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In ‘Kita Kita’, a win for plain-looking strivers with nerve

Nearly everything in the hit indie film “Kita Kita” (I See You) is pretty.

It’s set in Japan, first of all, which is a very pretty country, especially in its warmer seasons when blooming flower beds provide perfect spaces for winsome walks by the star-crossed lovers. Even the modest, oddly shaped home in Sapporo of the leading lady, the Pinay tour guide character Lea played by Alessandra de Rossi, is made pastel-pretty by the loving camera work of crack Pinoy cinematographer Boy Yñiguez. And of course, de Rossi is uber pretty, her expressive kayumanggi face frequently caressed by closeups. 

There are parts of Japan, of course, that are not pretty. I’ve seen them myself on various visits, but one does have to search them out in such an orderly society where elegance often comes naturally. But none of that un-prettiness appears in Kita Kita.

In director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo's vision, Japan is an immaculate foil, with even the cultural kenkoy-ness of characters costumed as dancing bananas and hearts provided by struggling Pinoy migrant workers.

The only element in this romantic comedy that is not pretty is the leading man, a decidedly plain-looking OFW named Tonyo played by the comedian Empoy Marquez, with a Chaplinesque diminutiveness and a mustache to match.

All that can’t matter when he introduces himself to his neighbor Lea, since the pretty one had just conveniently gone blind after a traumatic breakup with her pretty-boy Japanese fiancé.

Unseen by Lea throughout their courtship, Tonyo charms her instead with syrupy lines and flat jokes, with my non-millennial self at times repelled by the extra serving of self-conscious cuteness.

The premise has campy echoes of Cyrano de Bergerac, he of the unsightly nose and bewitching words who won over a woman under cover of darkness just by reciting his poetry.

But more familiar will be the ma-deskarteng Pinoy that this character channels, with a sleazy side that we learn about only near the end when a flashback explains earlier events left somewhat hanging.


Funny or too much? You be the judge. Screengrab from YouTube.
Funny, charming ... or too much? Screengrab from YouTube.


At the risk of being called a spoiler, I will only say that the flashback makes Tonyo seem beastly, and not just unhandsome. Homeless local drunks are present in Japan, but the hapless pre-Lea Tonyo is the only bum seen passed out on the sidewalks.

Locating this unlikely love story in an unrealistically perfect Japan only highlights how pathetic life can be back home for OFWs. Yet they pine for it, and savor it in the sourness of their soups.

Winning over the gorgeous girl in such a dreamscape environment seems like a fantasy for the OFW common man. But such a role is already a real-world victory for the leading man Empoy Marquez, who has sown hope for the many ordinary-looking guys out there that personality can be a decisive factor.

Tonyo is the underdog Philippines that Lea has left behind, the strivers with chipped teeth and not enough money for dental work, but with sufficient charm and chutzpah to go for the win when opportunity appears. — AT, GMA News