Philippines in Pop Culture: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Random

Time and again, we Filipinos have proven our toughness and resilience in the face of life's misfortunes – calamities, disasters, idiocy of some public officials. Despite this strong Filipino spirit, however, we're a pretty sensitive bunch. The smallest mention of anything Filipino elicits kilig, while the tiniest slight at our country, culture, or fellow Filipinos incites rage.

In recognition of our balat-sibuyas (and perhaps emotional instability), here’s a rundown of twelve good, bad, ugly, but mostly, random appearances of the Philippines in pop culture.

Medal of Honor, Warfighter

The Medal of Honor video game franchise gets a reboot in Medal of Honor, Warfighter. The game is set in “real world terror threat” places often glazed over by mainstream media -- and you know what they say, it's more fun in the Philippines! Gameplay is mapped out in Tungawan Jungle in Zamboanga, where Tier-1 ops take on homegrown terrorist group Abu Sayyaf. 


Should it be a cause for concern that the Philippines might be portrayed as a terrorist country? Do we trust that we, as well as Somalia, Pakistan, Yemen, and other nations, will be depicted with care? Or is it just a harmless video game after all? Maybe we shouldn't be talking terrorism in the Philippines on the heels of 2012 Hollywood film, Act of Valor.

Act of Valor

Act of Valor tells the heroic story of the US Navy Seals' mission to recover a kidnapped CIA agent. Sounds like a typical American anti-terrorism film? Wrong! Some of the terrorists involved were Filipinos! Some people immediately labelled it as an “act of anti-Filipino prejudice,” alleging that we were racially profiled as terrorists, while others simply argued that just as not all Muslims are terrorists, not all Filipinos are either. Maybe we should give humans a little more credit.


Apocalypse Now

Francis Ford Coppola's 1979 masterpiece has been hailed one time or another as one of the finest films of modern times. The epic war film about the Vietnam War starring Marlon Brando, Robert Duvall, and Martin Sheen, was actually filmed in several areas in Luzon. Even Philippine weather wanted to make the film shoot unforgettable as one Typhoon Olga swooped in and wrecked Coppola's movie sets in Iba, Zambales. Local Ifugaos served as extras in the film, along with a local ritual where a poor kalabaw was hacked to death by a machete -- a scene Coppola was lucky to have caught on film.

Francis Ford Coppola directing in Pagsanjan

An Officer and a Gentleman

Before Richard Gere was picking up prostitutes in Pretty Woman, he appeared in An Officer and A Gentleman where he played Zack Mayo, a young man who was living in the Philippines with his US Navy Officer dad. In the film's opening scene, young Zack falls victim to petty theft when he gets mugged by some Pinoy toughies who wanted to "gut that sonuvab*%$^!"

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Desperate Housewives

The Filipino medical community was enraged by the US comedy-drama when in 2007, Teri Hatcher's character Susan Mayer let loose a racial slur. When her doctor says she might be hitting menopause, she responds with, "Before we go any further, can I check those diplomas? Cause I want to make sure they're not from some med school in the Philippines." Upon violent reactions from Filipinos and Fil-Ams in the medical field, even from ex-president GMA's Executive Secretary, ABC network issued an apology and recalled the episode to cut out that line.


Little did loudmouthed Rachel Berry know that this pint-sized diva has an explosive voice.


Keanu Reeves plays John Constantine, an exorcist who can communicate with angels and demons. Early in the movie, Constantine tries to rid a possessed girl from a demon when she says, in Hollywood's go-to demonic voice, "Papatayin natin sila." Woah! The devil speaks Tagalog!

The Dictator

Sasha Baron-Cohen's latest comedy The Dictator didn't spare us Filipinos from straight-up racism and political incorrectness. Personally, I don't take any offense from liking to talk, work, and sh*t -- I find it quite accurate, don't you? However, Baron-Cohen could use some tips from Russell Peters on mastering his Asian accents.

Brokedown Palace

Back in 1999, Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale portrayed best friends who were caught in a drug bust while on vacation in Thailand. The movie, Brokedown Palace, was filmed in several impoverished locations in Manila. After shooting the movie, Danes told Premiere Magazine that Manila "just f*%$ing smelled of cockroaches. There's no sewage system in Manila, and people have nothing there. People with, like, no arms, no legs, no eyes, no teeth. Rats were everywhere." She was also quoted in Vogue describing Manila as "a ghastly and weird city." Many people reacted violently to her sharp tongue, including Hollywood A-listers and even then-president Estrada, who wanted to ban her from setting foot on the Philippines.

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And no, we don't mean Survivor Philippines hosted by Richard Gutierrez. We mean the 25th season of the American reality show that started it all. It's been a long time coming, but Jeff Probst and the Survivor team has finally landed on our shores. But they are by no means the first to set foot on Caramoan to film the reality show. Caramoan is a favourite for the different franchises of Survivor, including Serbia, Israel, Bulgaria, Sweden, and France. Outwit, outplay, outlast - in any language - is definitely more fun in the Philippines!


As much as you'd like to deny it, Stephanie Meyer's Twilight is an international bestseller. And somewhere in those pages, she mentions the Danag, a creature taken from Filipino lore. We don't know how accurately Meyer portrays the danag because most Filipinos aren't familiar with it themselves. The most we can hope for is that the vampires this side of the world don't sparkle.


The Bourne Legacy

Even before The Bourne Legacy was released in cinemas, Filipinos were abuzz when Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz arrived in Manila to film parts of the movie. I even routed myself through Aurora Boulevard to catch a glimpse of their shoot. Unfortunately, all I saw was our everyday tangle of jeepneys, motorcycles, and buses -- and that's also exactly what went onto the big screen. At the first mention of Manila, the entire theatre sniggered with excitement. The gritty portrayal of our city was as true as they come, sans our security guards speaking with an American twang.

Do you feel the Philippines was wrongly played in some entries in the list? Sound it off below!

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