Kita Kita is the story between Lea (Alessandra de Rossi), a Pinay tour guide based in Japan who is recovering from an inexplicably long “temporary” blindness that was caused by a heartbreak; and Tonyo (Empoy Marquez), the kabayan who lives across her house and pursues her patiently. Together, they explore tourist spots in and around Sapporo, places that were already familiar to Lea but experienced differently by her because of the many memories that she made with Tonyo, who promised “I will be your eyes” throughout their journey. The result is a tender, if bittersweet, story of a “blind” people who helped each other “see” the world and their hearts in cheerful pastel colors.
Let me start outright that the movie is far from being ideal. There is a lot in this movie that was not supposed to work. The editing and the ordering of the sequence seems jarring at places, the third act losing all the warm and fuzzy feeling that was built up to the final moments of the second act. The “countdown” sequences sometimes appear contrived, as another stab at the fashionable spoken-word poetry artform. There are important elements (like certain props or costumes) that figure prominently in the movie but which presence cannot be explained. More importantly, many people on social media have already pointed out their problems with the movie’s conceit, about Lea’s relationship with a stalker she barely knew and who seemed to take advantage of her disability…never mind that the film was directed by a woman (Sigrid Andrea P. Bernardo) who, under the usual circumstances (and especially in the United States of America), would have already called the police.
And yet, it works, because Bernardo (or, rather, Marquez) imagines Tonyo as less of a psychopathic stalker, but more of that cultural trope in Philippine film and culture, the masugid na manliligaw (persistent suitor), always persistent—yes, a bit irritating—but still deferent to the object of his desires. (Think , for instance, of Michael V. pursuing Lara Morena in “Sinaktan Mo ang Puso Ko” [Octoarts Films, 1998], but without the histrionics and the caricature and the obsession.) While Tonyo himself is self-aware of his predicament, he still keeps himself within distance, so near yet so far from Lea. And because he knows his place, once Lea opens up to him little by little, Tonyo wins her heart and takes it with him, even in muted moments of her solitude. In Kita Kita, Marquez proves that he is more than just the sidekick or the buffoon in comedy films or TV shows; he is the charming, if unideal or unassuming, suitor who can sweep Lea and the female members of the audience to their feet. He has also demonstrated his mastery of comedic acting, even throwing de Rossi off-character and giggling in a few scenes that the filmmakers claimed were improvised.
Complementing Marquez’ performance is the understated delivery by the lithe Alessandra de Rossi, who dominates the film’s screen time. In Kita Kita, the solitary Lea is tender and helpless, but too vulnerable, afraid (or rather unwilling) to ask for help (with an “SOS” door sign for her thought bubble). Initially impatient at Tonyo’s pursuit like anyone who is nililigawan (being courted), she mellows down and follows along Tonyo’s beat, their feet moving along the same dance (and even soaked together in a foot spa). de Rossi draws the audience inside places that cannot be seen—inside her heart—and this allows her to take the audience for a ride, from sweet little moments to her melancholic musings. Whatever shortcomings this film may have are overshadowed by Marquez and de Rossi’s carefree and enjoyable performance.
Marquez’ and de Rossi’s performances also work not just because of what they did in the film, but in what they (and the film) did not do. It’s interesting to note that on its second week, Kita Kita was showing along with another romcom (Finally Found Someone) and yet—at least in my experience—the seats for the former were already sold out much faster than the latter, even hours before our selected time slot. And after seeing the film, we understand why audiences would like to come back for more. There is little to none of the cliches that we’ve associated with hugot films: the self-referential lines that talk of sweeping generalities about the experience of love or heartbreaks rather than the character’s experience themselves (e.g. “bakit ganon, kapag nagmamahal ka….?”, “bakit ganun yung mga taong minamahal natin….?”), lines that sound good on film but you never really hear people say in real life; the lead characters who mope as a form of self-indulgence; the requisite supporting characters whose primary role is to feed the main characters’ self-indulgence; and the almost-religious insistence to a happy ending (or at least a near-happy ending). Kita Kita takes the risk of eschewing most these conventions, and instead of feeding the characters cheesy lines and unnecessary support characters, Bernardo lets Lea and Tonyo enjoy themselves, with each sequence give them space for their characters to grow. It is easy to see that Marquez and de Rossi enjoyed each other’s company in making the film, and we have also seen how the audience enjoyed watching the film as well.
The result is that the film feels less of a typical Filipino romcom or (as radio anchor MJ Felipe claims in his DZMM radio show) a Koreanovela, but more of a contemporary Japanese romance, dialogues, scenery and all. For all its shortcomings, Kita Kita feels like a fresh whiff of flowers in springtime, a lighthearted film without the trappings of the conventional hugot movie, and whose memory will linger on like a dance waiting to be danced again and again.