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Empathizing with Erik Matti and the dying Philippine film industry

Warning: Long read ahead! Did not mean to write it this long but here it goes.

While everyone was in community quarantine (a cliche for the past few months, I admit) and members of the middle and high class were drowning themselves in Netflix and other streaming websites, this tweet came and rocked the interwebs:

It was the great Filipino director, Erik Matti, ranting about how the top ten movies and shows on Netflix Philippines are dominated by Korean dramas. This was just a fact but he added a comment on how these were “Faux cinderella stories with belofied actors” reflecting how Korean stars are often flawless embedded in love stories that could be too good to be true.

Of course, I am writing this piece perhaps 16 days late but I purposely did so after pondering on the issue that has enraged Filipinos for almost a week followed by a barrage of Korean drama and movie recommendations for the director. While I do not abhor the Korean entertainment industry and Hallyu as a whole (I follow it, too!), I do realize where Direk Matti is coming from and empathize with him very well.

I have not studied film and media but I have a lifelong experience of watching movies and television. So, for the past 16 days, I thought about the tweet and the truths behind it.

The Filipino Film Industry

Fernando Poe Sr., the father of the King of Philippine Cinema, was one of the forerunners of the local movie scene.

For this post, I merged television and movie into the film industry to analyze both streams of entertainment. I was born into a family that was so into films and television and before I became aware, I always thought that my myopic eyes resulted from overwatching TV.

While I was enamored with American cartoons, I will also be “forced” to watch Filipino movies at home. I began to enjoy them at least during my elementary years. I enjoyed the dancing in between movies and never found it corny. It all changed when I started prioritizing English films starting with the Harry Potter series. Of course, I watched other English movies in between but I think the fantasy series was my initiation towards my movie preference.

But every time I remember Filipino films I would think of FPJ and Eddie Garcia, TVJ, Bistek, Vilma and Nora, and many more. I remember my grandmother crying alongside Claudine Barreto and Judy Ann Santos when I took my vacations in Negros. I will always remember the awe I felt while watching Jose Javier Reyes’ Hiling.

My mom would always buy entertainment magazines for her patients who wait for their turn at her clinic. I remember a Darna anniversary special where I lavished on old photos of the heroine portrayed by different actresses. The same issue tackled the rich history of Philippine cinema and television with excellent cabaret and theater actors crossing over to then-innovative media.

Around the same time, I saw coverage of the Optical Media Board offering a mass for the Filipino entertainment industry due to the rise of piracy. Eddie Garcia was holding a film reel to symbolize the film business in the country. The mass also became a protest of actors and workers behind the scenes against this illegal act.

You see, I do think that this is the time when Filipinos started to lose interest with locally-made products. In the early 2000s, bootleg copies of movies taken with shaky cameras hidden in cinemas started spreading. Most were made in China and the government became active in trying to suppress this illegal trade.

People would only need to wait for about two weeks before they can have their copy of a movie albeit having shadows and coughs or applauses with it. And Filipino movies were caught up in this, too.

I remember my dad lamenting that there are no longer releases of locally-made action movies. So, we resorted to American or European ones through VCDs and DVDs. More so, foreign films became available especially in bootleg 12-in-1 and 25-in-1 packages. Then, you compare the cinematography, the plot, and the actors of these foreign films to local ones. Is it really hard to think about the difference?

Hallyu sa Pinas

Remember when the nation went gaga over the “Aja!” thingy?

The 1990s saw the rise of Latin American telenovela being dubbed in Filipino inspiring the pattern and design, and even the moniker, of local TV series. Who can forget about Marimar or Rosalinda? These shows featured hypersexed characters which were the image of beauty then to the Filipinos.

But then, ABS-CBN changed the game in 2002 and imported Meteor Garden from Taiwan which started an Asian craze in the local scene. Soon, GMA released My MVP Valentine, also from Taiwan, which tightened the competition. Eventually, the K-drama family of shows came starting with Lovers in Paris, Jewel in the Palace, so on and so forth.

