#52FilmsByWomen 2017 Film # 6: Kita Kita (I See You)

Who took a pledge to watch 52 films directed by women this year? This guy! Full-length & short films are eligible as long as a woman directed it; co-directing credits count too. The 6th movie on my list is Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Kita Kita (I See You). 

Kita Kita (I See You) has two problematic premises baked into its story.

Alessandra de Rossi is Lea, a tourist guide working in Sapporo, Japan. Her engagement of two years with her Japanese fiancee ends, once she finds he’s cheating on her with her friend. On her way home, she loses her sense of sight due to stress. While she’s alone, angry & blind, she meets Tonyo, played by Empoy Marquez. He’s her Filipino neighbor who wants to befriend her, since he’s all alone & homesick in a foreign land. She’s adamant at first, but once Lea lowers her defenses & Tonyo reveals his sincere, funny side, they become close enough to be a couple.

On the surface, it looks like a novel, innocuous spin on the hugot-filled romantic comedy, complete with a tourist-friendly destination bound to be visited by the movie’s fans & a romantic theme song sung by a well-regarded singer. That’s true. However, it is part of a long line of Filipino movies using the lead’s failure to meet the Western beauty standards to explore what “true beauty” is. You know, the one on the inside: kindness, integrity, & intelligence. It stretches back to the movies of Rene Requiestas & Zorayda Sanchez, and now comedians like Kiray Celis, Vice Ganda, & this time Empoy Marquez continuing this tradition.

While these movies allow those who look like ordinary people to star in their own movie, it can be a mean-spirited & hypocritical affair. It allows the audience to laugh at a person’s supposed shortcomings while feeling morally superior for siding with the protagonist. It indulges in the exact thing it demonizes.

These tropes can be tempered with the characters making the jokes themselves without bordering on self-hatred & making them self-aware, likable, capable human beings who fight back. But if the movie isn’t careful, it can tilt into the other direction & become hateful in other ways. A great example is Vice Ganda’s movies, where it goes out of its way to mock everyone that it often punches down. God knows we don’t need more jokes mocking people with dark skin.

The second one happens late in the film. It recontextualizes the rest of the movie & it turns Leo into a bit of a creep. To explain it would spoil the movie, so it would be better to skip the next paragraphs between the spoiler tags

<SPOILERS>

It turns out Tonyo lied about when they first met. After a bad breakup in Tokyo, he decided to go to Sapporo while on a bender because that’s the name of the beer he’s drinking. While taking a selfie with a Sapporo beer can, he accidentally captures Lea walking behind him.

That’s when he decided to follow her & hang out near her place. Lea mistakes him for a lowly beggar, so she always gives him food as she goes to work. While Lea is in a bad mood due to her fiance, she snaps at him, telling him to clean himself & fix his life. That’s when he realizes he needs to change. He looks for a job & a place to stay in Sapporo.

That doesn’t mean he stopped following her or intruding in her life. We find out that he’s the one who saved a kid from going to the fountain, the one who gave her the boquet of flowers in front of her house, the one in the banana suit, & the one who told Lea her fiance was cheating on her.

It turns Tonyo into a well-intentioned, opportunistic stalker. He tracked her down constantly, intruded on her personal life, bothered her constantly & introduced himself under false pretenses. It was nice of him to be there for Lea during tough times & telling her about her fiance’s cheating, & this part of Tonyo showing his gratitude to Lea, but this is still alarming, manipulative behavior. What makes it worse is the movie makes it out as a lovely, romantic gesture, when this kind of behavior would probably get arrested in real life.

</SPOILERS>

But the movie finds a way to soften these problematic elements by focusing on the burgeoning closeness between the central couple. With the two of them alone in Sapporo & Lea blind, no one can comment on Tonyo’s facial features constantly except themselves. And when it does, it does so sparingly. The first time it’s even mentioned is halfway through the movie, with Empoy making a cheeky joke describing his appearance to Lea. It was able to sidestep the “issue” with Empoy’s appearance without overwhelming the narrative with jokes directed at Tonyo.

