Kita Kita is ... Kinda Kooky

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Kita Kita / I See You (2017)

Rated PG: For Minimal Sensitive Themes

Running Time: 84 minutes (1 hour and 24 minutes)

Genre/s: Comedy, Drama, Romance

Released on July 19, 2017 (PH Release Date' Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Viva Films and Spring Films

Writer and Director: Sigrid Andrea Bernardo

Starring:
  • Alessandra de Rossi as Lea
  • Empoy Marquez as Anthony "Tonyo" Marquez

“Love is blind”, or in this case, “love makes you blind.” Such is the theme of this romantic comedy film, titled Kita Kita, or “I See You” in English.

Written and directed by independent filmmaker Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, Kita Kita stars longtime actress Alessandra de Rossi and comedian Empoy Marquez. When it was released on July 19, 2017, the film was labelled as a sleeper hit, and was received positively by both critics and audiences alike. It was popular on its release to the point that it became the highest grossing independent, Filipino movie of all time, and for good reasons. I mean, for a movie that only has a budget of 10 million pesos, that really is a major achievement.


In an industry plagued by romantic movies that resort to cliche-riddled storylines such as adolescent love triangles, or steamy love affairs, this one is definitely a breath of fresh air, which is a sentiment shared by almost everyone who had seen it. CNN Philippines even declared this as one of the “best romantic comedies in the last 25 years.” Though my expectations were admittedly pretty high, there was this part of me that thought that it would be disappointing. Imagine my surprise after watching it.

In the film, Sapporo-stationed tourist guide Lea, played by de Rossi (Kid Kulafu) goes temporarily blind after discovering that her fiancee was cheating on her. While she recovers, a man named Tonyo, played by Marquez (Bloody Crayons) invites her to tour the rest of Sapporo, Japan together, in an attempt to lift her spirits up.

The first thing that literally caught my attention was the film’s cinematography. Sapporo’s colorful and reinvigorating scenery, from interior locations to natural exterior sets really help sell how positively otherworldly and paradise-like the place is, and it helps establish the whimsical atmosphere the film is aiming for. Originally I thought the reason why they chose Sapporo for the movie was because it was “simply beautiful”, but looking back, I think that decision has some thematic significance to it.

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The theme of the film is all about appearances, and how they can deceive the naked eye, and Sapporo’s rich and exciting landscapes perfectly contrasts the realities Lea has to face (i.e. an unfaithful fiancee, an obvious lack of friends, and so on). Props to Ms. Bernardo and cinematographer Boy YƱiguez for giving us a very lively presentation.

I also have to give credit to Arlene Flerida Calvo for the sweet and bubbly score which further emphasizes the film’s sugary, syrup-y tone, and I do believe that one of the best parts of the movie that showed that is when both Lea and Tonyo are eating ramen noodles on one of their dates. As Tonyo states that he is the perfect match for Lea, the instrumentals really help bring about those “kilig” vibes, as we call them here.

The entire film can be summed as “two people touring Sapporo together.” Yes, the entire movie is just them exploring the various tourist traps of the country, all the while being completely dialogue-driven. “Dialogue-driven”, as in … it’s just them talking to each other for an hour and a half. The film also goes about as you would expect any rom-com from the last four decades or so would go about. One character is left heartbroken, until a character comes around and they both fall in love. You know, “formula.”

But I have to say, even though I could literally see this massive plot twist from five light years away (more on that later), this film really is good. Not just “average good”, as in “really good.” Most dialogue-driven movies have huge chances at becoming boring, but not Kita Kita. Every line, every corny, pop culture-related joke, every small moment of exposition, every single interaction is so heart-warming, and very relatable.

Here, we never get to hear cheesy exchanges such as “you’re the love of my life”, although we get to hear a slight variation by the third act. Instead, we get these real, human interactions that not only move the plot forward, but with every utterance from our two main characters, we get to know them more and more. For all the cynical comments from Lea, we know that she is more than just a totally heartbroken snob. For all of the one-liners Tonyo says, we know eventually that he has a really heartbreaking story of his own. 

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Frankly, these lines could not have been successfully delivered if it weren’t for the talented leads. In this two-character story, both Ms. de Rossi and Mr. Marquez manage to play and find balance with their respective strengths, with the latter inserting some lighthearted moments, and the former injecting some realism. I also commend Ms. de Rossi for actively willing to experiment with her role.

The screenplay overall is really decent, and I have to commend the extensive bits of foreshadowing here that adds the movie a rewatch bonus, which then brings us to what I believe is the most talked about part of the film: the plot twist.

As the film progresses, both Lea and Tonyo begin to fall for each other. As luck would have it, Lea begins to regain her lost sight while Tonyo and her are again exploring the streets of Sapporo at night. Tonyo, who stopped Lea and crossed a street for awhile to claim a teddy bear as a gift, is completely distracted by the sight of Lea fully healed that he did not see a speeding truck coming as he crossed the street again. Yep, Tonyo dies, guys. I guess you could say “love does make you blind”, huh?

