Last Saturday, I got the chance to experience another fun and educational tour with the one and only, Carlos Celdran. I’ve been to his Walk This Way Intramuros Tour and Walk This Way Livin La Vida Imelda Tour  and I enjoyed both tours so when got invited to a Movie Tour of Manila, I jumped at the chance. This time, I invited Jordan to take the tour with me.

The movie tour was spearheaded by the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) in cooperation with the Digital Film Program and the Architecture Program of the De La Salle-College. It focused on the architecture of the places featured in local and international films.

What a very nice modern architecture this Benilde building is!

It was a walking tour but there was a bus provided for the attendees since our first stop was in Kalaw, Manila.

While we were on the bus, Carlos gave us a brief background of the Philippines, particularly Manila. He spoke about how our local language and even the names of the places in the Metro revealed a lot about our past. For instance, we have places called Sta. Ana or San Agustin because we were once under the reign of the Spaniards and we have places called Taft Avenue or Beverly Hills, or New York, Cubao because of the Americans who took over the Philippines afterwards. Interesting right? 

We passed by Roxas Boulevard on our way to our first tour stop. This road has been featured in a number of movies both international and local. This part of the city can be seen in movies such as Ishmael Bernal’s Filipino Gawad Urian Award Winnning drama film Manila by Night, Lino Brocka’s 1971 Stardoom, Big Shot (1956), Tisoy (1977) starring Jay Ilagan and Christopher De Leon, Victory Joe (1946) and Babae sa Breakwater (2003). 

According to Carlos, back in the day, Manila was considered to be an upscale city. In Ermita, everyone spoke English! Escolta was considered to be the equivalent of Greenbelt 5 and you could only land a job there if you are tisay/tisoy. The former first lady of the Philippines, Imelda Marcos used to be a sales lady in Escolta. So very different from what it is now! 

First stop was at the newly re-opened Luneta Hotel. The old Luneta Hotel was featured in a Chuck Norris movie called Delta Force. But it was supposed to be a hotel in Hanoi, Vietnam.

View from the top of the window of Luneta Hotel

A bit of history about Luneta Hotel

Back in the old days, one of the favorite past times of the Manilenos especially on a Sunday is to watch a movie. But thanks to the advent of DVDs, Internet and basically just the changing of culture, independent movie houses like the Luneta Theater closed down. This theater is now just used as a storage.

If you’ve been an avid movie viewer of Pinoy films, you’d notice that the city of Manila has been pictured as a dark, dangerous and scary place. One good example of a movie that portrays a place in Manila like that is Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag, specifically Luneta Park. Carlos took us there and these are the views that we saw:

Luneta Park’s very nice isn’t it? I haven’t been to this park in years! Now is that a place that’s scary, dangerous and dark? Manilenos also liked to take strolls in the park in the past every Sunday. 

We also went to Manila Hotel. Built in 1912, this hotel has also appeared in a couple of Hollywood films such as Year of Living Dangeously starring Sigourney Weaver and Mel Gibson. It’s a 1982 drama film about a love affair set in Indonesia during the overthrow of President Sukarno. It also appeared in the film called Brokedown Palace (1999) which starred Kate Beckinsale and Claire Danes, a film that dealt with two American friends that got imprisoned in Thailand for drugs. Threw in a couple of Buddha statues and voila! Instantly, viewers are suddenly made to believe it was actually a hotel in Thailand. The movie was never shown in the Philippines because actress Claire Danes called Manila a “ghastly” city which made her persona non grata in the country.

Famous people have stayed in this hotel from the likes of Lea Salonga, Lana Turner, Bob Hope and Sammy Davis Jr. The 1996 film Robo Warriors shot various city scenes in Manila including a high-end hotel dinner scene shot at the Manila Hotel’s Ilang-Ilang Cafe. Manila looked a lot like America in the old days that’s why Hollywood films liked using us a location then. Everyone spoke English and there were a lot of tisoys! Here’s another trivia: We were the first to subcontract movies to the U.S.! But that changed with the 1987 Constitution under President Corazon Aquino which stated that foreign ownership can only be 40% and 60% Filipino.

The Manila Post Office served as a background for a Richard Gomez and Regine Velasquez movie entitled Ikaw Lamang Hanggang Ngayon.
If you’re wondering how in the world did Manila ended up becoming portrayed as an appalling place? It’s because of World War 2 when the U.S. battled the Japanese, in an attempt to drive them out of the Philippines. You see, according to Carlos Celdran, the Japanese had this belief that “If you can’t go down in dignity, everybody goes with you” and so since the US didn’t give the Japanese the chance to leave with dignity, the latter murdered thousands of Filipinos which resulted in the US bombing us to stop the Japanese. That’s how we abandoned the walled city of Manila and traded it for the walled cities of Makati (Forbes Park) and Pasig (Valle Verde). Also did you guys know that Intramuros back then had 7 churches? But the bombing also destroyed them. Kill the churches, kill the soul – that’s how Manila became known as the “Kuko ng Liwanag”.
One particular Hollywood movie that showed the ruins of Manila after the war was Victory Joe (1946). Brillante Mendoza’s films will also show you the poverty forms of Manila.
This is the Jones Bridge and this was featured in the blockbuster action Hollywood movie, The Bourne Legacy starring Jeremy Renner. The famous motorcycle chase was shot here.

You know what I found out? Jeremy Renner actually did most of his motorcycle stunts in the movie because he’s a really good motorcyle rider. And thanks to Bourne Legacy, the Philippines is back on the map! We’re now being considered again by Hollywood production companies as a movie location. The producers of Muhammad Ali biopic are looking at the Philippines for their location!
The last stop of the tour was at Escolta. This place is what Tomas Morato Quezon City is now – all the production houses were located in Escolta before!
Capitol, another movie house that bit the dust with the changing of times
There’s actually a move to revive Escolta. If you’re free on July 5, check out SelfiEscolta. It’s going to be a whole day long festival with music, arts and free tours. We checked out a museum inside the Calvo Building in Escolta where you can see print ads of old Philippine films, music sheets and even old bottles of beer and soda.

Did you also know that in the old days, watching movies was a social event? This meant you sit inside a theater and it’s all noisy and chaotic! Vendors are everywhere while the movie is ongoing, people talk out loud and no one will shush you. Can’t imagine sitting through a movie like that! I probably wouldn’t understand what I’m watching. Thank goodness for the American concept of quiet cinema.
I had a lot of fun learning about the city of Manila through films. It was worth getting up early in the morning on a Saturday!