Manila in the Claws of Light

Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lino Brocka
Produced by
Screenplay by Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr.
Based on In the Claws of Brightness
by Edgardo M. Reyes
Music by Max Jocson
Cinematography Miguel de Leon
Edited by
  • Edgardo Jarlego
  • Ike Jarlego
Distributed by Cinema Artists Philippines
Release dates
  • 16 July 1975 (1975-07-16)
  • 7 August 2013 (2013-08-07) (re-release)
Running time
125 minutes
Country Philippines
Language Tagalog

Manila in the Claws of Light[1] (Filipino: Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag) is a 1975 Filipino drama film directed by Lino Brocka based on the novel In the Claws of Brightness by Edgardo M. Reyes. It is considered by many as one of the greatest films of Filipino cinema.

It stars Hilda Koronel, Lou Salvador, Jr., Tommy Abuel, and in his film debut, Bembol Roco (credited as Rafael Roco, Jr.). The cinematography is by Miguel de Leon, who would later become a renowned director himself.


Júlio Madiaga is a probinciano, a young rustic from the island of Marinduque, who arrives in Manila. From time to time, Júlio would pass by the corner of Ongpin and Misericordia, as he stares at a peculiar building from a distance. While pursuing his quest, he has to work in order to survive the conditions of the urban jungle.

At first, Júlio lands a job as a construction worker. Not used to such labour, he falls unconscious due to fatigue and hunger. In the site, he befriends Atong, a fellow construction worker who was hired some five weeks before. Another co-worker advises Júlio that city life is quite difficult unless one has the income to enjoy urban comforts. Júlio begins to slowly observe the harsh reality of society, even witnessing the accidental death of one of the workers.

One day, while Júlio and Atong are shopping for clothes in the marketplace, a fat lady dressed in black and wearing sunglasses catches Júlio's attention. The lady reminds him of Mrs Cruz—the woman who brought his childhood sweetheart, Ligaya, to Manila for schooling. Júlio immediately runs through the crowd to follow the woman, and locates her. He tries to approach her, but before he could even say anything, the lady shrieks in distress. Júlio flees in order to prevent making a scene, running back to Atong and leaving the marketplace with him.

This was followed by other chance encounters with Mrs Cruz, leading him to discover that Ligaya was, in fact, brought to the capital for prostitution. Ligaya explains everything to Julio upon their reunion. Julio plots with Ligaya of their return to Marinduque. Both agree to meet at Arranque. However, Ligaya fails to appear at the appointed time.

Júlio returns to the house of a friend, Pol, who informs him the next day that Ligaya had died in the night; having fallen down a flight of stairs during a struggle with Ah-Tek, the brothel owner. Enraged, Júlio stalks Ah-Tek, who he saw at Ligaya's funeral, and successfully dispatches his target. Seeing Julio's crime, a mob pursues and eventually corners him; the film ends with a slow motion close-up of Júlio's terrified face, just as his assailants are about to strike.



The film is based on a story, Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (lit. "In the Claws of Brightness'"), written by Edgardo Reyes. It was originally serialized in Liwayway magazine from 1966 to 1967, and was later published into a novel.

The adaptation in to film originally started out life as a writing exercise. In 1970, Ateneo de Manila graduate Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. re-enrolled in his alma mater to take a short course in film writing. There, he wrote Pepot Artista (a screenplay he would later revisit in the 2000s). Del Mundo finished his script for Pepot Artista, which was supposed to be a major assignment, by the middle of the semester; earlier than what was expected. His professor, Nestor Torre, requested him to make another screenplay as way of filling in the extra time. Because he had just written an original screenplay, Del Mundo tried his hand at adapting a literary source for a change. He chose Reyes' story, already a novel by then, as the subject for his next assignment. After turning in the spec script, Del Mundo completed his course and relocated to the United States to continue his studies at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas.

Mike de Leon, grandson to Narcisa de Leon of LVN Pictures, has directed one short film and intended to expand his role in the film industry, namely as a producer. De Leon had just put up a new production company, Cinema Artists, and was in the process of seeking out projects. Eventually, De Leon remembered of Del Mundo's trial adaptation. Having been friends since their days at Ateneo de Manila, De Leon contacted Del Mundo with the idea of producing the latter's spec script. Del Mundo, who just returned from his four-year course in Kansas, gave De Leon his blessing and agreed to further polish the screenplay. "It was the right time," Del Mundo recalls.

Lino Brocka, who had just received acclaim for his previous work, The Human Imperfections, was approached by De Leon to direct the adaptation. Brocka took this as an opportunity to create a scathing commentary about the urban poverty amidst the Marcos administration, and never hesitated to include his trademark homosexual theme in to the story. Brocka (a homosexual man himself) requested Del Mundo to rework on a few scenes to accommodate such approaches, which were never present in the original source. Other significant revisions were made, such as condensing the structure and adding more dramatic weight to the narrative. “Brocka understood the popular audience well," Del Mundo says. "He suggested additions to the screenplay [of The Claws of Light] to make it more commercial. It was fun working with him, although he was quite emotional.”

The production title was eventually changed from Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag to Maynila, sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag (lit. translation: Manila in the Claws of Light) to emphasize on the setting of the story.

