Insiang: A Tale of Vengeance



Editor’s Note: This film review is part of a review series featuring the restored classic Filipino films available for free in FDCP Channel’s Pamanang Pelikula in celebration of this year’s Philippine Film Industry Month.

WHEN it comes to the power play in a brutal society, the weak tend to prey over the weaker. Fueled by one’s own desire for self-preservation, they will do all that they can to use what little power they possess. Those forced to bow down to them cower in fear, kept at bay by their own belief that retaliation is futile. But some grit their teeth, biding their time as they silently heed their heart’s call for revenge. 

Directed by Lino Brocka, Insiang is one of the featured films available for free in the FDCP Channel’s Pamanang Pelikula in celebration of this year’s Philippine Film Industry Month. The film bagged multiple awards in the Metro Manila Film Festival, including Best Cinematography back in 1976. It was also nominated for several categories in the Gawad Urian Awards and FAMAS Awards the following year, with Hilda Koronel and Mona Lisa winning the Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress awards, respectively.

The film revolves around the story of Insiang (Hilda Koronel), an impoverished laundrywoman living in the slums of Tondo with her cruel mother, Tonya (Mona Lisa), her aunt, and extended family. Dado (Ruel Vernal), a butcher and thug who is also Tonya’s lover, moves in with them the day after Tonya evicts her sister-in-law and family from their home. 

After being raped by Dado and doubted by her mother, Insiang seeks to elope with her boyfriend, Bebot (Rez Cortez), only to be left behind the next morning after they sleep together. Consumed by anger and despair, Insiang comes back home with a plan for vengeance. 

Film still from FDCP

With a plot that anchors on the narrative of people being dominated by those who try to be in power, the audience is compelled to root for Insiang. In the film, she was the one who silently endured hardships brought by several characters. Her character also supposedly embodies the archetype of the damsel in distress who stays pure and receives a happy ending. This shows the typical narrative that good will eventually come to those who simply endure. 

However, Insiang did not remain a pure-hearted damsel. Her active involvement in executing vengeance against the people who betrayed her strips her of this title. She becomes cunning in plotting her revenge and makes her stray from the path of least resistance. 

The film also managed to showcase the harshness of Insiang’s environment. Not only was this depicted through Tonya, Bebot, and Dado’s interactions with her, but also through the views of the side characters. Their abrupt dialogues express their resentment and hopelessness towards their impoverished state of living.

Insiang’s setting also highlights this depravity.  The streets are rarely empty, showing how cramped the spaces were in their community. Most of the male characters easily excuse their promiscuous behaviors towards women and continuously assert their dominance by displays of strength. Furthermore, Street thugs are feared by the people who constantly take advantage of those they deem weaker than them. 

Despite the toxic masculinity and exploitation of the weak being shown as something that warrants punishment, the resolution of such problems is immensely unsatisfying. With Bebot and Dado eventually receiving their dues towards the end, the way violence seemed to be the only route that ensured their retribution proves to be problematic. It sends the message that brute force is an effective solution to these societal issues.

Overall, with its narrative focusing on Insiang and her persistence, Insiang manages to capture the importance of fighting back against those eager to prey on the weak. It conveys the message that standing up for one’s self will prove to be rewarding in the end. F

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