Metro Manila Film Festival

‘Love You Long Time’ review: A time-bending romance that takes a daring risk

Ryan Oquiza

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‘Love You Long Time’ review: A time-bending romance that takes a daring risk

Screenshot from trailer

'Love You Long Time' may not be wholly original or the pinnacle of Filipino romance, but it boasts of a script with a strong vision and character arcs that resonate

This is a spoiler-free review.

In the realm of Philippine cinema, Baguio has long been an iconic setting for clichéd romances. Love You Long Time, directed by JP Habac (I’m Drunk I Love You), takes us on yet another journey to this magical city, which has served as a picturesque backdrop for iconic Filipino love stories such as Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising, Labs Kita…Okey Ka Lang?, and That Thing Called Tadhana. Although the film does not spare itself from the pitfalls of familiar tropes, Love You Long Time excels in its embrace of Baguio’s charm, and in situating a conventional love story within the context of a time-bending experience.

Hailing from the same lineage of films like South Korean film Il Mare (2000), its American remake The Lake House (2006), and even the Makoto Shinkai animated Japanese film Kimi no Na wa (2016), romance in this context is imbued with a touch of mysticism and sci-fi undertones. It’s nice to have a refreshing departure from realism and contrived moments of fate intertwining for the convenience (or inconvenience) of our lead characters. This approach also instills in viewers a sense of delightful uncertainty, signaling to them that they cannot fully predict the proceeding events of the film’s last hour. And so the script keeps you guessing, wondering what typical Filipino path it will inevitably take to cap off its story. What results is an unexpected portrait of how art emerges as the quintessential means of reimagining the past and has the potential to be a cathartic endeavor in overcoming the anguish of a heartbreak.

Starring Carlo Aquino as Uly and Eisel Serrano as Ikay, Love You Long Time weaves an intricate web of interactions between two characters in different timelines, connected only by the mysterious power of two-way radios. Ikay is a struggling screenwriter who has an inability to let go of personal narrative touchstones in her script despite countless drafts and revisions. In contrast, Uly embodies a carefree spirit, working as a repairman while residing in a quaint, secluded mountainside house. It’s his persistent stubbornness that forges a relationship with Ikay, who visits Baguio to ward off her writer’s block.

Aquino plays his part as if he’s a radio DJ, flirting with an audience member he cannot see and delivering expressions so clearly meant to swoon. Serrano holds her own and matches the playful banter of Aquino, despite the fact that their characters never truly engage in physical interactions within the story’s framework, a conceit which can tend to overstay its welcome.

An interesting thing to note about the performances is whether they are intentionally directed in a specific manner, given the script’s climactic revelation. At times, there are instances of awkwardness and dissonance that appear less than natural. Even the interactions between Serrano, her aunt played by Ana Abad Santos, and the comic relief role of Meanne Espinosa, at points feel like attempts at improvisation for more natural-feeling dialogue, which is in stark contrast with other scenes. 

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There’s also a moment between Serrano and Abad Santos, a heartfelt one that grapples with the idea of rewriting the past that is undeniably emotional when considered in isolation, but only makes sense if you know the reveal in the end, rather than the scene’s immediate context. So, in hindsight, these imperfections seem embedded as the script plays not just with time but also with how the personal seeps into the fictional. I don’t wanna give too much away, but these things might contribute to the confusion that audiences might feel towards the ending. For a film that asks its audience to suspend their disbelief for a majority of it, that sort of storytelling becomes a comfort zone for many, rendering its eventual leap of faith a risky move.

However, I appreciate literally any attempt at risk at this point because I feel like that has become quite the bare minimum in mainstream offerings these days. Admittedly, I was bored out of my mind during the first 30 minutes of the film, wondering what made this typical Baguio escapist romance any different from the other Baguio escapist romances of the past. I thought I was waiting to tick off all the shopping list occurrences of Filipino romance flicks, until I realized that the film was not going towards any of those routes. Much of my admiration for the film stems from the possibilities it opened up once its true identity revealed itself. Indeed, it’s as though the film toyed with a variety of alternate endings, ultimately settling on one imbued with ambiguity, perhaps because no ending could have been entirely gratifying. 

I wish the film could’ve played more with its other technical aspects in order to really utilize the form aside from just the typical shot-reverse shots happening in real time. As Uly and Ikay remain physically separated for most of the film, a discernible line exists that divides their two worlds. While I liked that detail, it would have been rewarding to see more of the differentiation, perhaps through the addition of some saturation or even subtle variations in production design that could effectively convey the distinct atmospheres of each character’s timeline. 

Love You Long Time may not be wholly original or the pinnacle of Filipino romance, but it boasts of a script with a strong vision and character arcs that resonate. As the credits roll and the soulful strains of Ben&Ben’s music fill the theater, you are at least treated to the fact that each of its characters learned something new and that at certain parts of the film, you didn’t know if the two would actually get together or not. The film ends on a romantic high-point, a slow-mo moment that is typically situated in the climax or midpoint — a final ploy to play with time itself. –

Love You Long Time is now showing at the Summer Metro Manila Film Festival from April 8 to 18 in cinemas nationwide.

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is the chief film critic of and one of the hosts of the film podcast Sine Simplified. He has written for both PhilSTAR Life and CNN Philippines Life. He is an alumnus of the Ricky Lee Screenwriting Workshop. He is currently studying at the University of the Philippines Diliman.