‘Tabi Po’ re-imagines aswangs as more than just flesh-eating predators

October 28, 2017 - 9:23 PM
A.J. Muhlach transforms into an aswang in 'Tabi Po.’

Dating back to the golden age of komiks, Filipino comic books have always been a rich source of stories that are constantly adapted to the big and small screen. Mars Ravelo’s “Darna” and “Dyesebel” to Carlo J. Caparas’ “Ang Panday” to Jim M. Fernandez’s “Zuma,” are just among the many characters that have successfully transitioned from ink and paper to pop culture icons.

It comes as no surprise then that more of these illustrated works are being brought to life. Just last July, trailblazing indie outfit TBA Studios announced that acclaimed director Jerrold Tarog is set to adapt “The Mythology Class,” a graphic novel by celebrated comic book creator Arnold Arre.

And this month just in time for Halloween, Cignal TV, through its Sari Sari Channel, is unleashing a cinematic television experience with “Tabi Po.” The six-part mini-series is based on Mervin Malonzo’s bestselling graphic novel series that won the National Book Awards for Graphic Literature.

“Tabi Po” is a compelling take on the lives of the Philippine folklore creatures known as “aswangs.” Often depicted as ruthless and flesh-eating predators, they are re-imagined in the series as more than just mindless killing ghouls. As shown in the trailer below, they are very human in form and can even enter a church.

In an interview with fellow comic book creator Gerry Alanguilan for Free Comic Book Day magazine, Malonzo, who developed “Tabi Po” while still in high school, concedes that while many stories about aswangs exist in Filipino mythology, a lot more about the subject has yet to be explored.

“For example, no one in recent memory [had] tried to explain their existence. Usually, the characters within the typical story just accept that there is an aswang and most probably would like to kill them. In their world, aswangs have always existed, no questions asked,” he pointed out.

“While I’m trying to revise the aswangs… I’m also giving homage to what we know… Basically, what I’m telling in the story is that what we know, what is written in our literature about these creatures, is just hearsay, tsismis lang and what I am presenting is the ‘real origin’ of aswangs…”

A.J. Muhlach, Adrian Alandy, and Phoebe Walker in ‘Tabi Po.’

“Tabi Po” tells the story of neophyte aswang Elias (AJ Muhlach). Born from a tree during the country’s Spanish colonial era, Elias embarks on a quest with two older aswangs, Tasyo (Adrian Alandy, the actor formerly billed as Luis Alandy) and Sabel (Phoebe Walker), to understand their true nature.

Along the way, Elias meets Salome (Jourdanne Castillo), a sex slave of the friars, and falls in love with her. In the middle of a rising revolution, Elias is forced to face his own battles – his love for Salome versus his hunger for flesh, the growing rift between himself and Tasyo, the society’s stigma on aswangs, and the battle with his own inner demons.

“I’ve always been interested in anti-heroes…For me a story is interesting if it’s morally ambiguous. It makes you think. And honestly, I don’t think that there’s a pure good and a pure evil in this world. So that’s why my protagonist is an aswang—not a good aswang that sides with the humans but a real aswang that eats people,” Malonzo said in explaining how he developed the character of Elias.

“Indeed, Tabi Po” is trying to bring respect back to our mythological creatures. Hence the title, we utter those words to show respect to the unseen. And part of what I am trying to show in my story is how humans and aswangs have more things in common and how humans might actually be the viler creature of the two.”

Directed by Paul Basinillo, known for his award-winning TV commercials, “Tabi Po” airs every Friday at 8PM on Cignal TV’s Sari-Sari Channel with primetime replays on Tuesday (11PM), Thursday (9PM) and Sunday (9PM).

Watch the full trailer here: