to serve their country, and delves into the conflict between Muslim rebels and Christian soldiers in some parts of the country. This is further made even more interesting by the fact that several of the protagonists are also followers of the Muslim faith themselves.

4. Squalor

Also known locally as Astig, Squalor focuses on four local tough guys who try to survive hand to mouth while living in the squalor and cruelty of Manila.

Why You Have to Watch It

  • The fight scenes in Squalor are mostly hand to hand, and they’re raw—you won’t see acrobatics or martial arts. Just a bunch of normal men pounding each other with their fists.
  • It’s a somewhat exaggerated look at the lives of juvenile delinquents in Manila, as well as the men that they eventually grow up into.

5. Boy Golden

Boy Golden is loosely based on the life of Arturo Porcuna, who became one of the most prominent gangsters in Manila’s underworld during the '60s.

Why You Have to Watch It

  • Don’t let the cheesy-looking poster fool you into thinking that this is a low-budget affair. Boy Golden in reality looks like it had the budget to make everything look good. It uses thematic lighting to great effect, and the attention to detail (remember that this is a period piece) in costumes, props, and settings are exceptional.
  • It’s a gangster film, so there are lots and lots of gunfights to be had. If you enjoy ambushes and gunfights between rival groups of gangsters, Boy Golden won’t disappoint you.

6. 10,000 Hours

Loosely based on the plight of Philippine Senator Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, 10,000 Hours tells the story of a senator who was forced to go on the run when his plan to reveal the names of corrupt government officials—which includes the President—was intercepted and his allies assassinated.

Why You Should Watch It

  • Ping Lacson’s story is already movie-worthy (he in fact has a movie made about his earlier years as chief of the Philippine National Police), but the film goes one step further as it provides a more action-oriented take on his most recent plight, which indeed implicated high government officials.
  • Robin Padilla got his start as an action star, but he has since developed a wide range of acting skills that include comedy and drama. 10,000 Hours allows him to showcase both his dramatic acting skills and to return to his roots as an action star.

7. Gangland

Gangland focuses on the lives of the teenage gangs that roam the streets of Manila, from their early lives (many of them came from middle-class families), to their criminal activities, and even to the day they meet their end.

Why You Have to Watch It

  • Gangland was released a full year before The Blair Witch Project made found footage films a genre on its own, but there were already handcam segments in the film, courtesy of some of the main characters holding videocams and choosing to film their exploits.
  • Realistic fight scenes. There’s none of the canned punch sounds that have become a staple of action films. The sounds of punches in Gangland are authentic—like pounds of meat hitting the ground. The brutal fight scenes prevent the activities from being glorified or sensationalized, as it is shown the way it truly is: uncomfortable and savage.

8. Kinatay

Kinatay is about a young criminology student who finds himself forced to join a crime syndicate in order to earn money for his family.

Why You Have to Watch It

  • Despite being a low-budget film, the cinematography is excellent. The majority of the film is set at night, but the use of differently-hued lighting prevents visibility from being affected. You can still see everything and understand what is happening.
  • There are scenes with gore and violence, but they’re necessary to the story and the camera doesn’t linger if the story doesn’t ask for it.

9. Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles

Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles is about a family, their future son-in-law and a family friend, who are all trapped in their home as they are laid siege by an entire clan of Aswangs (flesh-eating and shapechanging monsters from Philippine folklore.)

Why You Should Watch It

  • It’s got everything you need in a popcorn flick: a thin but enjoyable plot, martial arts, gunfights, scary monsters, a heavy dose of humor that isn’t out of place, and eye candy for both men and women, courtesy of the two lead actors.
  • The film uses CG effects to great effect. It doesn’t aim for realism, instead going for a stylish comic-book feel similar to 300.

10. Metro Manila

Metro Manila follows family man Oscar Ramirez, who takes his family to Metro Manila in order to escape poverty but ends up falling victim to city con-men. He soon lands a job in an armored truck company, but his senior officer recruits him into a far more lucrative yet illegal opportunity.

Why You Should Watch It

  • The visuals in the film are top-notch, from the lush greeneries in the province to the dizzying grays of Metro Manila’s urban landscape.
  • There’s twists and turns galore, and some really tense moments during the film’s final action scenes.