The setting of "Liway" was in the mid-1980s in Camp Delgado, a prison for criminals and political prisoners alike during Martial Law. Day and Ric were raising their 10-year old son Dakip and infant daughter Malaya while behind bars for rebellion charges. In her attempt to normalize Dakip's childhood (since he had lived his whole life in the camp), Day told him fantastic stories about the powerful enchantress Liway of Mt. Kanlaon. Little did Dakip know that she was actually telling him her own life story.
I have not seen Glaiza de Castro in anything before this, and she gave an impressive lead performance here as Day. She may be beautiful of face, but she was still credible as an amazon rebel. She was tough, brave, no-nonsense, yet compassionate and loving. There were also a couple of scenes when she impressed us with her raw renditions of songs of Asin, namely "Himig ng Pag-ibig" and "Pagbabalik."
Child actor Kenken Nuyad played the little boy Dakip. He had this delightful smile on his face that could brighten anyone's day. He portrayed the conflicted emotions of a child in Dakip's particular situation with so much realism, it was touching to witness. Yes, he can be a bit too playful or naughty, yet we will all care for him like he was our own child and would like to rescue him from the unenviable position he was in.
Dominic Roco played Dakip's father Ric, who preferred his son to face reality instead of the fantasies people tell him. Soliman Cruz played Sulpicio, the sympathetic jail warden. Julienne Mendoza played an egotistical Army colonel. Ebong Joson played a ruthless policeman. Upeng Fernandez played Day's proud mother. Nico Antonio played a fellow rebel Berto. Joel Saracho, Sue Prado and Paolo O'Hara played other inmates in the camp. Vance Larena played a soldier who wanted revenge for his brother killed by rebels.
Since we are told this story of Martial Law persecution through the eyes of a little boy, the blows were somehow lightened up for us. However, we still never lose sight that the whole experience of that family was harrowing and traumatic. Prison is never ever an ideal place for a child to live in, but you see Day's efforts to create a cozy home in that hell they lived in. We also see the tough decisions parents make to ensure their kids' safety and well-being in the face of unpredictable situations. These are universal truths, whether or not you agree with Day and Ric's decisions to become rebels (or parents) in the first place.
After the final scene, there were cards which told us what happened to the various characters in later years. The audience buzzed in reaction to the statement that "a portion of the Marcos ill-gotten wealth was used to make this film." The emotional buildup to the closing credits was so dramatic, such that when the name of writer-director Kip Oebanda was flashed on the screen, the whole moviehouse erupted in spontaneous applause.
I will not spoil that special moment for you, you need to watch "Liway" to discover why. 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."