It was as if overnight, Filipinos changed their idea of beauty from dark, muscular men and voluptuous women to porcelain-quality skin of tall and chinky-eyed next-door boys and girls which enamored the nation. Even though the Taiwanese did start this “Asianovela” craze, the Koreans had it better and took hold of the Philippines since then. The rising popularity of the internet also gave Hallyu a headstart. The term, which is thought to be Chinese in origin and literally meant “Korean wave,” described the rising popularity of the Korean entertainment industry abroad encompassing dramas, movies, and music. More than just an exchange of media, it is a cultural invasion even supported by the South Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism.

Again, through explicit piracy, Filipinos were bombarded with thousands of Hallyu materials like the My Wife is a Gangster series. This made high-rated Korean movies more available in the country and people fell for the nearly flawless handsome and beautiful Korean stars with their untouchable image. Perhaps to counter this, local distribution of Korean movies became available, most notably, My Sassy Girl, whose soundtrack was locally interpreted by Jimmy Bondoc and remains famous up to this day.

Adding to this craze is Sandara Park, now a Korean star and a former member of girl group 2NE1, who lived in the Philippines won first runner-up in a local star discovery reality show. She hosted a show which introduced famous Korean dramas in daytime hours. Soon, almost everything in the media needed to have a Korean twist. It was often done in comedy movies with local actors sporting Korean hairstyles.

I consider this a consequence of the inevitable globalization which has been spreading for many decades now. It just so happened that the Korean industry was aggressive in its approach. It must also be noted that the Philippines is not alone in this being swept away by this “wave.”

Using simple logic, one would realize that local companies could save more with importing movies compared to producing local films (I have no proof and data; correct me if I am wrong please) and because local production companies do not have the technology and the budget like that of other countries, the aesthetics of local films would often be considered subpar compared to others.

Erik Matti’s Reaction

When I read about the ramblings of my social media connections about Erik Matti’s tweet, I immediately remembered a showbiz column I read back when Meteor Garden was still airing. The writer lambasted the rise of these Asian flicks and, though excessively racist, called the “cockroach-bitten eyed” actors as ineffective and having no talent. I wish I could have a link for that writeup but that was in 2003. So, I think the bitterness towards these invading Asian dramas and movies remain.

While I do not agree with Direk Matti’s generalization of how these Korean flicks often revolve around love, I do understand how he was wary of Philippine film and TV being doomed. Even though the Philippines still boasts of a 23% poverty rate, about 44% of the population has internet access and may have had availed of any form of streaming service, legal or otherwise. Surely, the top ten most-watched titles on Netflix would reveal how Filipinos behaved during the quarantine.

Aside from the real effect of the Korean wave, I do think that one reason that Filipinos do not watch Filipino films is that there is a lack of titles in streaming sites. Even if all locally-produced films or dramas will be acquired by these websites, these would still be overcome by the foreign titles. If you ask me why I think it is because few movies are being produced in the country nowadays!

With around a dozen being released for the annual Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF), plus another dozen shown during the Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino, there could only be around 30-35 mainstream films released in the country every year. Others are mostly independently-produced with limited showing in limited movie houses. Plus, these local flicks would need to compete with foreign films who would be given more time and more slots in cinemas especially if with big productions behind them.

Many people argued that Matti was at fault for airing his sentiments and that the reason people choose Korean-made dramas is that locally-produced ones lack substance, story, or talent.

The Public’s Response and My Musings

Netizens, especially those that are fans of the Korean flicks, were quick to lambast Direk Matti and his words which seemed to attack the said works directly. But hey, the man has the right to talk about what he thinks and it is valid in his standpoint. But people began resurrecting the memes which showed the sorry state of the local entertainment industry and even pointed out Erik Matt’s own contribution, Gagamboy, starring Vhong Navarro as the main character.

However, I think that it is unfair to pull down our showbusiness just because we disagree with one man. Most of the memes were taken out of context and those that are true do not represent everything. People argued that local movies and dramas lacked substance and innovation. Unfortunately, I do think that people are just too invested in these Korean flicks and their personal bias took over them. Among my friend list, those who immediately said ill against Matti were those who defended local productions in the past.

