The Claws of Light

The Claws of Light

original theatrical poster
Directed by Lino Brocka
Produced by Miguel de Leon
Severino Manotok
Written by Edgardo M. Reyes (novel)
Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. (screenplay)
Starring Bembol Roco
Hilda Koronel
Lou Salvador, Jr.
Juling Bagabaldo
Tommy Abuel
Music by Max Jocson
Cinematography Miguel de Leon
Editing by Edgardo Jarlego
Ike Jarlego
Distributed by Cinema Artists Philippines
Release date(s) July 16, 1975
Running time 125 minutes
Country Philippines
Language Tagalog

The Claws of Light (Filipino: Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag, aka Manila at the Claw of Brightness) is a 1975 Filipino drama film directed by Lino Brocka based on the novel by Edgardo M. Reyes. It is considered as one of the classics of Filipino cinema.

It stars Hilda Koronel, Lou Salvador, Jr., Tommy Abuel, and in his film debut, Bembol Roco (credited as Rafael Roco, Jr.). The cinematography is Miguel de Leon, who would later on became a renowned director himself.


Plot summary

Julio Madiaga is a probinciano who arrives in Manila. From time to time, Julio would pass by the corner of Ongpin and Misericordia as he stares at a peculiar building from a distance. While pursuing his quest, he has to work in order to survive the conditions of the urban jungle.

At first, Julio lands a job as a construction worker. Being not used to such labor, he at one point falls unnconscious due to fatigue. In the site, he befriends Atong, a fellow construction worker who has been employed for five weeks prior. A co-worker advises Julio that metropolitan life is quite difficult unless one has the income to enjoy living off the comforts of the city. Julio begins to slowly observe the harsh reality of the society, even witnessing the accidental death of one of the workers.

One day, while Julio and Atong are shopping for clothes in the marketplace, a fat lady dressed in black and wearing sunglasses catches Julio's attention. Julio immediately runs to the crowd and attempts to follow this woman. He successfully locates the woman and approaches her. However, before he could even say anything, the lady yells in distress. Julio instantly flees in order to prevent a scene to be made. Julio runs back to Atong and both of them leave the area, much to Atong's chagrin.

Eventually, the construction of the building is nearing completion. In order to lessen the number of expenses, it is natural that a handful of workers are laid off from work. Julio is one of them. As his time in Manila becomes much longer, Julio gets slowly overwhelmed by the system. For instance, while having coffee at an eatery, Julio sees a waitress being abused and berated by her employer. This leaves Julio all somber. In between each scenario, Julio would often reminisce of his simple life in the province.

Julio once again visits the street corner he would frequent, staring at that building right across him. He then catches a glimpse of a young woman's silhouette by the lit window. Julio cannot believe what he saw and immediately calls out to the figure, addressing her as "Ligaya". But his call was not heard and he can see that the room is already dark. The scene then abruptly cuts to Julio having a conversation with a friend. His friend asks Julio why he is looking for a certain Ligaya Paraiso, something he heard from Atong. Then, in place of the brief flashbacks previously shown, Julio finally tells his story in full narrative.

Both Julio and his girlfriend Ligaya shared a happy life together in the province. However, the idyllic moments have been interrupted however when a fat lady wearing sunglasses (the same one Julio encountered in the market), arrives on their shore. The fat lady is Mrs. Cruz, whom Julio describes as "obese like a pig". Cruz handles a brothel in Manila and happens to look for young women to recruit. She takes a keen interest in getting Ligaya, who is referred to by Julio as the most beautiful woman in their community, to work for her. Cruz asks the consent of Ligaya's mother for Ligaya to work in Manila, promising a great opportunity for her and a very high salary, as well. Ligaya, who is reluctant to go, accepts the offer in order to help her family live a better life by bringing home whatever fee she earns. As Ligaya is ready to board the boat that will take her offshore to a place that will be new to her, the community bid her farwell. Julio, on the other hand, does not join the others and instead distants himself from a far vantage. Ligaya sees Julio, and likewise; but the latter is deeply hurt to even approach her. She then gets on the boat with Cruz. That is the last time that Julio will ever see Ligaya.

