Six Filipino magic realism films worth watching

MAGIC REALISM, in simple terms, is a literary or artistic genre that incorporates magical elements into the real world, forming a surrealistic story or scenery. It often blurs the lines between what is ‘real’ and ‘supernatural’ with its combination of realistic narratives and naturalistic techniques with dream-like elements.

Other characteristics of the genre include authorial reticence or the non-explanation of the magical elements within the story, a multi-layered plot structure, metafiction qualities, and political critique.

While it has fantastical elements, magic realism differs heavily from the fantasy genre. Magic realism still incorporates realistic elements into it, while fantasy is separated from reality.

The genre originated in Latin America, when writers found themselves inspired by the European art movement of surrealism during the 1920s. From there, the genre has spread across the continent, producing prominent writers such as Alejo Carpentier, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, and Isabel Allende. 

In other parts of the world, notable authors that use magic realism in their work include Haruki Murakami, Toni Morrison, and the Philippines’ National Artist Nick Joaquin. Examples of literary works with magic realism include Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” and Gabriel García Márquez’s seminal work on the genre, “One Hundred Years of Solitude.”

The genre has also been adopted on cinema, as seen in films like Guillermo Del Toro’s “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and David Fincher’s “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.” 

In the Filipino context, magic realism can be used to showcase the supernatural nature of our folklore, develop the plot further, or produce a metacommentary on our society. 

Here are six films that showcase the Filipinos’ take on the genre. 


Centered on the enthralling performance of actress Nadine Lustre, the 2019 film recounts a woman’s distaste of the rain as it constantly reminds her of her failings in her lovelife and other aspects of her life. 

Both written and directed by Irene Emma Villamor, Ulan won top awards in the Asian Academy Creative Awards for Best Sound and secured nominations for best actor and actress in a leading role for Lustre and Carlo Aquino, best direction (fiction), best original screenplay, best cinematography, and best feature film.

Ulan can be streamed via Amazon Prime Video.

READ: Ulan: A Force of Nature 

Leonor Will Never Die

Leonor Will Never Die' REVIEW: A charming, if not eccentric, celebration of  Philippine cinema—with an action grandma

The titular character Leonor Reyes (Sheila Francisco), a retired filmmaker, is suddenly thrusted through her unfinished action screenplay after a television accidentally fell on her head, causing her to fall into a coma.  

An ode to 80’s style of action filmmaking, the 2022 film is the debut feature of Martika Ramirez Escobar, whose frantic and inspired filmmaking received critical acclaim in the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival.

The film can be streamed through Amazon Prime Video.


The film focuses on Christine (Eva Green), a fashion designer who is suddenly plagued by a mysterious illness. She hires Diana (Chai Fonacier), a nanny whose traditional healing techniques help her recover and who willsoon enough discover a terrible truth.

Directed by Lorcan Finnegan, the 2022 film is not primarily a Filipino production but it weaves Philippine folklore into a story of abuse and power relations between the First World and the Third World, creating a theme of anti-colonialism in a time of globalization.

READ: Nocebo: No cure but belief and madness 


Metaphors and metamorphosis: Hiling

Hiling is a classic Filipino film where Anna (Camille Prats), an ordinary girl, is suddenly given the gift to grant a wish. With this newfound power, she grants people in her community what they had desired.

The 1998 film directed and written by Jose Javier Reyes has certainly made a mark among those who have watched it in their youth, with its feel-good vibes and comedic fantasy making it accessible and enjoyable to watch.

It can be seen through ABS-CBN Star Cinema’s Youtube channel or at iWantTFC.

Pan de Salawal

A homeless girl by the name of Aguy (Miel Espinosa) travels through the country curing illnesses with her healing powers. She meets an old man (Bodjie Pascua) who she seemingly is unable to cure. Though an unlikely pair, they form a unique friendship and journey through their lives, changing them forever.

The touching story is more than enough to make hearts break and it seemed to have moved film critics too. It won the best director, best original music score and the special jury prize for director-writer Che Espiritu, Miel Espinosa and Juan Miguel Emmanuel Salvad during the 2018 Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

Pan de Salawal is available via streaming at Netflix.

Bayaning Third World

The 1999 film by the legendary Mike de Leon is part-investigate documentary and part-satire of a mystery that surrounds the life and death of national hero Jose Rizal. 

It focuses on two filmmakers in the modern world who are trying to create a film on Jose Rizal and “interviewing” individuals who influenced him during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines.

Bayaning Third World won several accolades at the 2000 Gawad Urian awards, taking home best sound, best music, best cinematography, best supporting actor (Joel Torre), best direction, and best picture.

The film can be streamed on Youtube. F – Robb Nigel Moya 

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