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Why can’t Pinoy dramas be as good as k-dramas?

By BARBARA GONZALEZ- VENTURA, The Philippine STAR Published Nov 20, 2022 5:00 am

I have recently become addicted to watching movies and serials on TV—my way of relaxing, of disentangling my nerves from a day full of varied, tension-filled moments. I think it began late last year, after my husband, who used to love watching TV, suddenly hated it. 

It’s only recently that I discovered the K-dramas. In the beginning, I couldn’t stop watching them. I was impressed by the way I saw cultural values worked gracefully into the script. The way they bowed. The way they ate with such big mouthfuls, the polished way they downed their noodles. Everything was worked tastefully into the script. Or maybe I thought this because the sound was turned off. When watching Filipino movies, I would be so tempted to change shows once the women began to scream and fight. That was such a turn-off for me. Whatever it is, I must say I like K-dramas better than Pinoy telenovelas.

But I also have to say that the first contemporary Pinoy telenovela I saw was The General’s Daughter with Angel Locsin and Albert Martinez, who, I must say, aged more handsomely than I would ever have imagined. That was a good series that I watched accidentally while trying to convince my husband to watch more TV. That series made me proud. But that was the only one I have watched so far. I don’t remember how culturally perceptive it was. Maybe because I’m Filipino, I don’t see our films as culturally perceptive. Maybe I don’t watch them from an empty slate, like I watch the K-dramas.

Our Blues

One night, after I finished watching the K-drama Our Blues, which was outstanding to me, I stumbled upon Scarlet Hill. Strangely enough, this was a Vietnamese series. It also satisfied me culturally—seeing the tension between today’s values and the old-fashioned (or is it?) values of a family fighting for inheritance, or of a psychiatrist’s practice held up against those of their shaman or our arbularyo, or of a once-tremendously-rich family that has disbanded trying to redefine themselves again.

Scarlet Hill

When I finished that I searched for a new title to watch and came across A Thousand Goodnights. This time, to my amazement, it was a Taiwanese film. It’s the story of a railroad man who finds a little girl abandoned at the station and raises her together with his own daughter. It’s another beautiful series. I am amazed first by the cinematography of all these series, their use of drones to give us the gorgeous landscape views of sea and sky, of mountains and city traffic, plus their special effects (especially in the Vietnamese film), and their ability to weave fact with fantasy so you understand it. Their acting quality, their tears, so effortless and natural—not labored like the ones we sometimes see in our films. These are today’s Asian films. Why do we seem so far behind?

A Thousand Goodnights

I looked it up on Google. Taiwan, whose capital is Taipei, has had funding from the government, together with investments from the private sector to make good movies that influence their audiences. Once they were into documentaries that offered lectures, but like the rest they have progressed from there. They have funds now to train their people who work on films locally and internationally. 

Vietnam also has funding from the government to build their national identity through cinema. They write into their objectives the need to satisfy their people’s cultural and spiritual lives, especially those who live far away from the city to enlighten them on what is possible. 

It’s time for us to look for scriptwriters who know what the Filipino really is. What heavy influences formed our culture—Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, American?

South Korea also has funding from the government and the private sector. In the Philippines most of the funding for movies comes from private pockets. Once it was the studios – LVN, Sampaguita, Premier Productions. But those ran into labor problems and closed. Now we don’t seem to be doing so well. I try to catch some local series but often after about 20 minutes I shift because I’m bored. 

I think maybe it’s time for us to look for scriptwriters who know what the Filipino really is. What heavy influences formed our culture—Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, American? What are the concrete signs of these influences on us? How religious are we? Once we were heavily Catholic, thanks to Spain. What introduced Iglesia ni Kristo? How does our system of beliefs weave into our lives? What are our morals? Our deference to the rich, the leadership, those we consider superior no matter how wrong. How do we project this so we can be understood by others, like the South Koreans, the Vietnamese and the Taiwanese have done so for international audiences?

We have to study and understand ourselves. Only then can we really do contemporary (not historical) films that are as good as the outstanding K-dramas, the Vietnamese, and the Taiwanese movies. 

I wonder when this will really and truly happen. Maybe I will die first.