The movie isn’t as successful at toning down Tonyo’s shifty behavior. While the movie makes it clear he did it all out of good will & gratitude towards Lea, it still doesn’t call him out about how he acted. Tonyo may be aware about his looks compared to Lea, but he’s not that aware how his behavior crossed some lines.

Despite these, the movie is ridiculously funny & charming it makes easy to forget its flaws. The script by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo has set up a wonderful premise filled with funny jokes grounded in each of the characters’ behavior & flaws that pay off at the end. It’s a small, grounded tale that pulls the audience in through pure emotion. Both of the characters aren’t as three-dimensional as expected, given the film’s devotion to focusing on their love story.

It helps this movie has excellent performances from Alessandra de Rossi & Empoy Marquez. Both of them rarely play parts in romantic comedies, if at all, yet this should prove they have the chops to headline their own movie. You can always rely on Alessandra de Rossi for a great performance, and this is no different. She has a warm, friendly presence befitting her role as a tourist guide, & she shows Lea’s pricklier side without creating any disconnect. But the biggest surprise here is Empoy Marquez. It’s no surprise that he’s funny, but his charisma in this movie is off-the-charts. His ordinary looks belie his charms, using his wit & confidence to become closer to Lea & reel us deeper into their love story. Together, they have a unique chemistry that should make other love teams jealous.

It even smoothens out the movie’s choppy editing, a result of Spring Films pulling out of MMFF 2016 to make it shorter. The pacing is rushed, making Lea & Tonyo’s growing relationship feel hollow. But it only reinforces the strength of their performances, as it fills the gaps left by the script & the editing. If anything, it makes the romance at the forefront of the story more potent. It proves that the only thing you need to make a good, memorable romantic comedy is a unique premise with a ridiculously likable, charming couple at the center, but it isn’t enough to make it a classic.

Advertisements

Sakaling Hindi Makarating Embraces the Joys of Getting Lost

TL;DR: It’s a lovely ode to wanderlust that allows viewers to take it slow along with the protagonists.

Sakaling Hindi Makarating (In Case They Don’t Arrive) begins with Cielo (Alessandra de Rossi) entering her new apartment. She just returned to the Philippines after breaking off her engagement with her fiance, whom she had a relationship with for 11 years. While trying to figure out what to do with her life, she strikes a friendly relationship with her next-door neighbor Paul (Pepe Herrera), who is smitten with her. Suddenly, she receives postcards from an unknown sender, filled with lovely paintings & romantic, handwritten letters, from a person named ‘M.’ She decides to track down the sender by going on a journey around the Philippines using the postcards as a guide. Through her travels & the people she meets on her journey, her heartbreak is slowly healed as she looks for the letter writer.

What follows is a tribute to getting lost in wanderlust. Even the movie’s structure follows suit. While there’s a clear emotional arc for Cielo, the movie’s plotting is relaxed & shaggy, allowing for small moments where we see Cielo watching colorful vintas by the sea or Paul teaching his students.

More importantly, it avoids the pitfalls of stories about travelers trying to better themselves. Cielo soaks up as much as she can from the places she visits & interacts with the locals normally. While she does learn a few things from her travels, she doesn’t treat people as mere tools for self-improvement, doesn’t portray the places she visits as “exotic” & present it as insight. To be fair, it’s easier to do this when your main character is trying to find the mysterious letter writer, instead of happiness, in her own country but it could’ve slid into these hacky, dehumanizing tropes if it wanted to.

It’s also littered with great performances from the cast. Alessandra de Rossi plays Cielo as a woman who rediscovers the wonders of her own country & slowly coming out of her funk without losing her inner strength. Pepe Herrera is charming as a lovelorn man who doesn’t know how to show his affections towards her. JC Santos is the right mix of endearing & cocky as a man who falls for Cielo during her travels who already knows what he wants in his life. And then there’s Teri Malvar, playing a young girl whose life collides with Cielo in surprising ways, adds another heartbreaking performance in her already jam-packed resume.

All of this amounts to a movie that speaks to the joys of getting lost. Sakaling Hindi Makarating understands there’s no need to rush. No matter what our problems are, we could take things slowly & savor the little moments we would’ve missed if we were in a hurry. We’ll all get where we need to be someday, one step at a time.