Fernando Poe Jr. appeared in more than 250 movies in a career that spanned nearly five decades. In almost all of these movies, the action hero characters he played very rarely met their onscreen deaths at the end—no matter the torture or the number of bullets fired at them.
It’s no surprise, of course, considering how Pinoys hate a sad ending, and how we get into a zone where we champion our celluloid heroes like they’re real people close to us. But FPJ dying in a movie is a special case. People get mad. Violence inside a moviehouse becomes a possibility.
According to a July 1986 Daily Express column by Tony Mortel, when it was announced that the action superstar signed up for a film project with Atty. Espiridion Laxa, founder of Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions, a theater owner in Mindanao with several cinemas to his name was quick to ring the film producer. His concern: at the end of the film, will FPJ’s character live or will he die?
It was not because the theater owner wanted to be ahead of everyone when it came to knowing what transpires in the movie. It was because he’s aware of the great effect to an audience of an FPJ character dying on the big screen.
As per Mortel’s story, “several years back when an FPJ film in which he died at the end was shown in one of the theaters of the said owner, the patrons, which were mostly Muslims, almost created a riot, threw things at the moviehouses’ screen, destroyed the seats and stopped other moviegoers from entering the theater.”
The FPJ movie—not named in the Daily Express story—was reportedly pulled out from theaters in the area due to the terrible commotion. “From then on, it became an SOP (Standing Operating Procedure) for bookers, and theater representatives in Mindanao to verify first if FPJ will live or die in a movie to be shown in the territory,” said the report.
We asked the respected film historian Teddy Co if this is indeed true because it sounded to us like some urban legend. Teddy has this to say. “Yes, indeed. FPJ had reached the height of his popularity by the 70s, and there was one picture wherein he died (maybe 'Asedillo') and when it was shown in Mindanao, a riot supposedly erupted in some theatre where it was playing, and that was where he learned that the masa wanted him to be immortal, and from there he decided that he would never have to physically die in his subsequent films. Of course, he had some movies previously that had him dying in the end, like in 'Sigaw ng Digmaan' (1963), but he was not the box office king yet, so it never mattered to his fans whether he lived or died at the film’s end.”
According to this 2008 Pep.ph story, however, the riot inside the Mindanao cinema did happen, it happened in 1971, the movie was “Asedillo,” and there were even gunshots involved.
“Asedillo” is considered one of the essential movies in the FPJ canon. According to IMDb, it is “the picture that established FPJ's image as expert gunslinger and defender of the poor.” A biopic set in the 1930s, it is the story of Teodoro Asedillo, a public school teacher who founded the group Anak Pawis, defender of the rights of the working class. It is said he was so convincing as a rebel and leader that he won a FAMAS Best Actor award.
He apparently convinced audience members in that theater in Mindanao, too, that he was indeed the champion of laborers, so that when Asedillo died onscreen, the audience couldn’t contain their emotions. According to the Pep.ph report, “For some of our Muslim brothers, the action scenes in 'Asedillo' looked so real that they even joined the gun-battle by shooting at FPJ's enemies in the movie.”
For the Pep story, an Alicia Salanga even gave an eyewitness testimony. Salanga said she was in her 20s then and was in the audience of a Zamboanga City movie house when someone started shooting. “After this incident, Mrs. Salenga said, all the three Zambo movie houses, and another one in Jolo where 'Asedillo' was being shown, began cutting the scenes where FPJ was either being beaten up by goons or getting killed,” said the Pep feature. “Theater owners apparently feared that FPJ fans would go into another shooting spree inside their movie houses.”
According to FPJ fan Simon Santos of Video 48, he only knows of two movies where the action king dies in the end: “Sigaw ng Digmaan" (1963) and "Asediilo" (1971). “(I’m) not sure about his earlier movies,” he says, but he tells ANCX Da King never dies in his later films. As per Pep, even in “Padrino” (1984) where he was supposed to have been gunned down by a hit man, the shooting was just a ruse and our bida stayed alive. We messaged Jeffrey Sonora, FPJ's nephew and VP of FPJ Productions, to ask if at all his uncle was influenced by the Mindanao event in the making of his next movies, but we have yet to get a reply.
But going back to our man from Mindanao calling Atty. Laxa. He was relieved to be told FPJ will be alive at the end of their film, which happened to be “Magnum .357” in which the actor plays the role of a Muslim cop. Apparently, our Muslim brothers really did have a great affinity for FPJ and were only too happy to have him represent them in a film.
But of course, many more Filipino fans of Da King would rather have their idol on a horse, as the end credits roll, riding into the sunset. Atty. Laxa has an explanation for this. “In real and reel life, FPJ epitomizes the champion of the small people, the common tao, especially the underdog, who are victims of injustice and abuses,” he told the Daily Express. “It is as if they see in him, on-and-off screen, their own dreams and aspirations. To the youth, he is a living idol. For almost three decades, FPJ has become a folk hero and heroes don’t die.”