Film on Pacquiao traces the boxer’s rise to fame

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Film on Pacquiao traces the boxer’s rise to fame


Director Paul Soriano, left, and actor Buboy Villar pose before the premiere of “Kid Kulafu,” a film about Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, at cinemas at Rockwell Shopping complex in Manila, Philippines Tuesday. [AP/NEWSIS]

MANILA, Philippines - As a dirt-poor rookie boxer in the southern Philippines, Manny Pacquiao started his phenomenal rise to global fame not as the Pacman, as he is sometimes called, but as “Kid Kulafu.”

That moniker - the title of a new local film about Pacquiao’s childhood - was taken from the label of a cheap wine whose empty bottles he returned to recycling facilities for money to help his family.

“Kid Kulafu” opened Wednesday in more than 70 theaters across the Philippines starting ahead of Pacquiao’s May 2 megafight with Floyd Mayweather. It will be shown in some U.S. and Canadian theaters beginning April 24.

Produced with advice and additional assistance from Pacquiao, the film depicts the impoverished world he grew up in well before he became the world’s only eight-division boxing champion and one of its highest-paid athletes.

“He had every excuse in the book to fail - broken family, no food, no home, nowhere to go, no money, but he still persevered, and that’s what I want the people to see - that he is where he is today because of hard work,” filmmaker Paul Soriano told The Associated Press.

The 36-year-old boxer was born in a thatch-roofed house with a dirt floor in the mountains of southern Bukidnon province at a time when anti-communist militiamen were battling insurgents. One brutal clash near the Pacquiao home forced the family to move to General Santos city, into a shack owned by his uncle, Sardo Mejia. There often was not enough food for the family; sometimes they ate boiled rice paired with fish entrails or corn on the cob.

Pacquiao’s father later abandoned the family, leaving Manny, the eldest of three brothers, to find a livelihood like most young boys in the country’s rural areas. He sold fried peanuts, bread and doughnuts made by his mother. He also worked as a store assistant for Mejia, and collected sacks of empty bottles of Vino Kulafu, which he returned to the distributors to cash in on the deposits. Kulafu was originally a Tarzan-like Filipino comic-book hero.

Pacquiao became drawn to boxing after he started watching Betamax tapes of world heavyweight fights with his uncle. Mejia encouraged Pacquiao to box and later trained him, though his mother hated the sport. She wanted her son to be a priest, but was too poor to enter him into a seminary. Still, she ingrained a deep religious faith in him.

Ironically, Pacquiao’s road to boxing was partially paved by his mother when she was struck by a heart attack, Soriano said. The movie depicts the boy entering a fight to win 100 pesos (about $2) needed to buy her medicine.

With training by his uncle and a friend’s father, Pacquiao soon became the amateur boxing derby champion in General Santos, fighting in the open-air ring in the town plaza as Kid Kulafu, a name Mejia came up with. Without telling his mother, he left General Santos to train in a dingy boxing gym in Manila.

“’Kid Kulafu’ is really a movie about a young boy who grew up with nothing,” Soriano said. “All he really had was a dream.”

The 17-year-old actor playing Pacquiao, Buboy Villar, also grew up poor with separated parents; he had to scavenge garbage heaps to earn money before becoming a child star in Filipino TV and movies.

While Villar shares Pacquiao’s humble beginnings, the boxing skills took more work: He spent weeks building up muscles and learning to move as a southpaw like the champion. AP
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