"Ronwaldo Reyes" (Fernando Poe Jr.)
This one's been on my radar for quite a well so I was glad to see a decent print is finally available with English subtitles! Based on a late 70s Conan the Barbarian-inspired comic book series by Carlo J. Caparas and Steve Gan, which reportedly sold millions of copies in its day and remains very popular in the Philippines, this nearly 2-hour-long fantasy adventure (with plentiful horror content, of course) was a huge hit in its home country and the very first in a long line of film and TV adaptations (see list below).
In a small, unnamed village, the locals have been enslaved by the evil, elusive fascist Don Lizardo (Max Alvarado), who's rumored to be a 300-year-old creature, and his legion of minions, including armed redcoat guards posted everywhere led by the equally wretched Pilo (Paquito Diaz). The defeated and depressed villagers are being forced to work long hours in the fields and do various other jobs (including panning for gold) and are subjected to constant ridicule, abuse, death threats, public hangings and, for the women, rape attempts. As for trying to run away, that's nearly impossible, too. No one has successfully left and it's rumored that a mystical stone in the ocean will kill anyone who attempts to try.
Our hero Flavio (Poe) has just about had enough. He lives a quiet-as-possible-under-the-circumstances life in a small country shack along with the elder Tata Temio (Lito Anzures), who was the former village blacksmith, and Temio's two orphaned grandchildren: pretty teenager Monica (Liz Alindogan) and the annoying little Lando (Bentot Jr.). Flavio's job as blacksmith also requires being forced to brand an "X" on young children with a hot iron to mark them as Lizardo's property. Everyone in the village has this mark except for Monica, whom Temio claims died as an infant but has kept hidden away all this time. One of the young boys Flavio is forced to brand ends up dying and thus begins his desire to rebel against orders dished out by Pilo. He drowns two guards who attempt to rape Monica and refuses to brand another child, even if it means getting beaten to a bloody pulp and threatened with death.
An ancient book called "The Black Codex," that's been hidden under an old tree for centuries, is unearthed during an earthquake and located by Tata Temio. Its prophecies promise deliverance for the slaves in the form of a blacksmith (guess who?) and will start with a fiery light coming from the sky. One evening, a flaming meteor falls right in their backyard. They melt it down, add human blood (as per directions found in the codex) and fashion a dagger from the molten material. The powerful, magical dagger (which can transform itself into a sword when needed) will now only yield to Flavio and can be used to take on the forces of evil.
Flavio starts his quest by capturing Pilo and all of his men and branding them with a "P." He, Tata Temio, Monica and Lando then go on a quest to kill off all of the evil beings who've been responsible for enslaving them. Their first visit is to an evil sorcerer who wears a Ming the Merciless get-up and lives in a great hilltop, oceanfront shack decorated with bones and stuffed birds. The sorcerer, who wants to gain control of the codex, transforms into a young seductress (Martha Sevilla) and then a muscular warrior (Max Laurel) to fight Flavio but is no match for the dagger. They locate a door to the underworld inside the sorcerer's home, which leads to all kinds of encounters with various bad guys and horror monsters.
The biggest issue here is the length and the pacing. This takes forever to get going, setting aside an entire plodding, repetitive hour to cover the characters' plight under Pilo and his henchmen. The second major problem is that the final showdown with Lizardo ends up being a disappointment. Instead of being intimidating, he's an obnoxious, sweaty, slovenly guy and the role is performed in a campy OTT cliché "comic book villain" fashion that doesn't fit the serious tone of the rest of the film. Not only that, but he appears much too weak to exert the kind of control he has and is easily defeated once his army is out of the way. Given his name, I have to admit that I was also a bit bummed he didn't transform into a giant lizard or something! There's both flat acting and overacting, the score is kind of grating and various technical issues rear their head every once in awhile, though this is still technically a better-made film than I'd anticipated.
All that said, there's enough cool stuff in here to certainly merit at least one viewing, starting with two very fun scenes featuring zombies. One takes place on a beach in the broad daylight, features a very early example of "running zombies" and has them killing, ripping apart and eating two guys. The second takes place in a foggy cemetery at night where zombies emerge from the ground and attack. Possibly even better that those scenes is a great bit where Lando is stalked by a floating, pale-faced vampire / ghost woman who turns into a tree branch (?!) after she's stabbed. They also throw in a swordfighting ninja army, a cockfight and a random, Bollywood-style love song musical number. The sets are quite good and, perhaps the film's greatest virtue, the outdoor shooting locations and backdrops are frequently beautiful and surprisingly well-framed by the cameraman.
There were three immediate sequels, all produced, directed by and starring Poe: Pagbabalik ng Panday / "Return of the Blacksmith" (1981), Ang panday: Ikatlong yugto / "The Blacksmith: Chapter Three" (1982) and Ang Panday IV: Ika-Apat Na Aklat / "The Blacksmith 4: The Fourth Book" (1984), as well as an animated TV series in 1987, which was also the very first animated series produced in the Philippines. Many of the supporting actors here not only reprised their roles in the film sequels but also provided the voice for their character on the animated show. Unfortunately, I don't believe any of the sequels are currently available in English and the copy of the second film that I found online is in terrible condition. Hopefully one day these will all be restored.
Later, there were other sequels, spin-offs and remakes, including Dugo ng Panday / "Blood of the Blacksmith" (1993) starring Ramon "Bong" Revilla Jr., the comedic Pandoy: Ang Alalay ng Panday / "Pandoy: The Blacksmith's Apprentice" (1993) starring Joey de Leon, Hiwaga ng Panday / "Mystery of the Blacksmith" (1998) starring Jinggoy Estrada, Ang Panday (2009) and its 2011 sequel again starring Revilla, and Ang Panday (2017) starring Coco Martin. There were also additional live action TV shows made from the comic in 2005, 2010 (a kid's series titled Panday Kids) and 2017.