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Sisyphus’ Lament

Why not ‘Crazy Rich Filipinos’?

/ 05:07 AM September 03, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians’ (CRA) first proposal scene was filmed near my favorite spot in Singapore. It captures the waterfront steps at Esplanade Park, at the river’s mouth. The park parallels Anderson Bridge, the highway connecting the Merlion to the Esplanade, the durian-shaped concert hall.

My favorite spot is Jubilee Bridge, the footbridge on Anderson’s other side. Here, one gazes across the atmospheric bay and skyscrapers lit up late at night, with one’s pulse still racing from a musical performance.

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Jubilee Bridge was envisioned by Lee Kuan Yew himself as a more pleasant pedestrian crossing over the river’s mouth than Anderson’s sidewalks. It opened in 2015, for his funeral procession.

From Singapore’s highest roofdeck, I pointed out Esplanade Park, Marina Bay Sands, Chijmes and the other filming locations to British trainee lawyers newly flown in for their Singapore rotation.

No Asian who has visited the Little Red Dot will not feel pride each time CRA lingers with breathtaking vignettes of the city. I wish we had our own Singapore Tourism Board, with the foresight to actively build the national brand with a Hollywood blockbuster.

Will a global hit movie ever immortalize a Philippine city as heartwarmingly?

Will we ever see, say, Crazy Rich Ilonggos? Imagine a proposal set instead at Iloilo City’s Esplanade, breakfast at Netong’s Batchoy in the city market instead of a hawker dinner, a joyride through the Queen City’s wide avenues instead of Anderson Bridge, and Sen. Franklin Drilon instead of Lee Kuan Yew.

I aspire for just one movie, with no illusions of matching all the classics set in New York, London and Paris. Why are over 100 million Filipinos not proportionally represented in the English-speaking world’s film, music and literature?

I do not count the 2013 British indie “Metro Manila,” which frustrated me more than it inspired. It wasted John Arcilla on poverty porn. A foreign director could not coax the city’s spirit out from underneath the traffic and pollution.

CRA was a movie about Chinese-Singaporeans that was really about Chinese-Americans, yet we saw enough of ourselves to gush along.

But can we not go beyond mere kilig over Kris Aquino’s brief CRA cameo as a Malaysian princess, Thanos hiding in the Banaue Rice Terraces, or a devastated Manila in Pacific Rim’s opening narration?

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Before CRA, I saw Erik Matti’s “Buy Bust” in a Singapore cinema. Despite the empty rows, I marveled at the ambitious action scenes.

But overseas Filipinos mounted no #GoldOpen campaign. Our most prominent critics praised Anne Curtis’ impressive transformation into our answer to Michelle Yeoh, but barely highlighted how the movie was shown commercially from the United States to Hong Kong and Singapore.

We repeatedly whine each Christmas that indie movies do not receive enough support and insist on word of mouth as a sufficient marketing strategy, yet fail to hail a film in Filipino with English subtitles actually shown internationally.

Exiting “Buy Bust,” I offered to take group pics of our countrymen on their day off, proudly posing with Curtis’ poster displayed abroad. Their smiles from a foreign shore made the movie worth making.

Thus, surely “Buy Bust” is not just a great action film, just as CRA is not just a romantic comedy and “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman” are not just superhero flicks.

Perhaps I will get to produce “Crazy Rich Filipinos” someday.

I can picture my world where everyone is two hours late and takes groufies every five minutes. I would promote Kris to Michelle Yeoh’s role, draft Tito Boy Abunda as both Oliver and Peik Lin’s Dad, and cast whoever can match Kris’ clapback as Rachel.

CRA must remind us how important it is for a people to see itself in movies, and more so to dream of making the movies.

The frenetic fights in “Buy Bust” and the sweeping vistas in “Goyo” prove our technical skills exist. But when will we muster the more crucial imagination and sense of national destiny?

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan. This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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