Regretting the actions he did, Julio travels to Manila in order to search for Ligaya. As soon as Julio arrived, he was looking everywhere for Ligaya. Then one day, Julio happened to glance at Mrs. Cruz walking by some street. Julio followed her until she stopped at a certain building parallel to Ongpin and Misericordia. Julio seemed curious, so he entered the building one time. He wounds up in the third floor of the building and stumbles upon a large unit there. He checks to see if people are on the other end of the door. An old woman responds and asks who is he looking for, to which Julio tells the woman that he is looking for someone named Ligaya Paraiso. The old woman claims of not knowing her and asks the other person guarding the place, an old man, if he knows Ligaya. The old man becomes hostile to Julio and denies that he even knows of a Ligaya Paraiso and slams the door. Hence, this is the reason why Julio poses by the street corner, to keep a look out for Ligaya, if ever she leaves the building.

Julio has encountered a lot of misfortune while in Manila, having been prone to being victimized by the city’s scum. To make matters worse, he finds out that his best friend, Atong, had been arrested because of a mere squabble and has died in jail.

Atong’s sister, Perla, later goes missing after their father dies in a fire that consumed their house. Julio continues looking for Perla and learns from Imo, who now has generated good income after landing a job in advertising, that the girl is now in Makati.

In one of his searches for his lost love, Julio gets robbed of most of his belongings including his most treasured diary. Slowly, Julio develops a cynical demeanor as he gradually loses hope of ever finding Ligaya.

One day, however, Julio finally reunites with Ligaya after many years of being away from each other. They both spend the night together. Julio learns from Ligaya that she had been tricked by Mrs. Cruz, ending up as a recruit in a prostitution ring under the authority of Ah Tek, a corrupt Chinese businessman. Ligaya further explains that she is now the mother of Ah Tek’s child and how she has become disillusioned with how her life is going. Julio, feeling the same sentiment, proposes to Ligaya that they are to meet at the Arranque market by midnight and leave Manila together. Ligaya is initially reluctant for fear that Ah Tek might find out, but Julio promises her that he will wait three more hours for her. Ligaya then agrees to it.

Later at Arranque, Julio patiently waits for Ligaya until the wee hours of the morning, only for the latter not to show up. Thinking that Ligaya broke her promise, this saddens Julio, and he returns to Pol's home to sleep it off.

Pol, being aware of how depressed his friend is, tries to sport a cheerful mood and wakes Julio up for an outing. Julio complies half-heartedly. Later as the two are dining at an eatery, Pol tries to lighten the mood but fails to do so as Julio is still quite depressed. Pol gives up and reluctantly breaks the news to Julio that Ligaya is dead. Julio does not want to believe it, but Pol hands him a copy of a newspaper article declaring it to be true. Julio learns from Pol that Ligaya died after being thrown off a flight of stairs right after being strangled. The two later visits the funeral parlor where Ligaya’s wake is being held and pay their respects.

Julio, dealing with so many frustrations, transforms from a meek and kind-hearted boy into a bitter and vengeful man.

A few days after, Julio and Pol view Ligaya’s burial from afar. Only a few people, including Mrs. Cruz, are in attendance for the last rites. Julio spots a peculiar Chinese man standing next to Mrs. Cruz. Julio assumes this to be Ah Tek. Pol consoles Julio, advising him to let the matter go and leave the burial peaceful.

One night, Julio, who is bent with rage, approaches the brothel in Misericordia with the intention of killing Ah Tek. The moment he arrives, Julio successfully stabs Ah Tek to death. A mob quickly gathers and runs after Julio. Eventually, Julio is cornered in a dark alley and the mob is ready to beat him up. The screen freezes to a close-up of Julio’s terrified face.


