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Issue #139a HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES December 23rd, 2002

Darna Ang Pagbabalik
(1994; Viva Films)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

English: Darna: The Return

The Filipina version of Wonder Woman, Darna first appeared in a popular 1950s comic book series, and has been the subject of over a dozen film adaptations, but remains almost completely unknown in the West. A volcanic eruption in the countryside forces a number of families to abandon their homes in Talisay and seek refuge in Manila. Young country girl Narda (Anjanette Abayari) leads a secret double life as the crime fighting Darna and can transform back and forth between these two personas by yelling out either "Narda" or "Darna." While trying to find her grandmother and little brother, Ding (Lester Llansang), Narda is viciously struck upside the head and the pearl that furnishes her power is stolen. The culprit is Valentine Adan (Cherie Gil), a televangelist who claims that only she can protect the city from an advancing lahar (volcanic mudflow) and will save those who have pledged their undying devotion to her. Valentine's obviously dark intentions become more and more apparent and Narda discovers that the woman is actually the daughter of Valentina (Pilata Corales), Darla's arch-enemy. Ding is able to recover the pearl, allowing his sister to transform back into Darna and, in the ensuing chaos, the aged Valentina is injured and reverts to her true form. Like her mother, Valentine is actually a gorgon, concealing the snakes in her hair beneath a bathing cap-like hat. Before the inevitable face-off with Valentine, Darna gains a new ally when she helps police lieutenant Max Ablan (ASIAN COP: HIGH VOLTAGE's Edu Manzano) foil a bank robbery and, later, a kidnapping perpetrated by mob boss Magnum (Bong Alvarez). The crimelord manages to escape in both instances, however, and is actually playing a key role in Valentine's plan. She also has another clandestine operative, who is charged with making sure that Darna is helpless to protect Manila from the rapidly approaching lahar.

The voluptuous Abayari looks terrific in her scanty costume and the film offers some low tech fun for fans of campy superhero adventures in the Santo and Superargo vein. The flying sequences are accomplished with atrocious blue screen rear projection and cell animation, while the bladder and morphing FX utilized for the monsters are equally quaint. Although it occasionally delivers the serial-style thrills one expects from this genre, the screenplay is episodic and the proceedings are too slackly paced, clocking in at least 15 minutes too long. DARNA ANG PAGBABALIK was co-directed by Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes (who would collaborate again the following year on HALIK NG VAMPIRA), and produced by William C. Leary, who had previously worked on an earlier adaptation called, simply, DARNA (1991).

Cover art courtesy My Way.

Anjanette Abayari. Image courtesy My Way.

Anjanette Abayari. Image courtesy My Way.
My Way #DVD018 (Hong Kong label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Tagalog and Mandarin Language Tracks (both post-synched)

Optional Subtitles In English and Chinese (Traditional or Simplified)

9 Chapters Illustrated in the Menu With (Tiny) Clips

"Letterboxed" (1.75:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

NTSC Format

103 Minutes

Contains mild violence and horror

DVD menu courtesy My Way.

Not Available

The case says "16:9" but don't believe it. As with their release of HIDDEN DESIRE, My Way has taken a cropped fullscreen transfer and vertically compressed it down to 1.75:1! Sure, the image now fills a 16:9 set but everyone is four feet tall and a foot wide! If you have a 4:3 monitor, setting your DVD player to 16:9 will return the image to its proper fullscreen dimensions or, if your machine has X-Y scaling, you can use that to fix things. My Way is HK's worst video label and the presentation looks far from stellar. The image is hazy, with weak contrasts and light blacks, and master tape damage can be seen on occasion. The Tagalog track is quite flat and becomes horribly distorted for several minutes, and the Mandarin dub (the default language) was prepared without the original music and FX tracks. Thus, different music is heard (including cues from the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) whenever any of the characters speak in this version. The English subtitles are way out-of-sync and constantly blend characters' lines together, while the original opening credits have been omitted and replaced with a Chinese-only video equivalent over a blank screen. Fortunately, the disc has a low list price, so those interested in trying a DARNA film may wish to proceed anyway (precious few Filipino films are available on DVD with English subs). Sony 7000 owners are warned: none of My Way's discs seem to play on this unit.

For more information on the history of the Darna character, visit the Pinoy Komiks website:

is available at Poker Industries.

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