The Claws of Light

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Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Lino Brocka
Produced by Miguel de Leon
Severino Manotok
Written by Edgardo M. Reyes (novel)
Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. (screenplay)
Starring Bembol Roco
Hilda Koronel
Lou Salvador, Jr.
Juling Bagabaldo
Tommy Abuel
Music by Max Jocson
Cinematography Miguel de Leon
Edited by Edgardo Jarlego
Ike Jarlego
Distributed by Cinema Artists Philippines
World Cinema Foundation and Film Development Council of the Philippines (re-released)
Release dates 16 July 1975
7 August 2013 (re-release)
Running time 125 minutes
Country Philippines
Language Tagalog

The Claws of Light (Filipino: Maynila sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag; lit. Manila at the Claws of Light; practical translation: Manila at the Verge of Dawn) 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 were shopping for clothes in the marketplace, a fat lady dressed in black and wearing sunglasses catches Júlio's attention. The lady reminded 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 narrated everything to him upon their reunion, and he decided to return to his island. Both agreed to meet at Arranque when Ligaya brought with her the baby; she eventually failed to appear at the appointed time.

Júlio returns to the house another good friend, Pol, who informs him the next day that Ligaya had died in the night. Enraged, Júlio plots to kill Ah Tek, the brothel owner whom he saw at Ligaya's funeral, and successfully dispatches his target. Seeing his crime, a mob pursues and eventually corners him; the film ends with a shot of Júlio's terrified face just as his assailants are about to strike.


  • Bembol Roco as Julio Madiaga - The 21-year-old protagonist who hails from Marinduque, wandering Manila in search of his lover, Ligaya. Initially, Brocka-stalwart Jay Ilagan was to play the lead role, but the role was passed to the newcomer Roco.
  • Hilda Koronel as Ligaya Paraiso - The love-interest of Julio. Unbeknownst to Julio until later on, she happens to work as a prostitute in Ah-Tek's brothel. Her name literally translates to "joy paradise".
  • Lou Salvador, Jr. as Atong - Julio's good friend.
  • Tommy Abuel as Pol - Julio's good friend after Atong.
  • Pio de Castro as Imo - Julio's friend.
  • Juling Bagabaldo as Gng. Cruz - She works for Ah-Tek as the recruiter of the prostitutes.
  • Tommy Yap as Ah-Tek - The main antagonist of the story. He is a wealthy and cruel mestizo de sangley who owns a brothel.


The film is based on a story written by Edgardo Reyes and serialized in Liwayway magazine from 1966 to 1967. For each episode or installment, Reyes provides enough incidents — bringing the end of the installment to enough of a conclusion — to satisfy readers, at the same time keeping enough elements unresolved to entice them back for more. After twenty or more installments full of subplots and side characters exiting or dying or having climactic fits, the reader notices several advantages and disadvantages.

The adaptation into film originally started out life as a writing exercise. In 1970, Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr., who had just graduated from the Ateneo de Manila two years prior, took a tutorial course. There, he wrote Pepot Artista (a screenplay he would later revisit in the 2000s). Del Mundo finished the screenplay for Pepot Artista by the middle of the semester, so he was requested to make another screenplay. Seeing the Edgardo Reyes novel as a perfect candidate, he proceeded with the task of adapting it, having no intention of the finished screenplay being filmed. The result was a spec script. Del Mundo eventually 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. By chance, in 1974, De Leon stumbled upon the spec script (being recommended through a third party) and was enthusiastic that it would make a great feature to debut from his new production company, Cinema Artists. Having been friends with Del Mundo since their days at Ateneo, De Leon contacted the latter, who just happened to return from his four-year course in Kansas, that he had just read the script and thought about adapting it. Del Mundo gave De Leon his blessing and proceeded to polish the script further. Del Mundo would later recall, "It was the right time."

Lino Brocka, who had just received acclaim for his previous work Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang, 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 themes in the story. Brocka also requested Del Mundo to rework on a few scenes. “Brocka understood the popular audience well," Del Mundo says. "He suggested additions to the screenplay of Maynila 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 (lit. translation: In the Claws of Light) 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. It was shot on actual locations around the vicinity of Manila.


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. 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.

Critical Reception[edit]

The low-budget production was a modest hit. Many critics around the globe have given it positive reviews. Audiences and critics in the Philippines found the film so distinctive that it came to be regarded as one of the greatest Filipino films of all time.

Awards and Recognition[edit]

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.[1]


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 was first premiered at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival as part of the Cinema Classics section and it will be released in the Philippines on August 7, 2013.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cannes Classics 2013 line-up unveiled". Screen Daily. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 

External links[edit]