Make Eugene Cry
by Jansen Musico
Over a year ago, I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down with Chris Martinez. It was February, late on a Sunday night. I was waiting for him at a post-production house in Makati. I had my notes with me, a few of pieces of paper covered with last-minute scribbles of things I wanted to ask, things that were all forgotten once he entered the room. He was a simple man peering out of thick black frames. He saw me, and at once he shook my hand. At that instant, he looked to me like a brown Woody Allen. I played with the thought for a while before he asked me if I’d like to take a walk. The cramped studio wasn’t so suitable for a loose and casual conversation.
We walked down two blocks to the nearest coffee shop. He was cracking a joke about Pepe Diokno being too chicken to act for his then-upcoming film Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank. The young Mr. Diokno was supposed to play either a struggling filmmaker or an inflated version of himself. He declined, stating menial acting skills as an excuse. Chris was pondering a rewrite. Months after, of course, the screenplay he wrote came to life and ended up sweeping awards not only in Cinemalaya but in film festivals around the world. But I guess the saying is true: you win some, you lose some.
Last year saw Chris in ups and downs. His Temptation Island revamp had taken beatings from critics and fans of the original. Having seen the film myself, I was puzzled. This was not the same film he had described to me in great detail. He had a clear cast in mind, but only half of which made it to the final cut. If his original plans had pushed through, they would have made a world of difference. Alas, that’s how the studio system does things. Sometimes they water down your ideas until they’re too bland to appreciate. This movie was preceded by My Valentine Girls (MVG), the seasonal anthology flick I was interviewing him for. His segment featured Eugene Domingo, his best of best friends, his muse, his Mia Farrow.
They met in college, sophomore year, both being part of the UP Repertory. Chris was already an actor, while Eugene, or Uge as he would lovingly call her, was still a neophyte. Because of his seniority, Eugene often did his bidding, succumbing to his most trivial requests. This didn’t last long. Quickly, she ascended the ranks, and Chris found himself in an odd role reversal. Soon enough, it was Chris who was stitching sequins on her shoes—obviously the beginnings of a beautiful non-abusive lifelong friendship.
After MVG, Eugene starred in Ang Babae Sa Septic Tank. As usual, she nailed her part. Ironically, she played herself. But it wasn’t her talent alone that brought her award-winning performance to a whole new level. It took a long and fruitful friendship with Chris to churn it out. It was that level of comfort. It was that shared consciousness, that special ESP that works between really great friends. She knew exactly what he wanted out of her. It was also easier for him to suit his writing for her. Chris knew the extent of Eugene’s talent. He knew the vastness of realms she could take acting to.
The two would then work together for the third time that year with another anthology flick, the beloved horror serial Shake, Rattle, and Roll (SRR). The tandem was praised for their segment in MVG, but was given a generally lukewarm response for SRR.
Kakiyemehan and Spoilers Ahead
This year, the tandem is back, rejuvenated after some months of rest and relaxation, sandwiched in between long hours and writing and tapings. Finally, the much awaited sequel to their 2009 surprise blockbuster Kimmy Dora: Kambal sa Kiyeme, Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme is finally out. Chris and I had talked about that, too. At that time, it was still an idea he was flirting with, something he discussed with bottled excitement. Now, that excitement’s blown off the cap and splattering all over screens nationwide.
Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme (2012)
D: Joyce Bernal
S: Eugene Domingo, Ariel Ureta, Alodia Gosengfiao
Having seen it a few days ago, I was left speechless, not because I was in awe, but rather because I needed time to take it all in and digest it. The sequel was not bad. It wasn’t terrific either. As far as comedies go, it managed to elicit laughs. You had Eugene in front of the camera, Chris writing the material, and Joyce Bernal directing it. Already, that’s a surefire recipe for hilarity. But whether the sequel was or was not able to match the humor of its first installment can be argued. The gags were still there. The campiness was somewhat still intact. But something was definitely off. It felt artificial.
The first Kimmy Dora flick was organic. Although it obviously worked within the confines of a tight budget, it managed to stretch comedy into roaring extremes. It was in the first movie where Eugene Domingo blossomed, and the trio she shared with Chris and Joyce Bernal was considered a force to be reckoned with. This time, that forced felt trapped; chained to a short leash held by Star Cinema. This fact isn’t such a bad thing if we consider the bigger budget and larger distribution, but in the long run, the big studio’s meddling took away from Temple of Kiyeme whatever good its predecessor had.
In some ways, Temple of Kiyeme is still a funny flick, with Eugene doing much of the heavy lifting. Her co-stars she brought along from the first flick also held their own. The problem came with the new characters, most of which were played by people plucked out of the annals of the big studio. The cameos, instead of bringing additional pangs of laughter, seemed more like a lavish parade of the big studio’s talent pool. In fact, the film was full of lavishness, from the trip to South Korea to the pricey sets. It had a hefty budget, but most of it was wasted on making the film glittery instead of funny.
The introduction of horror into the world of Kimmy Dora also took time to swallow. It could have worked in the hands of Joyce Bernal, who proved her mettle in horror-comedy with D’Anothers. Regrettably, she didn’t have a villain that was fit for the niche genre. (Perhaps if she told Dingdong Dantes to channel the villain he played in Segunda Mano, probably then we could have had a winner.) Alodia Gosengfiao, as cute and as excellent a cosplayer she is, was not suited for this flick. She stuck out like a sore thumb playing a serious ghoul in a world occupied by zany exaggerators. The first Kimmy Dora had villains who were fit for that world. They were caricatures, funny to the core. Luckily, Temple of Kiyeme still has Eugene.
The genius of the first Kimmy Dora flick rested on the way she was able to play a set of twins, a ruthless Kimmy and a retarded Dora, who had to pretend to be each other. It was comedy gold. Unfortunately, there was no room for role reversal in Temple of Kiyeme. To make up for that, Chris was able to inject a scene that, for me, let Eugene break out. It’s the one where Dora loses it by the bedside of her father. It’s gentle and heartbreaking. It gives a pause to the comedy despite the fact that she’s still in the shoes of a naturally funny character.
At this point, it’s sickeningly obvious that I am a fan of both Eugene and Chris. Their oeuvre, although imperfect, speaks volumes about their talent. As an actor-director couple, they click. They are Mia and Woody, Penelope and Pedro, or Johnny Depp and Tim Burton. These relationships are special, the fruits of which are magical, but not always. With time, these partnerships also need to evolve and mature. They cannot stay stagnant or else people might tire of them over time, as of Depp-Burton. The writer-director can either replace his muse (Mia-Woody) or continue challenging her (Penelope-Pedro). Perhaps it’s about time for Chris to give Eugene a push. She’s served Filipino comedy cinema well, now it’s time to make her cry.
Yes. We’ve all seen her shed tears on screen once or twice, but those scenes have always been embellishments in comedies. It’s time she cries for a gut-wrenching story that begs for it, for a simple yet beautifully written drama. It’s time for her to stop playing a parody of Vilma Santos and be in the same league as her. And the man who can take her there is the same man who has witnessed her cry on and off the camera, Chris Martinez. Our cinema could benefit from Eugene’s tears.