Commander Lawin (1986)

Director Eddie Nicart's low budget Filipino take on the Rambo series. Pegasus UK R0 DVD.

The Film

Reno Solidum returns home to his family from a brutal tour of Vietnam. Years later his hometown is run by a corrupt mayor who wants to buy out all of the occupant's land. Reno's father refuses to sell and while Reno is in town, his family are killed by the Mayor's soldiers. Trying to complain to the police, Reno is arrested but when the police vehicle he is travelling in is ambushed by rebels, he escapes and joins their cause. When the rebel leader is killed, he appoints Reno as his sucessor, letting him use the name 'Lawin' meaning the strongest warrior in the jungle. However the mayor is still determined to kill Reno and he reports to the military authorities who send soldiers into the jungle against the rebels...

The mid to late 1980s saw a series of low budget Philippine action films set during the Vietnam war, making use of the jungles that doubled for 'Nam so effectively in big budget Hollywood films like Apocalypse Now (1979). Commander Lawin takes a slightly different path, inspired by Rambo: First Blood (1982), its hero is a war veteran who returns home to find his war is not yet over. The storyline proceeds quite differently to the American film, having Reno join a band of anti-government rebels, leading to a very different subtext - while the American film looked critically at the treatment of its own soldiers after the war, the Filipino production treats the small conflict as representative of the larger battle for control of the Philippines and the corruption of its government under President Ferdinand Marcos.

As an action film Commander Lawin provides a few interesting set pieces, but the plot scenes inbetween are very poor with some terrible dialogue (at least in the English language dub) that could have been written for a school play and makes these scenes drag almost interminably. The storyline itself does not make much sense - the background for Reno's character seems to be thrown in, in an attempt to cash in on Rambo, there is no explanation as to what the Filipino soldier is doing in Vietnam (the Philippine contribution to the war was largely in support roles) and although he seems to have just returned from the conflict, a title card tells us that the film is set in 1980, at least five years after the end of the war. The mayor element of the plot seems to be stolen from a Western and is poorly thought out - there seems to be no reason for him to want to buy the farmer's land, nor for Reno's father to be so determined to hold on to it. Fortunately a lengthy shoot-out makes for a decent climax and the ending is certainly unexpected.

Director Eddie Nicart is best known for his Agent 00 films featuring diminutive action star Weng Weng, although sadly he does not bring any of the bizarre surreality of those films to this production (with the possible exception of the ending scene). The filming is quite conventional although the editing at least keeps things coherent and possible to follow. The battle scenes have a few good explosions, although this purely Philippine funded film has an obviously lower budget than the better known international co-productions like the Eye of the Eagle series and the action scenes are much smaller in scale. The music (possibly added during the English dubbing) is a rather random mix of tracks which works fine but adds nothing to the film.

Acting is rarely anything to write home about in Vietnam exploitation films but the performances are generally solid if rather unemotive, only the love interest Teresa is noticably wooden to the extent of looking mentally challenged a lot of the time. The English language dubbing on this print does add a rather strange atmosphere to proceedings with several of the characters having strong British accents.

While dozens of Vietnam war films were made in the Philippines in the 1980s, only a few of the purely Filipino productions (as opposed to American, Hong Kong or Italian co-productions) were released outside of the country, but despite being directed by Eddie Nicart Commander Lawin is no hidden gem, but an unexciting Rambo rip-off with a few small action scenes. Of interest to genre collectors but not generally recommendable.

Note: Various sources list this film as being produced in 1980 or 81, but this seems highly unlikely considering the obvious Rambo influence and the political references. The real date of production seems to be given away by a 1986 calendar which appears quite clearly in one scene and it seems unlikely that the production would have created a fake calendar for five years in the future, particularly since the film is set in 1980.

In Brief
Anyone famous in it? No-one of note.
Directed by anyone interesting? Eddie Nicart - a Filipino director best known for working with midget actor Weng Weng on the Agent 00 series, including For Y'ur Height Only (1981) and The Impossible Kid (1982)
Any gore or violence ? Some blood.
Any sex or nudity? Some brief topless shots.
Who is it for? Of interest to Filipino movie fans, but a rather unexciting entry.

Visuals Original aspect ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour
Print is from a VHS source so there is a general lack of detail and there is frequent damage from the original film print, including heavy scratching in a few scenes.
Aspect ratio seems to be correct, although there is a lot of headroom suggesting it might have been intended for matting.
Audio English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None
Extras None
Region Region 0 (ALL) - PAL
Other regions? Not otherwise available on DVD.
Cuts? Cut status unknown, not cut by the BBFC for UK release and no apparent cuts on the print. English language print.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 28th February 2011.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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