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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.

Jul 28, 2017

Kita Kita: A Gamble That Paid Off Handsomely, This Year's Biggest Surprise Hit

WHO WOULD have thought that it’d be a blockbuster? The stars have no pulling power at the box office. The writer-director is better known as an indie filmmaker whose previous films, “Huling Cha Cha ni Anita” and “Lorna”, have won awards but didn’t make a dent at the tills.

But “Kita Kita”, which we saw on its second week of showing, is still filled to the rafters when we watched it at SM North Edsa and the viewers are responding to its comic scenes very positively. It’s truly a big surprise and this will definitely boost the stocks of its stars, Empoy Marquez and Alessandra de Rossi, and the filmmaker, Sigrid Andrea Bernardo. We won’t be surprised if producers would now line up for their services.

The story is really not something new. It’s as old as “City Lights”, with the Tramp falling for a blind girl that was remade locally starring Dolphy and Barbara Perez in “Dewey Blvd.” But what makes a big difference is the style by which Bernardo tells her story through the magic of imaginative editing.

Alex de Rossi has made prestige films like “Mga Munting Tinig”, “Azucena” and “Hubog”, and has also made a career playing contravida roles in teleseryes. She was never a romcom star, but everyone acknowledges that she’s a good actress whose acting is so effortless.

Here, she plays Lea, a tour guide in Sapporo, the largest city in the northern island of Hokkaido famous for its snow festival. Lea is already engaged to marry her Japanese boyfriend of five years, then she catches him cheating her with a Fil-Japanese girl. She is crushed. Soon after that, she also loses her eyesight.

Empoy Marquez has played supporting roles on TV and the movies but here, he is THE leading man, Tonyo, the neighbor of Lea who tries to comfort her when she gets blind. Their pairing is surely a novelty, so unconventional in this day and age of saccharine love teams. At first, Lea, who has understandably become cranky because of her disability, resists Tonyo’s efforts to befriend her, but is eventually won over by his humor and his dogged persistence. They eventually fall in love and makes their tandem believable as “two less lonely people in the world”.

Something else happens and their story is told all over again, but this time, with some new revelations that will surely win the viewer’s heart. There are some deliberate contrivances used in the narrative structure and in telling the story, but it’s not off-putting, unlike other romcoms today that are so desperate in trying to be a crowdpleaser that they only end up turning off the viewer because of their being so forcing through.

The first thing we realized upon watching this movie is that local moviegoers are obviously looking for a new comedian. Gone are the days of name comedians like Dolphy and Chiquito whose comedy films have their own following. The last comedian who made quite an impression was Vhong Navarro, but he’s now seen mainly as a lunchtime TV host after the scandal that no doubt marred his reputation.

We’re really surprised that Empoy, who did shows with TV5 and not even with the top two networks, had the viewers on the palm of his hand while watching “Kita Kita”. Everytime he delivers a line, even if it’s not so funny, the audience just laps it up and the theatre bursts into laughter. They just loved all his antics, no matter how silly. When it is revealed much later that he himself is brokenhearted after being dumped by his girlfriend (played by Director Hannah Espia of “Transit”), he displays a tinge of vulnerability you wouldn’t have thought is in him.

Alessandra gives a very endearing performance as the jolly and cheerful tour guide who suddenly becomes irritable after she discovers that her boyfriend is a two-timer and she goes blind at that. We really hope that the success of this movie will give her the chance to be paired with A-list actors in mainstream romcoms. She certainly deserves it.

We don’t know why the story has to be set in Japan because it’s not even credible that they will get a Pinay as a tourist guide there, but the beauty of Sapporo gives it a distinct quality that is perfectly captured by Boy Yniguez’ cinematography and blends well with the gentle and touching story with its bittersweet conclusion. You’ll have some other questions (like, what is the kind of job that Empoy does exactly), but you’re willing to gloss over that, even with the way the director plays tricks with the story’s timeline for effect. The important thing is that this is quite a big gamble and we’re glad it paid off handsomely for the people who placed their bets on it.