Remember Pangako Sa’yo which became a hit to many countries to which it was exported, even having local versions of the series? How about Himala, a movie that propelled Nora Aunor as one of the best actors in the world? Why am I giving old movies and dramas as examples? Because it represents where we came from, where we are, and where we are going.

GMA was very courageous to show My Husband’s Lover which, despite being cautiously done having a married couple as the center of the story, introduced a serious boy’s love relationship on primetime. ABS-CBN is known for its large productions, especially for fantasy dramas. And who will forget the best MMFF ever, MMFF 2016, which had the best titles in one mainstream movie festival?

I saw some replies defending the top ten Korean movies and dramas to not only showcase a story but reflected social issues, highlight beauty and positivity, and even promote peace and hope. Some people do not realize that all movies or dramas reflect these topics even though some just brush the surface or are subtle at the very least.

Remember the scene where Ryza Cenon was pointing a toy gun at Sunshine Dizon in Ika-6 na Utos? It showed how a simple altercation could become big if the cause is considered a sin in society. Those wrong tubings in various dramas across different stations? It reflects how little most people know about healthcare that they did not care if what is depicted is accurate. That Gagamboy backstory? It was super sad as hell and its device of parodying superhero movies was acclaimed by people abroad.

My point is that it is unfair to ridicule the work done by other people just because you disagree with someone’s opinion. Do you know how many writers write the “lame” shows on TV? Do you know the struggles that they had, together with the talents, just to shoot the episodes in time every week? Did you even realize that some of them are as disappointed as you of their final product?

The Sad State of the Local Film Industry

Most of the films in the Philippines are shot in Metro Manila so I cannot provide the correct insights on this but when I learned about how Eddie Garcia died on set, I remembered his face holding that film reel for that OMB mass against piracy. I remembered his interview, just weeks before he died, how he wanted to act as long as he lived and this was seconded by his partner’s interview how he was jolly the morning he died, eating his breakfast early, and looking forward to his day. It was just fitting that he died doing what he loved the most.

While it seemed that I totally defended Erik Matti in the previous part of this post, I do think that the concerns of the netizens are valid. It is just sad that the reasons for the problems in the industry needed to have a martyr before they were realized.

It was clear that for that production, they had limited equipment as they had to repeat the shots that Garcia was in. It was obvious that the talents and staff are not given the right precautions for their work. The pay, which I do not personally know, could have been unjust, too.

As Congress tries to understand all these, it is clear now that the reason why these subpar productions and unfit state could be due to the companies that finance and back them. They are forced to adapt to the short formats (of course, except Ang Probinsyano) akin to Korean dramas. Movies need to provide fan service to the people as the titles could experience losses if the people would not like them. And I think that the latter is due to the companies’ understanding that the common Filipino is not intelligent enough to understand shows and movies with concrete plots and ideas.

Conclusion

This is one of my longest posts on this blog but I think I am quite satisfied with it. Do not get me wrong, I love Korean movies and dramas. I adored Jeon Ji-hyun for so long, watching her movies. I definitely liked the Kingdom series on Netflix. Parasite was a masterpiece. Who would not love Crash Landing On You? I am gearing up for The King and Itaewon Class. But I do understand Erik Matti and his sentiments.

Thanks to the quarantine (or not), local productions have been making their movies available online for free. Let us refresh our minds about how great the Philippine film industry is. Let’s wish Direk Matti the best and enjoy dramas and movies as art forms, falling in love with them, and embracing the hope they give in these trying times.

Cease not.

P.S. Here are some links to the local films available online for free! Enjoy!

  1. Water Lemon
  2. K’Na the Dreamweaver
  3. Matangtubig
  4. Patintero
  5. Dormitoryo
  6. Gayuma
  7. Iisa
  8. Bliss

Other titles are also available on iWant and iflix for free!

The First and Twelfth Doctors in the TARDIS!

Since I started watching Doctor Who a few years ago, Christmas became more exciting. Of course, Christmas in itself is special for me especially its religious context. You will find various articles about Christmas on this blog.

Doctor Who, a family sci-fi series from the UK, would have Christmas specials since it came back in 2005.  Doctor Who added spice to the festivities and with the story revolving around the First Doctor meeting his thirteenth incarnation (but he’s the Twelfth), I feel more than excited for this year’s Christmas special!