The plot twist kicks-in a few days later. Lea is again heartbroken and somewhat returning to her slightly cynical state at the start of the movie. Noticing Tonyo’s completely empty house, Lea goes there, and as she reads a letter that Tonyo left behind prior to dying, we get a flashback from events that took place before the film itself. It turns-out Tonyo was heartbroken when his girlfriend dumped him. Distraught, he decided to drink all the alcohol in all of Sapporo, until the kind Lea shows him simple acts of kindness. Lea’s good nature then causes Tonyo to have feelings for Lea.

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In the near beginning, Lea, dressed as a heart, mentioned of a Banana Man that she hung-out with on the night her fiancee forgot about their anniversary. Well … surprise … Tonyo is the Banana Man, which is only surprising to those who have never seen a single movie outside of Kita Kita. Who else could it be, right? I’m pretty sure it couldn’t be Nobu, Lea’s fiancee, because that would just raise more questions.

As the letter comes to an end, Tonyo reveals that he is diagnosed with an enlarged heart, and that he might be dying as a result. Because of this, and upset that Lea is heartbroken, Tonyo is motivated to nurse Lea’s heart back to its better state, and also as a means to express his undying gratitude for Lea.

In other words, an infatuated Tonyo has been stalking Lea, as in every scene before his introduction, he was there, following Lea. I don’t know how else to say it, now that I think about it.

The revelation that Tonyo has an enlarged heart initially came-out of nowhere for me, but as I have previously mentioned, there are actually clever bits of foreshadowing that hints about Tonyo’s condition that none of which I never noticed before. Most of these hints are through Tonyo’s jokes, including his comment about pancit being able to extend one’s life, and in a scene where he is watering Lea’s plants, and he makes a joke that the plants are “losing their lives” (while also inserting a Plants vs. Zombies reference).

Probably the best foreshadowing bit for me is the whole heart and banana anthology. Whether intentional or not, once you realize that the “big-hearted” Tonyo is healing Lea’s broken heart in a sense, much like how bananas are good for the heart, the plot twist becomes even more obvious. I swear I am not over-thinking this.


Though as much as I love the extremely subtle hints about Tonyo’s enlarged heart, I do believe that they could have made some clearer hints, such as Tonyo growing easily tired sometimes, while he makes excuses that he just needs some more exercise, so that the plot twist wouldn’t feel out-of-place upon revelation. I actually thought for awhile that it would have been better if Tonyo died from his heart disease, but then it became apparent that the movie would just border on cheesy melodrama.

Sadly, even without the subtlety, the identity of the mysterious Banana Man would still be clear as day, because again, there are only four characters in this entire flick, and the other two introduced at the start are just relatively minor in significance. I once read that the film was supposed to have three main characters, and though I think it would help the plot twist less obvious, the film as a whole would feel much more generic. Still, they are good bits of foreshadowing.

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On the matter of Tonyo stalking Lea, there are reviewers out there who actually view the character as a malicious manipulator, and I do understand why they would have that sentiment. However, I do believe that calling Tonyo a “manipulator” might be a little too extreme.

Sure, he might have been following her creepily around, and he might have interfered in her life by orchestrating Lea’s discovery of her fiancee’s infidelity, I don’t think Tonyo did anything remotely evil to be called as one. If Tonyo was making Lea feel guilty through his sickness, then I guess that is the only time we can call him one. I think the best word to describe him is “misguided”, because again, Tonyo did not do remotely anything that can be considered harmful such as guilt-tripping or secret keeping, and the secret that he kept was hidden for justifiable reasons.

For a better understanding, let's compare Tonyo's case to the one in the movie Passengers, starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. In that film, Mr. Pratt's Jim Preston, who was awoken prematurely by a an unexpected computer system failure, was lonely for a lengthy amount of time. In a desperate need to feed that isolation, Jim deliberately awakened Ms. Lawrence's Aurora Lane from cryogenic slumber, which ultimately dooms her to the same fate as Jim does: an early death. Combined with the fact that Jim had hidden this from her the entire film, this definitely counts as manipulation. With that in mind, I'm pretty sure Tonyo didn't do anything of that sort to Lea.

Overall, Kita Kita is a solidly crafted romantic comedy that clearly has more to offer than most films under the same genre. It might have cliches under its belt, but it has charming performances from both leads and a heartwarming screenplay to compensate. This film, even if you have watched it a lot of times before, never feels dull.

I hereby grant this film a 20/25 (Pleasant Entertainment)

With that, we conclude yet another movie review. But before we leave, be sure to listen to KZ Tandingan's rendition of "Two Less Lonely People" by Air Supply, a cover which is included in the film's soundtrack. Stay tuned for more Dateline Movies!

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