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.


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!

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