US-based Filipino producer Francis Lara Ho and Filipino-American actor-director Michael Copon are collaborating for the period film "1521." A period film set during the Spanish occupation of the Philippines, leading the cast of actors in the movie are Filipinas Bea Alonzo and Maricel Laxa-Pangilinan and Hollywood's Hector David Jr. of the "Power Ranges" fame and the incomparable Danny Trejo ("Con Air," "Machete" and "From Dusk till Dawn").
Set for release in 2023, the movie will depict a clandestine love story amid this epic clash of Ferdinand Magellan's army and pre-colonial Filipinos more than 500 years ago.
"1521 started with a desire to make a Filipino story of heroism, hope and honor for mainstream," Ho explained during a virtual media conference.
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"Three or four years ago, during Memorial Day in May, I wanted to teach my children what it means to become a hero, and I thought about the ultimate sacrifice the Americans and Filipinos made here in Puerto Princessa during World War 2.
"It dawned on me that very moment that no one is really telling the stories of our nation and our people. If no one steps up, how will our stories be told?"
Ho then proceeded to figure out which parts of Philippine history have not been highlighted and soon found an ally in the director Copon.
"We met in Washington and made all these great connections with other filmmakers, but bonded most on our same desire to tell the story of the Filipino to a wider audience," Ho continued.
What started out as a plan to develop a documentary turned into a full feature.
"1521" opens with the character Didi or Diwata (Alonzo), who dreams of being transported to pre-colonial Philippines while exploring the ruins of an ancient Spanish fort.
In her dream, she becomes a native princess who falls in love with Magellan's (Trejo) handsome translator Enrique (David). As expected, their romance gets caught up in the conflict.
Amid their love story, the historical events will be largely told from the perspective of Lapu-Lapu — regarded the first Filipino hero for leading the retaliation that defeated the Spaniards.
Copon, who has acted in several hit US series ("One Tree Hill," "Beyond the Break" and "Power Rangers Time Force") will portray the role of Lapu-Lapu besides directing 1521.
Copon said he took on the movie project to do his part in highlighting Filipino history and culture.
"People don't know what happened to Magellan. Some people in America think he just died. And a lot of times, the history of the Philippines gets pushed under the rug, unnoticed, which led to this passion passion of ours to embrace those stories and embrace the culture," he elaborated.
"If you think about it, through time, we had Bruce Lee represent the Kung Fu culture. So we have amazing stories of the samurai and 'Saving Private Ryan' too for the Americans. But we never hear much about the Philippine war heroes."
In filling these great gaps in people's knowledge, what Copon finds all the more fulfilling is to be able to raise the his Filipino heritage and culture at the same time.
"That's the reason I took this on because it's a no brainer. I've been wanting to do this my entire life."
He added that the making of the movie will prove historic in itself because it is the first time a Hollywood director and producer are working on a Filipino period movie with both Hollywood and Filipino stars in the cast.
Asked how the production came to cast Bea Alonzo, Copon said the actress was an easy choice because of her impressive filmography.
"When I found out who she is and what she's accomplished thus far, it got me excited that I'd be directing Bea's first international movie. With her success and her talent, she's the right one for Diwata," the director enthused.
Copon furthered that the romance between Diwata and Enrique will be the "heart and soul" of the story and as such makes Alonzo's role very important.
"We didn't want to make a movie that is just about the battle and the war," he explained.
Ho, in agreeing with his director, stated that 1521 will not strictly be a historical movie.
"We did a lot of research and consulted a lot of historical experts about the events that unfold but, we want to make this very clear — we are not making a historical movie. We are not talking 'Bonifacio' or 'Goyo' here. This is really a love story like 'Pocahontas' and 'Romeo and Juliet' intertwined. It's inspired by historical moments yes, but it's not necessarily a historical film."
1521 will be shot entirely in Palawan, which Ho and Copon picked for its scenic beaches and mountains. A proud Palaweño, Ho hopes to provide more opportunities to his kababayan there by bringing the movie project.
"I was actually pleasantly surprised when we did the casting that there are quite a few Palaweños who are really incredible in talent. They just need opportunities and that's what we are bringing here," Ho said.
"1521" is scheduled for release on June 12, 2023, coinciding with the 125th celebration of Philippine Independence Day.