The animation wasn't bad, but that's the only good thing I have to say about this movie. Having gotten that out of the way, my litany of complaints shall now commence.
The existence of Urduja as an actual historical figure is dubious at best. Her story is compelling and she's a source of pride for the Pangasinenses, but she's right up there with Kalantiaw and Maragtas and the Ten Datus of Borneo — more fiction than fact. But Urduja wasn't meant to be a documentary on pre-Hispanic tribal life in the archipelago. In the same way that I'm not going to complain that Pocahontas wasn't historically accurate or that Hercules got Greek mythology all wrong, I'm not going to criticize Urduja for taking liberties with Philippine history. At least, not per se. My issue is that the “artistic license” taken by the writers was gratuitous, unnecessary and made absolutely no sense.
The Badjaos are boat people of the Sulu and Celebes Seas in Mindanao. They most certainly did not live in trees. (It was the Visayans who built treehouses, which they only occupied during times of war.) The Badjaos didn't hang around Luzon, they would have nothing to do with the Tawalisi tribe, and if there's any tribe they had a problem with, it was the Tausugs. I don't understand why the writers didn't just use a tribe from Luzon in the same vicinity, or why they didn't just create a fictional rival tribe. It was completely nonsensical to pit Urduja's people against the Badjaos specifically.
Vida as a PRS China teacher will have infinitely more to say about this, but I disliked how they made a Chinese general the kontrabida. I understand that every story needs a bad guy, but they could've simply used another pirate with a personal vendetta against Lim Hang instead of portraying the Chinese as bloodthirsty, gold-plundering conquerors. In the 14th century when Urduja allegedly ruled, the Chinese empire wasn't even interested in other lands. During the Yuan dynasty Chinese traders were even discouraged from trading abroad in Southeast Asia. In the 15th century this anti-foreign policy was reversed when Ming emperor Yung Lo launched a series of naval expeditions to Southeast Asia, Arabia and Africa. The Chinese didn't come as conquerors, but as ambassadors who invited leaders of foreign countries to establish tributary relations with China. They weren't interested in conquest or any sort of political interference, they merely wanted to do business. Relations with China brought economic prosperity. Thus, having a Chinese general bring war and oppression just seemed ludicrous to me.
And finally, the question begs to be asked: What was Samurai Jack doing there? I'm hard pressed for a logical explanation, but Ry says he was there so that Ruby Rodriguez's character could throw herself at him and return with him to Japan as the first Japayuki — a social commentary on how Filipinas look to foreigners for their salvation.
There are no tarsiers in Pangasinan. They live in the islands of Samar, Leyte, Bohol, and Mindanao. But tarsiers are cute and I totally would've let Urduja's stray tarsier slide, except that he wasn't cute. He was an annoying loudmouth bading from a cheap beauty parlor trapped in a furry wide-eyed forest creature's body. Then there was Michael V as Lim Hang's smartass pirate rat sidekick who kept up a steady stream of bad jokes in the place of witty repartee, and Jimmy Santos as the carabao whose sole purpose was to mangle the English language. (Carabao English, get it?) I'm usually a sucker for talking animals but the only remotely endearing creature in this movie was the snake, precisely because he didn't talk.
The dialogue had us literally squirming in our seats and laughing uproariously at all the wrong parts. I don't think I've ever been that loud and disruptive in a movie theater, but it was just so horrible. It was one contrived line or bad metaphor after the other, and Pinoy scriptwriting gems like “Wala kang nakikita kung di ang tibok ng bulag mong puso!” Many of the characters spoke in the Taglish peppered with Filipino slang you'd hear on noontime television, which is more offensive to my ears than any amount of cussing. The humor was crass and slapstick, and it's really not surprising that it was written by the same people behind Eat Bulaga.
Like a sizeable chunk of Filipino pop culture, Urduja isn't terribly original. There was a lot of Mulan and Pocahontas in it, and the song number of the rat and tarsier was a total rip-off of Hakuna Matata from Lion King. Right before we went to see the movie, Ry and I were talking about a Pinoy graphic novel called Trese, which was pretty good except that it was basically Hellblazer with John Constantine as girl fighting Filipino aswangs. The Filipino penchant for copying things wholesale irks me sometimes, but I don't see it as a necessarily bad thing. I see it as the early stage in a process of development, in the same way that Anime started out as a rip-off of Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop before evolving into something distinctly Japanese. We're still learning, and there's no shame in learning from someone who's better at something than you presently are. Hopefully in time we'll come up with more original ideas and develop more distinct styles.
It bothers me that people are determined to extol Urduja regardless of how bad it is, just because it's a Filipino first. National pride, yadda yadda ad nauseum. But patting ourselves on the back for mediocrity contributes nothing to our development as a nation. Let's give credit where credit is due, but let's not feel obliged to be proud of something simply because it's Filipino-made. Let's be proud of things because they're Filipino-made and they're good. It should be an issue of national pride for us to challenge our countrymen, whatever their field, to do better than they have previously done. (And to apply the same standards to ourselves, of course.)