Filipino ‘arnis’ featured in ‘I, Frankenstein’

By Wendell Gaa

The lore of Frankenstein and his monster has always been a source of fascinating storytelling for fans of the horror genre.

The classic novel “Frankenstein” by 19th century British author Mary Shelley is arguably one of the most significant pieces of horror literature alongside Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” and this book has inspired countless TV and film adaptations of the legend of Dr. Frankenstein and the reanimated monster he creates out of body parts.

Whenever the very name “Frankenstein” is mentioned, several iconic images must come to mind such as that of the titular mad scientist insanely and repetitively yelling the words “It’s Alive!” to the awakening of his powerful monster who ironically becomes a misunderstood and lonely being shunned by society. Yet never before have we seen a Hollywood film depicting that very monster as a vengeful and righteous warrior, until now.

The new film “I, Frankenstein” brings on an interesting reinvention of the Frankenstein monster in such a way as never before, going so far as making him a hero adept at fighting demonic villains using Filipino martial arts, or as we know it, ‘arnis.’

Arnis is the national martial arts form in the Philippines which emphasizes weapons-based combat, particularly the use of sticks, knives and blades. While perhaps not as internationally recognized as the more mainstream forms of martial arts such as kung fu, karate and tae kwon do, arnis is undoubtedly a unique and clever form of combat, if utilized correctly and wisely. Its existence was first documented by the Spaniards who began colonization of the Philippines in the 16th century, with eyewitness reports of tribesmen fighting colonists using a form of stick-fighting previously unknown to the Western world. Some accounts even claim that explorer Ferdinand Magellan himself was killed in Cebu in 1521 by Lapu-Lapu through a form of arnis-inspired sword-fighting.

American actor Aaron Eckhart portrays Adam, the central character in “I, Frankenstein.” Like in the classic story, Adam is a creation of an eccentric doctor by the name of Frankenstein. After being rejected by his creator, Adam kills Dr. Frankenstein’s wife in a fit of rage, and later on becomes indirectly responsible for the death of the scientist as well. He later becomes the target of assassins employed by the nefarious uber-demon Naberious, as well as by gargoyles created by the Archangel Michael. With no one to trust but himself, Adam is forced to survive on his own using self-acquired combat skills.

However, after a series of events which catches him in the crossfire in the universal war between gargoyles and demons, he slowly begins to understand that his own existence may be pivotal to the survival of humankind.

While the film’s plot is particularly clunky at times, the movie itself is visually engaging and seeing Adam use arnis in fighting off the bad guys is simply nothing short of entertaining.

“I, Frankenstein” won’t possibly win any film accolades, except maybe a few in the visual arts/sound effects department, and unfortunately I wouldn’t be that much surprised to see the film become one of the year’s biggest financial flops. But in the end, it is good fun, which is what any viewer should hope to get from seeing a popcorn film like this one.

At the very least, I do wish this film will someday garner cult status, as I’ve yet to see an action piece combining two genres (horror and martial arts) such as this. It is further reassuring to know that by featuring arnis in the film, multiculturalism now seems to be the norm in Hollywood.

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