Paul Soriano: A lot of Kid Kulafu is still in Manny Pacquiao
Simply as the true story of a boy who grew up in the mountains and had nothing but a dream, which he worked doggedly to realize, it would have been spellbinding.
But, said Paul Soriano, his new movie relates the childhood of legendary and charismatic world boxing champ Manny Pacquiao, a tale at once heartbreaking and heartwarming—making “Kid Kulafu” beyond special and altogether a feat for him as a filmmaker.
The movie, opening in theaters this week, features teen actor Buboy Villar in the title role. The director and the star recently visited the Inquirer offices in Makati City to talk about the project.
Soriano said Villar stood out from among hundreds of kids in the auditions. “We never announced they were trying out for the role of the young Pacquiao (the champ was called Kid Kulafu in his youth). I gave them workshops that mimic the life of a persevering, homeless boy.”
Besides Villar being a very talented actor, Soriano said, the 17-year-old Cebuano learned to box in just three months. The film, which opens in theaters nationwide on April 15, also stars Alessandra de Rossi and Alex Medina, as Manny’s parents Dionisia and Rosalio. Also included in the cast are Cesar Montano, Khalil Ramos and Igi Boy Flores.
At what point did Buboy know?
When I called him in for the third meeting—me, him and some of my producers. I told him we had picked him to play Pacquiao.
How did that feel, Buboy?
’Di po ako makapaniwala.. Three months ’yung training pero may isang linggo po na araw-araw ang ensayo kasi kailangan na pong magbago ang katawan ko.
Soriano: I got Erwin Tagle as fight director. He is a mixed martial arts champion. Buboy worked out at his gym in Ortigas.
Before this, what was your sport, Buboy?
Basketball po. Wala akong hilig sa suntukan. Mahilig lang po ako sa mga action films kasi pangarap kong maging action star, kaya lang po, maliit ako.
When did you meet Pacquiao?
Sa shooting po sa General Santos (Pacquiao’s home city). Nagpunta kami sa bahay nila. No’ng dumating siya, nakayuko ako kasi natakot po ako at nahiya. Sabi niya, “Ikaw ba ang gaganap sa akin? Galingan mo ha?” Iba talaga ’pag kaharap mo ang taong ginagampanan mo, mas ramdam mo siya.
Paul, did you feel when you were talking to Pacquiao about making this movie that he was absorbing everything you said?
Manny and I have been good friends for the last five to six years. I already know how he operates. He doesn’t say much but he gets everything. And he forgets nothing. I was surprised about how much he remembered—including what he ate and wore as a kid.
How smart do you think Pacquiao is, outside of his being athlete-smart?
He has street smarts. He’s a survivor. Whatever he learned in boxing, he has translated to other aspects of his life. When he focuses on something, he does whatever it takes to get it.
Is he a compassionate person?
Compassionate and generous. We shot this TV commercial recently in Los Angeles. He’s very big there! Hollywood stars like Mark Wahlberg and Jim Caviezel line up outside the gym, waiting their turns to see him. That’s the kind of star Manny is outside this country—he is respected and well-loved.
Are you releasing this internationally?
ABS-CBN has international screenings scheduled a week after the premiere, for fans abroad. We have invitations to several festivals. There is a lot of interest in this, if only because of the Pacquiao brand. Buboy will be an international star. This guy is fantastic.
Buboy, how is Paul as a director?
Napaka-cool po niya.
What part of the movie did you find really challenging?
’Yung fight scenes, kasi nagkakatamaan kami talaga.
Is Buboy a take-one actor?
Soriano: Yes, in the nonfight scenes. I don’t like doing 10 takes. I believe in preparing, so I get what I want on the first take. I did more here only to change angles.
How were you with Alessandra?
Villar: Napakagaling po niya na actress. ’Di ko siya nakita as Alessandra… Napaka-natural ng batuhan namin ng linya. Napaka-professional niya kasi.
Paul, how is your treatment of Mommy Dionisia here?
The Dionisia that we know today is different from when she was in her 40s or 50s. She can be funny now because life is good. When you’re a single mother with four mouths to feed, you can’t be a comedian. She did laundry, worked in a fish cracker factory, sold bread in the market. She’s a strong woman. She can be the craziest person anytime now because she’s earned that.
What possessed you to cast Alessandra as Dionisia?
I’m a big Alessandra de Rossi fan. She’s a great actress. She can be serious, she can be funny. I asked her to lunch and showed her a video of Mommy Dionisia and said I wanted her to play that role. “Bakit naman ako?” she asked. I like actors who become their characters. All the actors on this film did.
Mommy D was very pleased that she would be portrayed by a very pretty, award-winning star. Alessandra as Dionisia is something to look forward to.
Based on your research, does Alessandra have physical resemblance to the young Dionisia?
From the pictures that I saw, Dionisia was very slim.
Manny hardly has any photos as a kid. They were very poor; they’d rather buy food than have their pictures taken.
How often were the real Pacquiaos on the set?
They visited only the set in GenSan. I didn’t want the actors to feel intimidated by the idea that the real family was watching. We met them before and after. Between those meetings, they mostly just sent a lot of food and minded our security.
Were there dramatic days for you on the set, Buboy?
Mayroon po, ’di lang puro laban. Sobrang ma-drama ang buhay ni Manny. May mga bata ngayon na mababaliw sa dinanas niya. Sa pagkain pa lang… minsan, mga bituka lang ng isda na tinapon sa palengke ang ulam nila.
Soriano: Manny got emotional during my first interview with him. He told me, “Nakikita ng lahat na naghihirap ako sa training, bugbog sa ring… Di masakit lahat ’yan. Ang masakit, yung mawalan ng bahay, pagkain, o pamilya. Sa boxing kahit ma-knock-out ako may pamilya ako pagkatapos, may pagkain, at may pera.” He actually cried. That’s why I feel that the biggest fight of his life was as Kid Kulafu, before all these.
Buboy, do you relate to your character in this aspect?
No’ng bata po ako, three years old pa lang, sumasama ako sa tatay ko magpulot ng plastic bottles. Basurero kaming lahat na magkakapatid sa Cebu City. Naiahon niya ang pamilya niya, ’yun din ang pangarap ko.
Do you feel, Paul, that your project got bigger and bigger every day that you were making it? In terms of the subject alone…
Definitely. Not many people know that Manny was born in Kibawe, Bukidnon. He lived the first seven years of his life in the mountains. He has this much lung power because of the mountain air. It’s like he was prepared to become a world champ.
He witnessed war in the mountains before the family moved to GenSan, where he lived for eight years before moving to Manila. His life is very cinematic—all that drama, all these triumphs.
He’s an icon now, a superhero, but he started worse off than many of us.
Will he attend your wedding? Will he be a principal sponsor?
I don’t want to distract him right now. I will invite him after the fight (with Floyd Mayweather, May 2). Toni and I haven’t finalized the wedding date. June 12 is our anniversary, so people may be speculating.
When you see Pacquiao training in Los Angeles, do you see bits and pieces of the Emmanuel you know from making this movie?
It’s all still there. He’s even more child-like now because he is just experiencing “childhood” now; he became a man too soon.
And he takes great care of his mom. When she steps into a room, no matter whom he’s talking to, he gets up to greet her. He adores her.
Does Manny have money invested in this project?
I’m proud to say that Manny did not put any money in this. What he gave me was already priceless—his story, his trust. I’m so thankful. He could have very easily said no.
(“Kid Kulafu” is a coproduction of Star Cinema and Ten17 Productions.)
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