Kailangan Kita ... Needs Polishing

Kailangan Kita / I Need You (2002)

Rated PG-13: For minimal language and sensitive themes

Running Time: 105 minutes (1 hour and 45 minutes)

Genre/s: Drama, Romance

Released on November 6, 2002 (PH Release Date; Available for Worldwide Viewing)

Presented by Star Cinema

Writers: Shaira Mella Salvador, Raymond Lee, and Emmanuel Dela Cruz

Director: Rory B. Quintos

  • Aga Muhlach as Carl Diesta
  • Claudine Barretto as Elena "Lena" Duran
  • Johnny Delgado as Rogelio Duran

“Never forget to love your country” … is a theme that one would never expect to be discussed in a romantic drama. But one did, and that film was 2002’s Kailangan Kita.

If I were being honest, I really had no idea this film existed, until one day, Dad and I were looking for a food movie to watch, because Dad loves to cook. We skimmed through the Internet’s suggestions, and we stumbled upon one that really interested me: Kusina, a food-centric film set during the Second World War.

It was … “costly”, so we settled for the next best thing. Being the responsible, law-abiding citizens we are, we rented it through “TFC”, or “The Filipino Channel,” for P99.83 for a total of two days. (Remember, we say no to piracy.)

If I am being more honest than I was awhile ago, I really had almost no expectations for this one. Heading into this flick, I actually believed that this is a by-the-numbers romantic drama ... and you know how much I don’t like “by-the-numbers” and “romantic drama” in the same sentence. This is made much worse by the fact that there are so much films here that matches that description that this might as well be the national film genre. However, even though this movie did hit the usual, generic notes in some places, I was caught off-guard by the few surprises Kailangan Kita has in store.

Directed by Rory Quintos, and written by Shaira M. Salvador and Raymond Lee, alongside Emmanuel Dela Cruz, who contributed to the story, the film stars the man who made Jollibee famous himself, Aga Muhlach, and Star Cinema’s “Optimum Star”, Claudine Barretto, alongside Johnny Delgado, Liza Lorena, and many more.

From what I can tell you, this movie was very much well-received upon its release. It received 9 different nominations at the 2002 “Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences” (FAMAS), including “Best Actress” for Barretto.

In the film, Carl Diesta, played by Muhlach (Seven Sundays), a star chef working in New York City returns to his home country after 17 years. Now engaged, Carl heads to the Bicol region, a province in the southern part of Luzon, the largest island in the Philippine archipelago, to formally introduce himself to his fiancee’s family, including the tough-as-nails, former mayoral aspirant Rogelio Duran, played by Delgado (You Got Me!).

However, delays in their marriage surface. With his patience tested, Carl realizes that his heart might not be in the right place. He would now need the help of his fiancee’s younger sister and the black sheep of the family, Lena, played by Barretto (Milan) to once again be in-tune with his roots. Maybe, even find true love in the process.

As I’ve said before, this film manages to be extremely basic in its approach to the romantic genre. Right of the bat, we are treated to typical romantic tropes, from the upbeat opening credits crawl, accompanied by the feel-good background music, to the cooking montage that’s supposed to develop the obviously budding romance between the two protagonists. These are all topped by the typical premise of an engaged man against his fiancee's father.

But then, the initial conflict of impressing the father is suddenly resolved after the first twenty minutes. Carl managed to impress Rogelio by just cooking a fancy dish for him, and by now becoming more open to eat local food. I was originally confused when I watched the film for the first time, but after watching it once more, I realized that the real conflict is not about Carl leaving a good impression to the family, so he can secure his fiancee’s hand in marriage.

No. It is Carl’s struggle to embrace his cultural origins after previous negative experiences while living in the Philippines. Yes, in case you are wondering yourself, this entire film is a big debate between colonial mentality and patriotism. And yes, this film is classified as a “romantic drama.”

The representations of colonial mentality and patriotism are seen through both Carl and Lena, respectively.

Carl is a Western-oriented man. The first ten minutes help establish this through the way he speaks, and the way he dresses, especially with his “flattering” cooking outfit, pin-buttons and all. It is then later enforced by his outright refusal to consume “laing”, a traditional Bicolano dish with coconut milk and chili. Carl comments that the Mayon Volcano, for all of its majesty, is not as great compared to the Grand Canyon in America.

This is officially solidified by a conversation between him and Lena. While military forces are going around the town to search for members of the real-life Communist group known as the “New People’s Army”, or the “NPA”, Carl describes them as soulless as mercenaries.

Not only is Carl a devout worshiper of the Western world, but he is a very overzealous one. This is made more obvious by his refusal to answer questions pertaining to his earlier days in the country.

Despite this, however, it is quite clear that he somewhat misses his childhood prior to moving away, as noted by him gazing at the sight of children frolicking and playing by the river.

On the other hand, Lena is noticeably vocal towards her disagreements with Carl’s views on the NPA, citing that not all of them are terrible, with some of them only fighting for what they believe is right. In addition to her character’s visual nods, such as her preference to cook with more Philippine-inspired means, we also see that Lena really does care about her fellow countrymen when she helps a man pick-up his scattered stock, whom Carl practically ignores.

The way the movie explores both arguments is very enlightening, especially now more than ever due to recent contemporary controversies. Not only that, but the film’s endearing, character-driven discussion of such complex topics, as well as the theme of politics playing a key part in breaking family dynamics, are some things that I really admire. Though in most cases, Lena’s frequent proclamations of patriotism and brotherhood can be a tad bit, eye-rolling at times, especially when her stances are repeated over and over again, but the intimate portrayals of the actors really help sell all of the necessary points.

