Can This Be Love (Jose Javier Reyes, 2005)
Ryan (Hero Angeles) is a nursing student who dreams of working abroad. To make ends meet and earn enough for tuition and his daily expenses, he starts working for Roger (Tirso Cruz III), owner of a stall that accepts typing and printing jobs. Daisy (Sandara Park), an exchange student from Korea who is studying English in Manila, submits her draft essay to Roger. Roger assigns the essay to Ryan for him to correct, type, and print. The essay, about how Daisy feels about the Philippines and Filipinos in general, irks Ryan enough to start his seemingly endless tirade against Koreans studying English in the Philippines. Through some twist of fate, Daisy turns out to be the same person Ryan is buying a second-hand cellphone from, and the same person who he has been exchanging sweet text messages with. The initial shock of knowing that the person you were falling for represents everything you hate mellows into romance.
The narrative of Jose Javier Reyes' Can This Be Love is undoubtedly a result of the exigencies of casting rather than of Reyes' sheer ingenuity. Angeles and Park were the winners of a local talent search television show. The two were matched to form a love team, the best and most cost-efficient way to market up and rising talents. To mine on the love team's sudden spike in popularity, a movie that featured them had to be produced. Perhaps Angeles and Park's love team's unique selling point is that it crosses pertinent racial and cultural boundaries, since Angeles is Filipino and Park is Korean. The Philippines, at least for the past decade or so, has become the destination for Koreans who would want to learn English. Due to this increase in the population of Koreans in the Philippines, the purely-Filipino society has been inflicted an expected change: with Korean establishments gradually dotting the city landscape and Koreans mingling in crowds becoming more and more a norm. In such a case, Angeles and Park's love team is an inevitable response to this societal change. It perhaps represents a subconscious fantasy of homogenizing the natives with the newcomers.
Reyes' movie mines predominantly on this fantasy. It is structurally and thematically formulaic, working on traditional tropes of love overcoming all hindrances, only this time, there are added elements of racial prejudice and cultural differences. The narrative follows a predictable arc, beginning with supposed incompatibility and ending in fairy tale bliss. I was hoping for the material to be handled with a little bit more intelligence. After all, Reyes has succinctly laid down his setting: of a city where racial discomfort between Filipinos and Koreans that goes both ways. Perhaps, I was, at the very least, waiting for a more convincing explanation how Ryan got past his vocalized prejudices to fall for Daisy, or how Daisy got past her adherence to tradition to get the resolve to stick with Ryan, instead of being merely force-fed the fantasy.
Reyes directs the way he wrote his screenplay, all style without much substance. Thus, we are given a film with littered MTV-like sequences that display the two lovers snuggling in slow motion, and time-trapped pieces of dialogue that sneaked into the screenplay in obvious deference to then current fads. I guess I am asking too much from a film that is a product of a studio that thrives on public ignorance. Can This Be Love is primarily crafted as escapist mechanism for those who feed on corny love stories. It is a film that exists as merely plebeian entertainment, although it is placed in a milieu that is pregnant with far more intelligent and interesting possibilities.