Alternative Media (Part 16): Muro-Ami (The Reef Hunters): A Modern Moby Dick

Now look, as you can probably tell, I’m not a big fan of local films and TV shows. Indeed, I go out of my way to bash the local media at every opportunity and I especially hate the MMFF which I detest now more than ever for refusing to show Star Wars: The Force Awakens just so they can force people to watch garbage like My Bebe Love and Etiquette For Mistresses. However due note that, from time to time at least, the local media does come out with something worthwhile and memorable.

A good example of what I’m talking about is Muro Ami or The Reef Hunters which was shown way back in 1999. While I utterly abhor most MMFF films, Muro Ami is one of the few local films still worth watching again and recommending to all you guys here on GRP. If only we had more films like this one, perhaps we wouldn’t need to block foreign films as it manages to shine out on its own merits with its various film actors just being icing on an already delicious (if somewhat bitter) cake. The film was directed by the late Marilou-Diaz Abaya and its screenplay written by Ricardo Lee and Jun Lana. Muro Ami or The Reef Hunters stars Cesar Montano in the lead role as the fisherman Fredo with Pen Medina as Dado, Fredo’s father and Jhong Hilario as Botong, Fredo’s best friend.


Subscribe to our Substack community GRP Insider to receive by email our in-depth free weekly newsletter. Opt into a paid subscription and you'll get premium insider briefs and insights from us.
Subscribe to our Substack newsletter, GRP Insider!
Learn more

Muro Ami tells the story of Fredo, a fisherman who had recently lost his family while at sea and somehow seeks revenge by plundering the depths of marine life. Much like Captain Ahab of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Fredo resorts to some really despicable measures just to exact his vengeance on the sea. He makes use of underage, underfed and underpaid employees who are otherwise just desperate children wanting to support themselves and their families and abuses them to no end.

All in all, 3 main highlights of Muro Ami include:

The Futility Of Vengeance

I’m not calling Muro Ami a modern Moby Dick for no reason. Well, yes, the Herman Melville story was centered on a whale but the premise has a lot of similarities. Note for instance the losses suffered by both Fredo and Ahab and how it essentially warped their minds and ruined their relationship with other people.

In the film proper, Fredo goes to great lengths just to get petty revenge on the sea. He sends young children into the depths to scare fish into a netting system that is designed to catch as many fish as possible, destroying the underwater ecosystem in the process. Fredo is particularly adamant and brutal in his methods, pushing his young workers to the limits of their endurance in order to do as much damage as he can to the sea and its biological systems.

However, much like Captain Ahab, Fredo is fighting a pointless battle against the forces of nature. While he may destroy the coral reefs and other marine life in the waters he operates in, this will neither cause significant damage to the sea nor bring his lost loved ones back to life. And even if he does succeed, one can note that the destruction of the coral reefs will come back to bite him in the form of environmental disasters and what not.

While a lot of local films and TV shows tend to focus a lot on petty revenge, Muro Ami shows us the futility of wanting revenge, especially against fate. It shows us that one’s quest for vengeance can easily lead to one’s own destruction as evidenced by Fredo’s deteriorating health. Much like Ahab, Fredo overlooks other, more beneficial opportunities for himself just so he can get back at the sea for taking his loved ones.

The Horrors Of Child Labor

The fact of the matter is that due to poverty, many of our children are forced into working dangerous and dehumanizing conditions. Muro Ami puts to light this bitter reality that only so few are actually willing to admit to. What’s worse is that, not only are some of us willing to overlook the topic of child labor, there are those of us who willingly condone it because of its profitability.

In the film, Fredo treats his young divers much like work animals, forcing them to work under inhuman conditions. He treats the young boys like his slaves and brutally punishes them for failure or defiance. It is shown that Fredo doesn’t really care if any of the boys working under him die because of their dangerous profession and is willing to risk anything and everything just so he can cause significant damage to the underwater ecosystem.

Destruction Of The Environment

The kind of fishing method Fredo uses isn’t the only form of illegal fishing used in the Philippines. However, that does not change the fact that a lot of fisherman are willing to use illegal and sometimes dangerous methods of fishing just to make money. Note however that the various illegal fishing techniques are destroying more and more of the surrounding waters of the Philippines leading to less bountiful catches to the possible outbreak of contaminated seafood.

Much like Fredo, a lot of us are unaware or simply outright oblivious to the damage we’re doing to the sea and, by extension, Mother Nature herself. Then, when things take a turn for the bad such as mass poisonings by red tide, tsunamis and super-typhoons, we cry bloody murder as if we didn’t contribute to the destruction of our environment. And no, I’m not just talking about illegal fishing techniques anymore either. Either through poor waste disposal or (the all-time Pinoy favorite pastime) littering, we are polluting the waters around our country and destroying our marine life.

When we finally succeed in depopulating our local seas of fish and other underwater wildlife, would we even realize what we’ve done and reconsider our practices or would we again play the victim card (like Fredo) and go on with our destructive ways?

[Photo courtesy Fukuoka archives.]

2 Replies to “Alternative Media (Part 16): Muro-Ami (The Reef Hunters): A Modern Moby Dick”

    1. Here it is if you want Mr. OnesimusUnbound!

      (Right now, I’m interested in seeing, among others that I still have yet to see, the lost animated movie of Nonoy Marcelo’s “Ikabod Bubwit: The Rat Opera” just to satisfy my curiousity! It’s one of the first original pinoy full animated feature! I do not know if there is still a surviving copy left!)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.