Monday, April 19, 2010

Matchstick in the Wind: Palito (1934-2010)

By Paul Lee

With his cadaverously rail-thin appearance and sunken eyes that nevertheless carries a boyish twinkle and topped with his pageboy haircut; it is hard not to miss the late Reynaldo Hipolito, Sr. aka the comedian Palito in the middle of a crowd. Undoubtedly Palito was one of the most underrated icons in Philippine Cinema; nevertheless he possessed more personality and talent with his homey appearance than most of today’s lacklustre ‘artists’ in local show business.

Then again with his appearance and typecasting being a liability in show business, people could only remember Palito either as the comic zombie-corpse and stooge for more famous comedians or the craven comedy relief to the action stars of his day. Indeed this writer’s most indelible memory of this comedian was a slapstick pratfall he made on a wok full of boiling water landing seat first and screaming uncontrollably before running around like a headless chicken; that was in an old and
long-forgotten film starring another late great Pinoy comedian Chiquito who had long since crossed to the Great Beyond. While landing rear-first on boiling water was humour as its simplest nevertheless a comedian of Palito’s stature can breeze through this otherwise prosaic routine and deliver the laughs.

Ironically while audiences only remember Palito as the typecast comic zombie or the hapless stooge to an action hero; it was with his comically emaciated appearance that he blazed a trail in his comedic career parodying Sylvester Stallone back when the latter was in vague in films like Rambuto and No Blood, No Surrender. Likewise there was also Palito’s parody of British secret agent James Bond in the eponymous James Bone. Certainly the image of a scrawny slapstick actor packing heavy firepower or sporting a faux Saville Row suit has achieved trash-cinema cult status amongst foreign film critics delighting at the muscular Hollywood action icon being lampooned by a scrawny Pinoy. Sadly Palito’s parodies did not buoy his fortunes as they took a reversal relegating him to once again playing second banana roles before his career wound down as he worked both as a stand-up comedian at a club in Avenida, Sta. Cruz, Manila and as an occasional drummer.

It was only when he began making appearances in independent films and music videos in his latter years coupled with an episode of Maalala Mo Kaya starring Vhong Navarro that Palito rebounded back to the public consciousness. By then a newer generation had begun to appreciate his comedic homey looks complemented by his timed and quirky slapstick. Perhaps the most noted of his latter films was the little-released Interpool, another send-off on the action genre which unfortunately disappeared after only a few days of theatrical release. Another feather on the twilight of Palito’s career was his appearance in the Rivermaya music video Ambotsa where he slept through the video only to be roused by the band from time to time.

Of course, Palito had a string of other upcoming appearances including M.O.N.A.Y or Misteyks obda Neyson Adres Yata co-starring Jun Urbano as well as the documentary The Search for Weng-Weng and Khavn de la Cruz’s MondoManila.

Unfortunately despite enjoying an apparent revival in his career, Palito was dogged by both health and financial problems, in particular his lung ailment which would claim his life last April 12, 2010.

Postscript: Having seen Palito’s seminal film Rambuto back to back with one of his final works, Pablong Shoeshine at the Mogwai Cinematheque in Cubao, Quezon City last April 18, 2010, I became completely aware of the kitsch factor in his film. Though the pace, plot and production values of Rambuto would have done Ed Wood Jr. proud; it is precisely the kitschiness in Palito’s lampooning of the action genre that had made Rambuto unique in Philippine cinema and all the more reason for him to be missed.

Editor's note: For more information on the life, times and career of Palito, please check this link:

(Paul Lee is a freelance writer. He is currently finishing his master's degree in Creative Writing at U.P. Diliman)

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