Here is the latest trailer for the special:

Peter Capaldi, the current Doctor, has been a long-time fan of the show since it first aired when he was still a boy. The First Doctor, played by William Hartnell, was his first Doctor! It’s nice watching him interact with his childhood hero although a new actor is playing the character.

David Bradley, famous for playing Argus Filch and Walder Frey, is playing as the First Doctor. He previously acted as William Hartnell for a biopic of the latter’s life. He is the third person to play the character.

He was interviewed early this year and was asked if he will be playing the First Doctor as per rumors. He replied with a chuckle, “Who knows?” Well, Who knows because now he is Who, too!

Too bad Doctor Who is not shown here in the Philippines. I am yet to finish Peter Capaldi’s second season on a DVD my girlfriend bought for me.

And this would be Peter’s last episode before leaving the show. He has given the series a great run, as with all actors, giving it his personal take. I will remember his wits and his fatherly image. But I am also excited for Jodi Whittaker next year who will be the first female Doctor in history!

I wish Doctor Who will be syndicated here. Online streaming providers don’t have the complete collection.

New Henshin Belt Owner: Kamen Rider Build!

I have previously posted my fascination for the Kamen Rider series of Toei. It is one of the most iconic Japanese TV shows and has inspired many other shows with the same format and the transformation feature in fighting evil.

Well, the franchise is not as famous as the Super Sentai shows who gained world fame after it was imported into the US as the Power Rangers but these two shows were created by the same genius, Shotaro Ishinomori, a manga artist whose creativity changed lives around the world.

Who wouldn’t want those awesome stethoscopes! And talk about treating patients while playing games!

The latest series in the franchise has been released in Japan. Prior to this, they had a doctor-themed Kamen Rider (Ex-Aid), which eventually made me fall again for the series. However, I am yet to finish that series.

Very promising and I am so excited with this.

The latest version is called Kamen Rider Build, which has the following synopsis:

10 years ago, the “Pandora Box” was found on Mars. On Earth, it created walls that divided Japan into Touto (Eastern Capital), Hokuto (Northern Capital) and Seito (Western Capital) and brought along the Smash, unidentified lifeforms that attack people. Sento Kiryu, prodigy physicist, transforms into Kamen Rider Build to fight the Smash. The Touto government requests his help in deciphering the mystery behind the Pandora Box and the Smash. There is one mystery not even Sento can solve: his own past. The only memory he has left of more than 20 years is the existence of a sinister figure called, Night Rogue. There is one man who holds the key to Sento’s memories. A prison escapee by the name of Ryuga Banjo, who adamantly denies committing the murder he is accused of. Misora Isurugi who works with Sento, has the ability to purify the harmful components the Smash are made of. Sento transforms into Kamen Rider Build in order to uncover the mystery surrounding the Pandora Box, the Smash and his amnesia.

They said that this version will return to the old format of Heisei riders, doing away with the often-regarded as the repetitive storyline. It would also have a more serious tone.

Still, can’t believe that this is the 19th Kamen Rider in the Heisei era! I can still remember watching the Tagalog-dubbed Kamen Rider Black back when I was a child. Another interesting thing is that this would be the last Kamen Rider for the Heisei era as the current emperor of Japan will be abdicating his throne in 2019. Also, it will be celebrating the 80th birth anniversary of Shotaro Ishinomori.

See the trailer for the series below:

Jumping and Kicking

Oh wow. Saw the date of my last post? Yeah. It was eons away and I am just ashamed that I dared start a blog then forget about it. This should have been my online diary. But these months just took a toll on me. Biology stuff is painstaking. But persistence is a virtue.

While problems allowed me to stumble especially last month, I also had an enlightening experience. I was encouraged to see God in all things. I don’t know if that can ring something in your mind but that line changed me.

On this note, I come to my recent realization about myself. I became hooked with the Kamen Rider franchise of Toei. Of course, everybody knows about Masked Rider Black but very few (especially here in Iloilo) remember Blade and Ryuki which were also shown here in the Philippines.

