Engaging National Identities: The Arnisador and the Samurai in The Pacific Connection


by: Rey Carlo T. Gonzales


Following a period of nation-building after its independence at the end of World War II, the Philippines sought to define its national identity. In the 1970s, mostly as a result of the popularity of Bruce Lee films, the government endeavored to appropriate Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) for nation-building. FMA practitioners sought to contribute to the discourse on national identity by attempting to define it from their perspective. One such practitioner was bodybuilder-turned-actor Roland Dantes who conceptualized and starred in a series of FMAthemed action films. Dantes’ most iconic film, The Pacific Connection is a cornerstone in FMA. Drawing mainly from concepts by Anthony Smith on the ethnie and ethnosymbolism, this essay examines the way in which the film’s main character was defined against the film’s antagonist—a Japanese samurai—and argues that FMA’s representation of Filipino national identity involved a process of construction by drawing from national history, cultural elements, and idealized concepts of Filipino nationalism. Furthermore, such articulations of national identity were intrinsically formulated around perceived characteristics of a foreign other. The filmic engagement of the two characters reflected how concepts of national identity are expressed in FMA, and how FMA practitioners perceive their location and role in the nation.

Keywords: FMA, national identity, nationalism, ethnie