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Bobby Suarez (1942 – 2010)

February 8, 2010

Bobby Suarez on a panel with me at the Annual Southeast Asian Cinemas Conference in Manila in 2008Bobby Suarez, Filipino film producer, director and B-movie maverick, died on February 8th, 2010, after a series of heart attacks and a kidney operation in a Manila hospital.

Bobby Suarez was the director and producer of films such as The One-Armed Executioner, Searchers Of The Voodoo Mountain, American Commandos and, most famously of the Cleopatra Wong series, B-movies, that were distributed in many territories, including the US, the Middle East and a number of European countries. Among his business partners was German cinema-mogul Leo Kirch, and that´s why I came across his film Cleopatra Wong as a student in a German videotheque – an incredible feat for a director from the Philippines.

Even today, his works are less known in the Philippines than they are abroad. I wrote an essay on his eclectic mix of Eastern martial arts and Western spy and action genre fare as a  hommage to his ability to make movies in a Third World country that reached the first world, even if it was only via late-night cable TV and VHS rental tapes. When I send him a draft of this text I was very afraid that he might get upset about it – as I made it very clear that his films were not exactly filmic masterpiece – but he, being both the gentleman and he B-movie-enterpeneur that he was, he was delightened about the exposure.

With the international contacts the former kid from a notorious Manila orphanage called “Boystown”, who rose from errand boy at the Manila office of the Rank Organisation to owner of his own independent film company, made during his time in the Hong Kong film industry of the late 1960s, Suarez managed to sell his movies internationally for sums that were pocket money to his international distributors, but serious money for a film maker from the Philippines. Until the end of his life he was looking for financiers for a sequel of Cleopatra Wong, a movie he shot in Singapore, Hong Kong and Manila.  He once showed me a returned letter to the old business address of Leo Kirch, in which he approached him for financial support for a new movie. He was not aware of the fact that Kirch had gone backrupt. But he nevertheless managed to carve out a comfortable living for himself and his family by selling the rights of his old films internationally, and I understand that a DVD edition of some of his films is underway.

The hours I spend with him in his stuffy office in the old “producers row” in Binondo, Manila, are among my fondest memories of the five years I spend in the Philippines. I still have a file on him including some treatments for new movies that he wanted to make including a deeply catholic and deeply Filipino scripted called “The Girl that saw Jesus come down from the Cross”. I guess that would be the movie he would want to be remembered for. But he never got around to do it.

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