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MANILA, Philippines – If you’ve seen or heard of the indie film Ang Babae sa Septic Tank (The Woman in the Septic Tank, 2011), Philippine cinema’s highest-grossing independent film to date, then you will have an idea of the kind of sensibility that it takes to capture a subject so irreverently yet so truthfully.
In the film, 3 film school graduates take on the lofty dream of producing an Oscar-worthy independent film about — what else? — poverty and prostitution in the Philippine slums (in this case, Payatas).
The film shows the young filmmakers experimenting with different treatments, exposing the tired old assumptions and formulas of Pinoy indie filmmaking.
It poked fun at the way the industry moved and looked at itself, and it made audiences laugh with recognition. It also made them think of the way Philippine art cinema kept on presenting itself to the world.
The film broke box-office records at the Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival and was later on bought by Star Cinema for a wider release. It became the most successful indie film in Philippine history, and won numerous awards for lead actress Eugene Domingo, director Marlon Rivera and screenwriter-producer Chris Martinez.
The magic of humor
For Martinez, who penned other box-office hits such as the Kimmy Dora series and Caregiver (2008, starring Sharon Cuneta), and who directed Here Comes the Bride (2010) and Temptation Island (2011) among others, humor is essential in capturing the hearts and minds of Filipino audiences.
“With Filipinos, it’s easier to make them realize things if you cover them up with fun and laughter. But I think that the best comedies are those that make you laugh so hard, but they actually hurt,” he says. “I think that quality is present in most of my films.”
His latest project shows that Martinez can tackle even death with a hefty dose of humor.
Entitled Oh My Goth!, Martinez’s latest short film under the Sun Shorts series cleverly juxtaposes careful planning and frantic superstition using two pop culture stereotypes: the “emo” goth guy who doesn’t seem to take planning too seriously, and the horrific old, “white lady.”
“I wanted to create a story about superstitions,” Martinez shares. “‘’Di ba Filipinos value symbols such as the black cat, the number 13…? I was trying to play around with the idea of putting our faith in those things, as opposed to doing something about your future, your fortune.”
He cast young actor Ketchup Eusebio as the goth guy, while — for the “white lady” — there was no other choice than the iconic Lilia Cuntapay.
“Growing up watching Shake, Rattle & Roll and all these movies, (Lilia Cuntapay) was always there in our consciousness. She was the face of horror,” Martinez points out with a chuckle.
He said that he wanted to tell the story in a way that would grab the audience’s attention and make them think, without making an already-morbid theme such as death even heavier.
An evolving audience
It is clear from Martinez’s films that he knows the Filipino psyche inside-out and can play to their sensibilities without being crass, patronizing or dumb.
He also points to an emerging shift in the way Filipino cinema is viewed and enjoyed, and says that there no longer is a dichotomy between films “for the masses” and those for the upper class.
“There used to be a difference, but now there isn’t any,” he explains in Taglish. “Because the tickets are a bit pricier — you pay the same amount whether it’s a Filipino film or Spiderman — so it’s the same type of audience who can afford these films. Also, the expectations are higher.”
“Nowadays, for a Filipino film to work, to make money, it has to be an event. It can’t just pass you by; it has to be something that people are going to look forward to watching.
“And what they watch onscreen, they should not have already seen on TV because they paid for that.”
When Martinez works on a project, he likes them big, bold and different. “You always need to offer your audience something new,” he shares.
A musical unlike any other
His next project is an ambitious film that brings the elements of big Broadway productions such as West Side Story and Mamma Mia! closer to home.
Entitled I Do Bidoo Bidoo (Heto nAPO sila!), the movie brings together 17 of the most beloved songs of the Apo Hiking Society and the unbeatable talents of performers such as Gary Valenciano, Zsa Zsa Padilla, Ogie Alcasid and Eugene Domingo.
Now 3 years in the making, Martinez admits that I Do Bidoo Bidoo is in a genre that he “would love to return to.”
“I want to do more of this kind of stuff. I really enjoyed it because it’s different. Iba ang experience ng musical… ‘Pag kantahan, sayawan, buhay na buhay (Once you have singing and dancing, everything comes alive).
“It’s something new for the people I work with, so they’re all excited. It’s not a project that comes to you ordinarily.”
Seeing the film’s trailer, it is evident that I Do Bidoo Bidoo is a work of passion and love as much as it is one of fun and entertainment.
The songs were painstakingly chosen from APO’s 40-year repertoire “to push the plot or to push a character,” Martinez explains (then adds, “It was hard!”), and the actors were carefully cast to be able to deliver everything that the film demanded of them.
For Chris Martinez, this film — just like each of his previous works — is an opportunity to serve the cinema-starved Philippine audience something new and truly unforgettable. It is like that proverbial dish that satisfies the palate but leaves one hanging on for the next, equally delectable course.
His objective, though, seems deceptively simple:
“As long as I’ve made them laugh and they’ve enjoyed themselves, that’s good enough for me.” – Rappler.com