The film is based on a story written by Edgardo Reyes and serialized in Liwayway Magazine from 1966 to 1967. For each episode or installment, Reyes provides enough incidents - bringing the end of the installment to enough of a conclusion - to satisfy the reader, at the same time keeping enough elements unresolved to entice him back for more. After twenty or more installments full of subplots and side characters exiting or dying or having climactic fits, the reader notices several advantages and disadvantages.

The adaptation into film originally started out life as a writing exercise for Clodualdo del Mundo, Jr. in 1968 when he was still studying at the Ateneo de Manila. Seeing the novel as a challenge to transcribe it on a screenplay, del Mundo proceeded with the task without the intention of making an actual film out of it. The result was only a spec script. He eventually graduated and relocated to the United States to continue his studies.

Mike de Leon, grandson to Narcisa de Leon of LVN Pictures, had already directed one short film and intended to expand his role in the film industry, namely as a producer. By chance, de Leon stumbled upon the spec script, being recommended about it through a third party, and was enthusiastic that it would make a great feature to debut from his newfound production company Cinema Artists. Del Mundo then received a long-distance phone call from de Leon, claiming he liked the spec script and envisioned it as a film. Del Mundo, greatly informed about the news, took a flight from Kansas to Manila in order to flesh out the spec script into an actual screenplay. Already receiving acclaim for his previous work Weighed But Found Wanting, de Leon tapped in Lino Brocka to direct the film. Brocka took this as an opportunity to create a scathing commentary about the urban poverty amidst the Marcos administration, and also never hesitated to include homosexual themes in the story.

The film was produced with a small budget and free of any control from a major studio. Locations were shot on location within the vicinity of Manila.



  • Bembol Roco as Julio Madiaga - The protagonist of the story. He is a 21-year-old who hails from the province. He went to Manila to search for his love, Ligaya. Initially, Brocka-stalwart Jay Ilagan was to play the lead role, but the role was passed to the newcomer Roco.
  • Hilda Koronel as Ligaya Paraiso - The love-interest of Julio. Unbeknownst to Julio until later on, she happens to work as a prostitute in Ah-Tek's brothel. Her name is literally translated in English as "joyful paradise".
  • Lou Salvador, Jr. as Atong - Julio's good friend.
  • Tommy Abuel as Pol - Julio's good friend after Atong.
  • Pio de Castro as Imo - Julio's friend.
  • Juling Bagabaldo as Gng. Cruz - She works for Ah-Tek as the recruiter of the prostitutes.
  • Tommy Yap as Ah-Tek - The antagonist of the story. He is a wealthy and cruel mestizo de sangley who owns a brothel.


Many who have seen The Claws of Light have speculated on the symbolism of the characters. For example, some comment that Ligaya Paraiso represents Inang Bayan ("mother country" in English). Her name, literally translated in English as "joyful paradise", is a reference to how Julio saw her as his love interest because she was his paradise.

Julio Madiaga is regarded as a symbol of the typical Filipino coming from a province, living in hard conditions and suffering the pains given by the civilized hell of the city. His surname translated in English means "patience", a trait observed as he looks for Ligaya with hope and possibilities.

Mrs. Cruz is another example. Her surname, "Cruz", simply translates as "cross", a reference to the heavy burden the prostitutes have to bear. The antagonistic Ah-Tek is also considered an example; the character's name is derived from the Filipino word atik which is translated as "money", representing the greed and selfishness of the character.

The city itself is considered to be the main character, not Julio or any of the characters. The film is also presented as a portrait of one man's corruption and downfall.

Critical Reaction

The low-budget production was a modest hit. Many critics around the globe who have seen The Claws of Light gave it positive reviews. The local audiences found the film very distinct that it was regarded as "possibly the greatest Filipino film of all time".

Awards and Recognition

The film won Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Actor, and Best Supporting Actor at the 1976 FAMAS awards.

The Claws of Light is one of the few Filipino films that has been consistently placed among the world's top 100 films of all time. It is the only film from the Philippines that entered in the list of the book, 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die.

See also

External links

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