Cesar Montano gets another crack at Hollywood

Leah C. Salterio

Posted at Dec 16 2019 07:06 PM | Updated as of Dec 17 2019 12:56 AM

Cesar Montano poses for a portrait. Shirley Matias-Pizarro

MANILA -- After appearing on the big screen alongside Hollywood heavyweights in director John Dahl’s well-remembered war film, “The Great Raid” (about the famous raid by US Army Rangers and Philippine guerillas who attacked the prisoner of war camp in Cabanatuan to rescue more than 500 Americans), Cesar Montano gets another crack at international stardom with his forthcoming movie projects.

The actor gave his nod and commitment to three films to be produced by Inspire Studios, with Los Angeles-based producer Francis Lara Ho.

Montano met Ho last July before the boxing match of Manny Pacquiao and Keith Thurman in Las Vegas. Their ideas gelled instantly when they talked about the film projects. Last November, Montano and Ho visited five states in the US and met with a number of people.

To date, Inspire Studios signed up Montano to appear with Pacquiao in the war epic, “Freedom Fighters,” scheduled to start filming next month for a possible release in April or May, according to Montano.

Based on the memoir, “The Guerilla Wife,” written by World War II survivor Louise Reid Spencer, who lived in the Philippines (Iloilo) during the Japanese occupation, “Freedom Fighters” will have Pacquiao playing Col. Macario Peralta Jr., a war hero. Montano, meanwhile, will take on the role of Rev. Delfin Dianala, a Protestant minister.

“Freedom Fighters” will be co-produced by Pacquiao.

“[The film] is the story of the group of Americans – doctors, nurses, preachers and missionaries – who decided not to surrender to the Japanese but got caught and executed,” explained Ho. “It changed history. Their death resulted to intelligence that reached [Douglas] McArthur and resulted him to return to the Philippines.”

Montano is extremely proud to be cast in “Freedom Fighters,” a celebration of the friendship of Americans and Filipinos. “How they fought and survived in those days, nobody was telling that story,” he lamented. “It’s to let the whole world know.

Montano is also cast in “Palawan: Last Man Out,” the untold story and extra-ordinary bravery of the “epic courage that turned tragedy into triumph.” It will also focus om the Special Bolo Batallion in Palawan. The screenplay will be based on an “incredible true story,” said Montano.

Montano met with screenwriter Donald Ethan Miller in the US last month to discuss the screenplay of “Last Man Out.” Miller gave his commitment to finish the script last week of December.

The third project that Montano committed to do for Inspire Studios is “The Rescue.”

“We know the story of the rescue of Gracia Burnham, but we don’t know the story of the rescued,” Ho said. “They were abducted in Palawan and rescued in Mindanao.”

The fourth film that Inspire Studios will produce is “Open Doors,” although Montano will not be a part of the project. “The film focuses more on the Jewish families that President [Manuel] Quezon helped, as opposed to President Quezon himself,” said Ho. ‘Open Doors’ tells the other side of the story. The opposite of ‘Quezon’s Game.’”

Apart from Montano’s film projects with Inspire Studios, the actor has other commitments with different companies. He will shoot “Prayfully, Yours,” possibly with a Caucasian actress to star with him. He also wrote the script and will even direct it.

“I am a little confused now on what I really want to do best,” he said. “Aside from acting, I also enjoy directing. I’ll be lying if I’ll say no to it. Then, I also wrote the script. That’s a bigger challenge if I don’t write the script.”

Cesar Montano with Francis Ho (middle) and John Lee (right). Shirley Matias-Pizarro

Montano said he made a covenant with God and vowed to just stick to making movies. “I am good with that,” he said. “These kinds of films are what the younger generation and the coming generation need. He has given me talent to make films and I guess I’ll be fixated with making movies.”

After all the challenges that happened in his life in the last two years, Montano admitted he has a stronger faith in God now. “One day, God talked to me. He told me He gave me great talent to do films and I went out of my way to do other things. I am done with politics. I will merely support,” he said.

Montano is not appearing on another teleserye for the meantime and vows to simply concentrate of making movies. “It takes dedication to be on TV,” he reasoned. "You need to tape three times a week. That is not realistic for me. I cannot make the movies if I’m working on a teleserye.”

He already wrapped up “Blood Brothers,” a story about our own country before Islam came in. It’s a partnership between him and the Commission on Higher Education (CHED). It is now on its post-production stage. The film also stars Robin Padilla as his brother, with Phillip Salvador, Victor Neri and Allan Paule. It will be released first quarter of 2020.

Montano further plans to do the story of Caleb and the lost tribe, the ordained Datu of the Obu Manuvu tribe in Davao. “He disappeared in a tribal war 200 years ago,” Montano said. “We want to show the difference of Muslims and Katutubo. The younger generation does not know about this story.”

Montano also plans to resurrect his other personal project, “Sultan Kudarat,” which he will pursue next year. “We went to Catobato and met with the mayor there and the family of Michael Mastura, who was a descendant of Sultan Kudarat,” he offered. “I will meet again with the family and discuss the project more.”

He attested it’s hard to be Cesar Montano. “It’s hard to be anyone without Jesus Christ. You cannot enjoy anything without peace of mind.”

Meanwhile, Inspire Studios started out by getting distributors on board. “After our distributor set-up, we have a bank,” explained John Lee, who is in charge of business affairs and funding. “A global picture takes 18 months to four years to finish. As far as production timing is concerned, ‘Freedom Fighters’ already has a script. The director now being short-listed and that will take four to six weeks. Once the director is in, the rest of the actors will follow.”

Inspire Studios is based in California, but also has an office in the Philippines, based in Palawan. “We only make movies that are inspiring in nature and our goal is to impact people’s lives,” said Ho. “We want audience when they come, not only to entertain people, but to also make them feel better.

“We are creating not make-believe superhero movies, but we are actually telling stories of actual heroes who live. The uniqueness of this is the stories came from the Philippines. There are stories of Americans and Filipinos in their heroic acts together. We are now transitioning from a screenplay to a director-ready screenplay.”

Ho added: “Out of these four movies, our vision is to win the first Oscar for the Philippines. That’s the reason we are doing the standard and the quality that they are doing in Hollywood. The mission is we want to uplift the greatness and goodness of Filipinos. We want to help the world know that the Filipinos are people of greatness and goodness.

“Let’s put Philippine filmmaking on the world stage. We are already on boxing with Manny Pacquiao. We are already on theater with Lea Salonga. We showed the world a lot about the Philippines when they watched the recent SEA Games. But we can do a whole lot more. With these films, we are re-writing history.”