Kamen Rider Ichigo
Kamen Rider Ichigo

The demographic of the series are children. Maybe that is one reason that I was enamored in watching it. I began with Den-O, then with Kiva, Decade, back to Kuuga, Agito, and now Ryuki. One may ask, why would I waste my time on this childish Japanese series? Well, I did have lessons learned in watching the series.

First, I learned about respect and values. I recognize that each culture is superb in its values but the Japanese did the overt in showing their respect to others. Bowing is not just being Oriental. It is giving oneself to somebody in a friendly and respectful way. It’s like telling some, “Hi! I am bowing because I respect you as a person.” The funny thing is that I just keep bowing to people, not realizing that this act is somewhat laughable here in Iloilo.

Japanese bow
I don’t know where the impulse came from but I just can’t help bowing anymore.

Second, I learned to appreciate simple things. Since the Kamen Rider franchise is targeted to young audiences, characters tend to show affection and devotion to even the most minute thing in any episode. This made me realize that I, too, can see like how their eyes see. I came to appreciate things more than ever.

Third, I learned a striking exhibition of humbleness. The Kamen Riders fight with all their might, risking their lives for what they believe is true. And they do it under their masks. Having a mask is not cowardice after all. It may just be a way to hinder others to praise and idolize you which can make you look up to yourself even more.

Fourth, I learned how to value and encourage imagination. In modern times, elders usually tell children to be less imaginative and follow what this world is dictating. Did it come to you how the Japanese are still making movies and shows with kaijin? This can exercise the imaginative mind of their children, making them open for anything in the future.

Finally, I learned how, as a living person, I should live. Kamen Riders usually have “Rider Jump” and “Rider Kick” as their hissatsu attacks. It just came to me that, aren’t jumping and kicking two ways that define a living person? If one jumps or kicks, it ultimately means he or she is alive. I realized that I was not jumping and kicking for so long. I became a boring person. I needed to change myself for good.

So that’s it. I just felt the urge to express what I feel in words. I am just happy that I’m living today and that I have earned a new philosophy in life.

Hey, if you reached this line, I really owe you for reading this entire composition. I hope I could write again soon. May your brain juices overflow!

What were the must-have toys when you were a kid?

I am getting very excited about these pre-prepared topics from wordpress that I forget what I intended to write after my recent post. I am very grateful to wordpress.com and I still think wordpress is the best platform ever. Saving up to use wordpress on my own domain! Pray for me!

When I was still a child, I was not picky and my parents trained me not to ask for anything if we don’t have enough money to buy them. At least they tell me we have no money nut I soon realized that this reason is for me to understand the priorities form those that aren’t.

But despite this fact I still have preferences concerning toys when I was a kid. I remember staring tearfully at the toys of my siblings saying that they are not even half the price and durability of my must-have toys. Yeah, I have not demanded toys from my parents before but here are the toys that I asked for that were bought and given to me on Christmas or on my birthday.

1. Slinky

Everybody wants a Slinky!

This must-have toy was one that I really envied with my playmates. I remember even breaking someone’s Slinky just to have revenge because I was not given one. Finally, while I was 6 years old, I was given a Tupperware brand one and I played it until I lost it because of overplaying! http://www.poof-slinky.com/

2. Yo-yo

Yo-yo, Filipino!

Wikipedia says Yo-yo and the word “yo-yo” came from the Philippines but this was not the reason I took interest and developed the love for yo-yo. I think I liked it because you can also use it like a nunchaku and look like a Churck Norris rip-off. Mah! Important thing is, this yo-yo was a must-have for me years ago.

3. Lego

LEGO, LEGO, I DEARLY MISS YOU!

This would be my favorite toy until now even though I do not have any as of this writing. Kids have a very broad imagination and I think I also have one. LEGO would later make me realize I was not fit enough to be a carpenter. ;( http://www.lego.com/en-us/Default.aspx

4. Power Rangers Character Toys

I have a set of these toys years ago plus their zords. These zords form into the bigger one that has a sword on one hand. Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers left a great legacy to my childhood and I will never forget how I needed them as a kid to play with.