An independent production, The Claws of Light was produced with a modest budget. Principal photography occurred in 1974. The film was shot on actual locations around the vicinity of Manila, to better capture the authenticity of the city.

Jay Ilagan, who had previously acted in Brocka's films, initially played the lead role of Julio Madiaga. Having already participated in several days of shooting, Ilagan was asked to drop out of the production when Brocka became dissatisfied with the performance. Upon viewing the dailies, Brocka was convinced that Ilagan, who had a very healthy appearance, did not meet his vision of Julio—a pitiful vagrant that wades in and around the urban gutters. The role was re-casted with newcomer Bembol Roco in the part. Prior to this film, Roco's only foray in to acting was a relatively small role in Brocka's previous film, Three, Two, One. For this film, he was credited under his real name of Rafael Roco, Jr. The Claws of Light marked what would become the first lead role for Roco.

To play the love of Julio's life, Brocka did not have to look too far. The role of Ligaya Paraiso was a natural choice for his protégé, Hilda Koronel. Lou Salvador, Jr., a former matinee idol famous for playing angst-ridden romantic leads in LVN's teen rebel pictures, was cast against type as the wise and sympathetic Atong. Character actor Tommy Yap nabbed the role of the rarely-seen antagonist, Ah-Tek. Yap would later appear—albeit less significantly—in Brocka's Insiang, alongside Koronel. Majority of the actors that round out the film, such as Tommy Abuel and Joonee Gamboa, were veterans of both the stage and radio.


Many who have seen The Claws of Light have speculated on the symbolism of the characters, which is hinted at in their names. For example, some comment that Ligaya Paraiso represents Inang Bayan, the Filipino concept of the motherland. Her name, which literally reads "joy[ful] paradise", is a reference to how Julio viewed his lover as an ideal paradise, and her given name is a nod to her newfound yet unwelcome occupation as a "lady of pleasure".

Julio Madiaga himself is regarded as a symbol of the provincial Filipino everyman, eking out a living in the hard conditions of the city. His surname is an archaic variant of matiyagâ ("patience”), a trait obvious in his hope-filled and persistent search for Ligaya.

Mrs. Cruz's surname simply means "cross", pointing to the heavy burden she places on the shoulders of the young girls she lures into prostitution. Since the character's name is later revealed to be an alias, it could also mean that the name was chosen, as Cruz is a common surname in the Philippines, representing how easily she could walk around the streets of Manila without detection. The name of the antagonist Ah Tek, meanwhile, is a play on the colloquial term atík, ("cash"; a transposition of kità, or income) representing the greed and selfishness of the character.

The city itself is sometimes considered to be the main character instead of Julio and the others, while the film is also construed as a portrait of one man's corruption and eventual downfall.


Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, reports that 100% of five surveyed critics gave the film a positive review; the average rating is 8.4/10.[2] Manohla Dargis of The New York Times made it a "NYT Critics' Pick" and wrote, "The movie's palpable, deeply lived-in realism is among its great attractions, largely because the film isn’t just a story about a young Filipino Everyman, but because it’s also a de facto record of Manila in the 1970s."[3] Inkoo Kang of The Village Voice wrote, "The intimate proletarian melodrama The Claws of Light succeeds where so many political allegories fail: With ethical and emotional sophistication, it dramatizes the suffering of the disadvantaged with characters that feel individual yet archetypal."[4] Keith Uhlich of Time Out New York rated it 4/5 stars and wrote that it is "widely (and understandably) considered one of the pinnacles of Filipino cinema".[5] Alan Jones of Slant Magazine rated it 4.5/5 stars and called the film a precursor to A Touch of Sin.[6]

Awards and recognition

The film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor at the 1976 FAMAS awards.

The Claws of Light is one of the few Filipino films that has been consistently placed among the world's top 100 films of all time. It is the only film from the Philippines that entered in the list of the book, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

It was shown as part of the Cannes Classics section of the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.[7]


In 2013, The Claws of Light was restored in 4K resolution. The restoration is done by World Cinema Foundation and the Film Development Council of the Philippines at Cineteca di Bologna/ L’Immagine Ritrovata laboratory, in association with LVN, Cinema Artists Philippines and Mike de Leon. The restored film first premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Cinema Classics section and was released in the Philippines on August 7, 2013.

See also


  1. "Pelikulang "Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag", itinanghal sa Cannes Film Festival". GMA News. 2013-05-20. Retrieved 2015-10-07. Newly restored "Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag" (Manila in the Claws of Light) to premier in Cannes Film Festival 2013
  2. "Manila In The Claws Of Light (1975)". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 2015-05-25.
  3. Dargis, Manohla (2014-02-05). "Small Dreams Set Afire on Marcos-Era Streets". The New York Times. Retrieved 2015-05-25.
  4. Kang, Inkoo (2014-02-05). "Lino Brocka's Masterwork Manila in the Claws of Light Returns to the Big Screen". The Village Voice. Retrieved 2015-05-25.
  5. Uhlich, Keith (2015-02-04). "Manila in the Claws of Light". Time Out New York. Retrieved 2015-05-25.
  6. Jones, Alan (2014-02-01). "Manila in the Claws of Light". Slant Magazine. Retrieved 2015-05-25.
  7. "Cannes Classics 2013 line-up unveiled". Screen Daily. Retrieved 2013-04-30.
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