Tokwifi is about the tale of a young Igorot man who came upon a falling star, only to find out that it was an old television containing a 1950s showbiz star. The two try to bond while overcoming the stereotypes they hold over each other.
Central to the story is the presentation of rural mountain life in Bontoc. The film beautifully weaves together folk tales, the farming life, and the debate between modernity and tradition.
Unlike attempts of other films to depict the life of indigenous peoples, Tokwifi’s portrayal of the Igorot life is neither offensive to the Igorots nor uncomfortable to the audience. This is not surprising as the film came from the same production house that crafted the beautiful documentary Walang Rape sa Bontoc. There is no fear that the film might somehow slip and be politically incorrect. Instead, the film’s story-telling was consistently sensitive in telling the tale of the indigenous people.
While the story revolved around the romance between the two main characters, the narrative can be read beyond that. For one, the film comments on how society at large, meaning the non-Igorots, has held stereotypes on ethnic groups. The film shows this through literally boxing the non-Igorot. It shows the limited and ignorant views of the lowlanders on the culture of the former. Thus, the film shows in detail Limmayug’s mission to reveal to the outsider the beauty and complexity of the indigenous culture.
Also, the film gives the viewers a glimpse of the First Golden Age of Philippine Cinema – the 1950s. Viewers familiar with film studios like LVN Pictures would get the references made in the story. The inclusion of this piece of film history shows how the Philippine media and its past are riddled with misrepresentations of the Igorots. The apparent ignorance of Laura Blancaflor on the culture and tradition of the Igorots mirrors that of the extremely misinformed stereotypes held by media materials in the past.
Tokwifi serves as a beautiful clap back to decades of stupid representation done by mainstream films and other media. It is emancipating to see indigenous people characters giving the lowlander audience a lecture on the beauty, intricacy, and complexity of their culture and identity.