1 of 2
YUNG LIBRO SA NAPANOOD KO
Directed by Bela PadillaMTRCB Rating: PG
One good thing I gleaned from Bela Padilla’s second film as a writer and director is that she must be someone with genuine enthusiasm for how forms of art and expression like books and TV shows help people cope with their lives.
Yung Libro sa Napanood Ko follows Lisa (played by Padilla herself), who writes a book inspired by a K-drama and meets a kind Korean fan named Gun-hoo (played by relative newcomer Yoo Min-gon).
From the opening scenes, it appears that the film is shaping up to be a simple love letter to the K-drama genre. But as Lisa gets whisked away on a spur-of-the-moment trip to South Korea with her new friend and visits spots where K-dramas were shot, it seems like it could fall into underwhelming territory.
By merely pandering to Filipinos’ infatuation for anything Korean, it runs the risk of feeding us “recycled air,” as a few of the characters have put it. In its defense, the narrative has touches of potential but sadly is overrun with budding romance tropes and cliches that have already been done a million times better.
In terms of acting, Ms. Padilla is excellent, as she always is in pretty-lady-with-emotional-baggage roles in romance-centered films. However, her scene partner Yoo lacks the star power of a K-drama leading man, coming off as cheesy more than anything else. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out that he was cast for narrative purposes, since he can speak the fluent English required for the story.
And though the sudden romance that seemingly sprouts out of nowhere is later explained by a hefty, exposition-filled reveal, the genre switch from cutesy to dramatic feels callous and heavy-handed. The film tries to touch on themes of female empowerment, mental health issues, and the plight of Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), but it’s all lost in clunky storytelling and comes across as forced.
Lisa’s mother (played by the largely underutilized Lorna Tolentino) is the hidden crux behind much of the narrative weight that pulls the second half squarely into melodrama. Her deep involvement with both Lisa and Gun-hoo is shown only in flashes, the OFW theme she represents taking a step back to make way for Lisa’s personal story.
It’s clear that Ms. Padilla is a passionate, talented storyteller who has a fair amount of knowledge about both Filipino romance and K-drama genres, making this film an easy imitation of tropes. Ultimately, Yung Libro sa Napanood Ko adds nothing to those existing films.
The best thing to do would be to bask in the passable cinematography and color grading that depict South Korea, and place yourself in Lisa and Gun-hoo’s shoes if it makes you feel better.
Hopefully for the next step in her filmmaking journey, Ms. Padilla moves past this messy, half-baked effort and gives us something worthwhile.
LOVE YOU LONG TIME
Directed by JP HabacMTRCB Rating: G
At first I was wary of the reappearance of the now-common Filipino romance movie trope of a stressed or heartbroken Metro Manila-based character going to Baguio as a form of escape.
It’s been done so many times, from Joyce Bernal’s Don’t Give Up On Us in 2006 with Judy Ann Santos and Piolo Pascual, and, most recently and effectively, Antoinette Jadaone’s That Thing Called Tadhana in 2015 with Angelica Panganiban and JM De Guzman.
Given that, this one surprisingly turns out to be interesting and worthwhile, albeit a bit rough in execution.
Love You Long Time opens with Ikay (played by first-timer to the big screen Eisel Serrano) who seemingly rejects and leaves her boyfriend (played by Carlo Aquino) to focus on her career as a screenwriter. Afterwards, she’s shown unwilling to compromise on a screenplay where she channels her feelings about the failed relationship.
To be inspired and finish the difficult screenplay, she travels to Baguio to visit her aunt (Ana Abad Santos). That’s where she comes across a two-way radio or walkie-talkie, which they frustratingly keep calling an “old phone” for some reason.
Out of curiosity, she uses it and starts speaking to a stranger named Uly (also played by Aquino), marking the start of a new friendship-to-love story set in both Baguio and Atok, Benguet.
Ms. Serrano as the independent and career-driven Ikay is passable, but it’s clear she’s a newbie to the big screen, highlighted by awkward acting moments and the inability to match the charm and star power of Mr. Aquino as Uly. Perhaps it would have been better to have chosen a different film for her big screen debut, as the gap in talent and experience does her no favors here.
The film has a promising story, which starts as a cutesy long-distance romance but later tackles the idea of how love transcends time (evoking Your Name, the hit 2016 time-travel animé film by Makoto Shinkai, albeit with less Japanese quirkiness and more Filipino indie sensibilities).
A twist drives home the film’s theme of writing as a form of expression. But the hard punches of this final act fall flat, due to the relationship forged through the radio feeling rushed and focused more on kilig than true connection.
Kara Moreno’s cinematography delivers the creative compositions expected of a romance across time (think split screens showing the divide between characters in one location). Meanwhile, JP Habac’s direction is standard but rough around the edges, given that it’s for a complex love story that tries to take clever turns. Still, it’s the most notable of his works since I’m Drunk, I Love You in 2017.
Sadly, despite Patricia Lasaten’s good score, this film is marred by the terrible sound mixing, especially when the theme song by Ben&Ben is playing. It’s as if the editors decide to crank it up to quadruple “the feels” without caring if the spoken dialogue is drowned out.
Ultimately, though it succeeds at providing a romance drama that isn’t completely run-of-the-mill, its tendency to dwell on sentiment and melodrama takes away from what could have been better executed. — Brontë H. Lacsamana