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‘Walang KaParis’ review: ‘Kita Kita’s’ identical sibling

Ryan Oquiza

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‘Walang KaParis’ review: ‘Kita Kita’s’ identical sibling

WALANG KAPARIS. Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez reunite in new film.

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Even if you strip 'Walang KaParis' of its romantic setting, its years-spanning time jumps, and its reliance on worn-out tropes, what matters is its principal relationship, and at least the film nails that one to the core

MANILA, Philippines – Move over KathNiel and DonBelle, there’s a new love team that is set to sweep everyone off their feet. Their chemistry is impalpable, their looks undeniable (subject to debate for one-half of them), and their stories infinitely magical. That pairing, starting from their on-screen debut in Kita Kita, is the unexpected yet delightful Alessandra De Rossi and Empoy Marquez. Two versatile actors who do not fit the mold of usual romantic cliches and archetypes but who bring a refreshing new energy to the genre.

The film is about Jojo (Marquez), a passionate Filipino artist whose heart was captivated by a mysterious woman with no apparent name or history. Then, on an ordinary yet fateful day, a woman named Marie (De Rossi), who shares a striking resemblance to the painting, appears before him, claiming to be the inspiration that he used for his artwork. Together, they wander through the picturesque streets of Paris, carefree and unencumbered by the world around them, and eventually realizing their chemistry together. It all seems too perfect, too polished for a romance, and the script is well-aware of that.

Empoy, no matter how good looking he thinks he is, remains to be an oddity in the love team genre, and that’s precisely his charm. With his craggy features and everyman sheen, he’s a strange fit for a lovey-dovey drama. Yet, there he is, beaming back at us, like a fly that refuses to be snuffed out. He proves that it’s the little details that count. A raised eyebrow here, an impossibly arrogant and cocky quip there, the accumulation of these subtle gestures makes his performance so indelible.

A big surprise in his performance is his fragility and vulnerability. He’s more of a reclusive artist, someone in search of something more profound. A broken yet solemn soul that only taps into his comedic comfort zone when needed. There’s a sense of mystery to his performance, a feeling that something is gnawing away at him that he can’t quite articulate. And all the while, Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s direction keeps us guessing, teasing out the central theme of the story, which is the idea of love never aligning at the right time.

Loads of comparisons can be made to the director’s previous work, Kita Kita, which was set in Japan. In fact, the 2017 film could serve as a companion piece for this one due to its identical themes and story beats. Now, the lovebirds take on a new journey, this time to the City of Love itself: Paris. Once again, we get a portrait of two characters grappling with the lingering pain of their past, struggling to come to terms with fate and desperately hoping for new chances at love.

As much as I wanted to perceive Paris as a character with its own unique personality, it just didn’t work for me. Empoy and Alessandra could’ve been talking in any other cafe and I still would have found it equally interesting. I get that the setting is supposed to transport us to another world, but aside from seeing the Eiffel tower and seeing the two act as mimes in front of iconic spots, it’s hard to shake off the feeling that something is missing. Maybe it’s that jaded feeling of seeing so many films already set foot in such a place with similar romantic storytelling goals (Before Sunset comes to mind).

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WATCH: Do Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez consider themselves a love team?

WATCH: Do Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez consider themselves a love team?

The main ingredient that spices up this film is its structure. There is the conventional, standard, romance plot line, then there’s the second-act reveal that recontextualizes everything that came before. It’s essentially a film that happens twice and is in immediate conversation with itself due to its non-linear structure. The gambit works, even though the plot-point that they use to justify it is, in Filipino jargon, “gasgas,” to say the least. Nonetheless, it’s a rewarding watch and you can see how the script draws from places that are undeniably heart-wrenching.

The film makes a play at how circumstances have kept the star-crossed lovers away from each other. But I feel like we needed to see more of the times when Jojo and Marie were away from each other to truly make it more impactful. Because if you really look at it, most of the runtime is spent on the pair being together. Granted, the decision to put all the eggs on the central love story is an easy one. When the duo of Alessandra and Empoy are simply allowed to co-exist in the same space and talk to each other, the film is at its most magnetic and compelling. Although we get glimpses of their lives apart, they feel like afterthoughts, mere moments of filler.

It’s here where I feel like the film could’ve hammered home the point that time has been unkind to the couple if they had been more economical with showing their individual stories. It’s also why the time jumps (or flashbacks) felt a bit jarring, not just because they come at unexpected moments, but because there were one or two moments where it would’ve been nice to see what happened in those in-betweens, maybe helping build character. We mostly only see Alessandra’s character from the perspective of Empoy’s character, and vice versa. Perhaps a better use of the brief yet sweet supporting role from Dolly De Leon is if she had served as a framing device, providing the audience with an external perspective on the characters’ past experiences and their personal growth beyond their relationship.

I honestly would love to see a film written or co-written by both Alessandra and Empoy one day. They seem to enjoy riffing on each other and have an instinct to not do things conventionally. The pair are chameleonic in their roles, at one point even becoming ‘90s-inspired college teens and I absolutely bought every second of it. De Rossi deftly navigates the heartbreaking scenes, rarely selling way too high or way too low. She knows just the right moments to convey emotional weight and gravity, especially during the bulk of the close-up shots.

Which is why even if you strip Walang KaParis of its romantic setting, its years-spanning time jumps, and its reliance on worn-out tropes, what matters is its principal relationship, and at least the film nails that one to the core. At one point, Empoy introduces a new way of saying “I love you,” and later on, Alessandra repeats the same line. On both occasions, I thought the line felt forced and came out of nowhere, but I then did a 180 on it and told myself: “No one else could’ve pulled this off except these two.” Cue the Rey Valera song and its pure Pinoy movie magic. –

‘Walang KaParis’ is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.