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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 28, 2016

Sunday Beauty Queen' Movie Review: A Compassionate Look Into Lives Of Filipino Domestic Helpers In Hong Kong That Will Alternately Make You Laugh And Cry

‘SUNDAY BEAUTY QUEEN’ is the first full length documentary to make it as an official entry in the annual Metro Manila Filmfest. It is a very compassionate look into the lives of Filipino maids in Hong Kong who toil six days a week serving their masters under mostly unfair working conditions, but on Sundays, they’re off the whole day to socialize with each other, and some of them join their locally organized beauty pageants.

It’s to the credit of documentarist Ruth Villarama (“Jazz in Love”, about a gay Pinoy and his German BF; “Little Azkals”, about young Pinoy footballers) that your heart really goes out for her protagonists who do a lot of sacrifice working for foreign employers so they can send their earnings to their loved ones back home. Alternately funny and heart-rending, it features direct interviews with the domestic helpers who come from different regions of the Philippines as part of the Filipino diaspora.

First is Leo Salomento, the lesbian organizer of the Hongkong beauty pageants, including a Chickboy contest for lesbians, where the proceeds are used in helping OFW’s with job problems. Then there’s Mylyn Jacobo (who works for a retired film and TV producer, Jack Soo), Cherry Bretana (a yaya who left her own son in the Philippines to look after a Chinese boy named Hayden who’s so attached to her), Hazel Perdido (whose son graduates and she just watches the graduation on her cellphone) and Rudelie Acosta (who was terminated by her employer for coming home late and had to go to Macau so she won’t be deported). Most of them are college graduates with degrees in courses like HRM, AB English, Computer Science but end up in Hong Kong where their pay as a DH is higher.

This is a good insightful movie about Overseas Foreign Workers and our Mga Bagong Bayani (we have 190,000 DH’s in Hong Kong alone), but you know how local moviegoers regard docus. It’s the sad reality that even the good ones on TV like “I-Witness” and “Reporters Notebook” that feature fascinating true to life stories seldom get popular viewer support and cater only to special audiences, no matter how informative and educational they are.

Villarama obviously had good rapport with her subjects who really trusted her and let her chronicle even their most private unguarded moments, but we wish she somehow made a correlation of the HK pageants to how popular beauty contests are among Pinoys back home who are addicted to them. The docu is well edited, shifting back and forth from the pageants and the personal stories of the five main DH beauty queens without disturbing the flow of all the narratives.

The actual pageant scenes (notably, Miss Philippines Tourism Festival 2015 and 2016) are beautifully lensed by DOP Dexter de la Pena, capturing the vibrant transformation of the DH’s into gorgeously gowned beauty contenders who perform various numbers in the talent portion, sashaying like real glamorous model on stage and having real fun as they dance in their various costumes. The Q&A portions are alternately touching and hilarious, with one contestant vehemently denouncing the belief that some of them are sex workers. Personally, we don’t really care much about beauty pageants, but this docu elevates it from being an event of exploitation to one of a necessity and a celebration that helps the marginalized but resilient OFW’s to survive and endure their harsh sad life in a foreign land.

One touching sequence is their visit to Bethune House, a beneficiary of the beauty pageants where OFW’s having problems with their employers are temporarily residing. We wish their plea that a Hong Kong law on migrant labor, giving only 14 days to terminated OFW’s to find a new job or they will be deported, will be repealed as it gives their employers much abusive power over them. As a Hong Kong boss said, the salary of a foreign helper is much lower than those of locals who charge $10 per hour. But the most moving scene is when one of the DH’s kind employers die unexpectedly, and what a timely opportunity for that to happen and be included in the docu.

This is excellent viewing but, honestly, we believe it should have been shown separately and not as a part of a filmfest where it competes with seven narrative films. What are its chances of attracting the attention of ordinary moviegoers who favor more escapist entertainment during the holidays? This genre will also require a special promotion for a niche market of mostly students, professionals and serious film aficionados. Even abroad, docus don’t have a chance when shown with full length features. So later, perhaps, the producers of “Sunday Beauty Queen” should try marketing it with special showings in colleges or universities where it will have a sure market and will be better appreciated.