5. Beyblade

Go, shoot!

I remember this toy very well. I just had to have it. In our class, I was the first to bring the Beyblade and I was also the last to play it before classes end. What a mess!haha

6. Play-Doh

This one is something that I really adored up to my early teenage years. I remembered buying a set from a department store that really resembled the image above. I had played it until my first year in high school. This toy has several benefits for children, too! http://www.hasbro.com/playdoh/

7. Crush Gear

The Crush Gear was a toy that was referenced by a Japanese Anime with the title Crush Gear Turbo (激闘!クラッシュギアTURBO Gekitō! Kurasshugia Tābo) that became a hit here in the Philippines about 8 years ago. The game that utilizes the toy has somewhat the same idea of the Beyblade. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crush_Gear_Turbo

8. Brick Game

Tetris is as game of gifts that, perhaps, is one of the greatest things the Soviet Union had to offer the world they come in handy mobile-like gadgets that lets you play other types of “brick games” including snake and car racing. http://www.tetris.com/

9. Family Computer

‘Di lang pambata, pampamilya pa! (Not only for children, for the whole family, too!)

The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) commonly known as the “Family Computer” was the PlayStation from the 80s up until the late 90s. I had to have several “tapes” before and I begged to buy more of them. Unfortunately, I only had three tapes, including Super Mario Bros. http://web.archive.org/web/20071020045136/http://www.nintendo.com/systemsclassic?type=nes

10. Aluminum Foil

Hey, we’re talking about must-have toys when I was a kid. My mom tells me a story about when day when I discovered that when you play with the aluminum foil, it sounds and you can use it to form things unimaginable. That day, we were scheduled for a photo shoot and they needed to take the foil from. They told I cried the whole day and just stopped when they gave me another piece. That’s a true must-have toy!

I tried to be humorous and serious at the same time in writing this post but I still am an amateur blogger so please forgive me for any flaws. 😉

Harry Potter and the Mystery of my Sudden Growth 1

I grew up just like any child in the world that was born during the 1980s-1990s period watching loads of fantasy films ranging from animation to live ones since this was the era of the ever-changing technology of graphics and the CGI and also the better availability of books in print that eventually one-by-one turned into movies. (At least not all of them did.)

In Kindergarten, I have seen ‘The Karate Kid’ and imitated what the actor, Ralph Macchio, did in the movie. That 80s film was not a fantasy and it is of common knowledge that unbelievable things really stick to the minds of poor human beings.

I then came to enjoy ‘Power Rangers’ and a lot of other things. But the impact that was made by a certain movie that led to a greater movement in lifestyle, mania, and business and redefined the world of CGI and fantasy literature to the next level.

J.K. Rowling, the one who started it all.

Harry Potter, a novel series authored by J.K. Rowling is the cause I am referring to. Her story ultimately redefined my life as person although I can say not only mine but also of the other millions around the world.

But seriously speaking, majority of Filipinos do not have the desire to read. The Harry Potter books were not that famous back then even though distributed throughout the country. We needed the movie to come out before becoming official Potheads!

Embed from Getty Images The first film featured a ‘banged’ Dan Radcliffe. This face would become my most envied one for years!

The Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (released here in the Philippines as “…the Sorcerer’s Stone” to stress out the “American” status of the Filipinos) started airing their trailers in local media and I easily became engorged with the idea of a boy with magical powers. I was 9 years old then and magical powers seemed very important to me.

I will be talking about HP’s relevance to my life and I start by confessing some embarrassing epochs of my life. I started to copy Radcliffe’s hairstyle. Add to it the presence of my eyeglasses and I do feel good when people call me, ‘Harry Potter’. I tried hard to imitate Rupert Grint’s smirk and even played with my dad’s billiard cue pretending it to be my wand, pointing at anything while uttering, “Wingardium leviosa!”

When the movie came out, I watch it and I was primarily thrilled and became excited about the story. Me and my classmates talk about the story in our classroom about how tall Hagrid was. We wanted to have a snow owl for a pet. We all talked about that three-headed dog that guards the stone.

So, what about my Christianity? What did Harry Potter do to that?

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