Even with their differences, there is one thing that unites both of them, and that is the recurring motif, and the other thing that this film is notable for: food. This is only mildly apparent in the first thirty minutes, when Carl and Lena cook their signature dishes, and with Carl impressing Rogelio with his work, while he in turn loves Lena’s laing. However, it becomes increasingly clearer with Rogelio hosting a get-together with his election opponent, and with Carl having a nice happy drinking hour with the rest of Lena’s family members.

As food is the central motif, food lovers will still find lovely scenes for them to gnaw their teeth in, especially the very first sequence of both Carl and Lena cooking their signature dishes.

After finally tasting laing, and enjoying the savory goodness of it, Carl’s journey of self-discovery begins with the aid of Lena. It finally reaches its peak when Carl realizes the real reason as to why Lena has a deep-seated sympathy for the NPA. That is because Lena has a boyfriend who is a member of that organization. The man, named Abel, played by Jericho Rosales (On the Job) is discovered by Carl while being secretly treated by Lena of wounds when Abel has encountered military soldiers in a gun-fight. 

Then all of Lena’s relatives found-out about her secrecy, which leads to Abel’s (presumed) demise. It is later revealed at the near-end that Lena’s small connection to the NPA is what caused Rogelio to lose the elections, leading to her black sheep status.

Slowly, Carl begins to see that because of Lena’s wholehearted affection for the country and her people, he, also a Filipino, must also care just as much, regardless of past events. Carl, originally the person to dismiss any discussions about current day issues, slowly begins to feel somewhat patriotic, as noted by him suddenly engaging in various country matters.

But that path to realization is halted temporarily when we learn of the identity of the laing legend living by the rice lands, Ka Pinong, played by Dante Rivero (It Takes a Man and a Woman), who is revealed to be none other than his biological father. After lashing-out, Carl opens-up to Lena that his father, a former member of the NPA, abandoned him, his brothers, and his mother to serve the organization, fueling his hatred for the country. “It’s not fair!”, Carl exclaims.

Carl quickly regains his senses after recalling his happiest memory: learning how to cook from Ka Pinong. Finally accepting his cultural identity, Carl asks for Ka Pinong to teach him again how to cook laing, and they mend fences as father and son. This again evokes the food motif.

Though a lot of the actors are forced to play by tropes, I can safely say that they did decent jobs, especially the late Johnny Delgado. We’ll talk later about what I think about Muhlach’s and Barreto’s performances.

On the technicalities of the film, such as the cinematography, the direction, and the editing, I have somewhat mixed feelings about it. Though it doesn’t completely strike me as something entirely unique, I do admire the cinematography and direction for giving us a sense of a rural environment, thanks to its emphasis on the usual Filipino locations such as grass lands and cultural architecture. The editing is also alright for the most part, but I really don’t like the cheesy wipe transitions in the montage segment, because I find it absolutely corny and just plain overdone at this point.

Again, the character-focused story, made especially better by its emphasis on timely topics, is very good, and the second act’s redirection farther from its initially messy set-up really did help in saving this movie from being a complete misfire. That is … until we get to the third act, where I am reminded that yes, I am watching a romantic film. A typical romantic film.

Even if this film falls under that aforementioned genre, its more romantic aspects are arguably the worst parts about Kailangan Kita. This is because I feel that the overall story, complete with its political overtones, are never meant to be included in a romantic film. I have read in one online post that this film was originally supposed to be more about cooking and food, and that certain changes were made supposedly to make the film more appealing to general audiences. If that really is the case, then I can see why the romance in this film feels more like an after-thought.

The one plot point that ultimately verifies my assumption is the sub-plot surrounding Lena and Abel and how it is resolved. You would expect that a woman like Lena, who sacrificed her dignity and risked her family’s name just to support Abel in his exploits, would be completely shaken by the death (or at least, “assumed death”, because we only heard gunfire while the camera focuses on Lena’s reaction) of her beloved. The film explicitly states she really does care about Abel, evident when Lena, despite being already shamed by her father, still chose to hide Abel in one of the family’s own supply shacks. Her tirade in the aftermath of Abel’s “death” when Lena once more waxes political enforces this even more.

Guess what? She completely manages to move-on from that incident in a span of five minutes, so the film can finally head to the plot and tone audiences actually paid for. This then leads us to the usual romantic trip montage.

Granted, we could say that the distance from Abel and the pressure from the family factored into Lena’s decision to lose all feelings for Abel, but the way the film rushes the story, and the fact that Abel is never mentioned again, even immediately before the credits make this plot point … pointless.

Outside of those times when Carl constantly gazes at Lena, and that one time when Carl comments about how beautiful Lena is, almost no interaction between Carl and Lena, especially their respective lines, are romantic. Their dialogues don’t even have the sweet and charming energy that can be found in films of the same genre, such as Kita Kita. As the film portrays their interactions in a friendly, sibling-like light, which is again noted by the dialogue and the conflict, I found myself in a position asking myself … “why even call this a romantic movie?”

Aga Muhlach’s and Claudine Barretto’s performances also don’t have the chemistry reminiscent of a slowly blooming couple. Though both of them are fine here, even though they both took a more melodramatic turn by the third act, and it is quite clear that both are trying to sell us on that romantic vibe that the film wanted to give-out, the best way I could describe their chemistry is that it ranges from lukewarm to subzero.

While I have no problem with how the film wanted to end, outside from it being extremely cliched, I do take issue with the fact that it is rushed. Not only did the last thirty minutes manage to take us back to the super stale tone of the first parts, but it also manages to disrespect all of the characters by glossing over all of their respective arcs’ resolutions. 

The only way to rectify this mistake is by giving hints with regards to their arcs during the wedding reception of Carl’s ex-fiancee Crissy, played by Rissa Manansquil-Samson (Keka). Yes, people are allowed to leave certain plot points up for interpretation, but you have to give the audiences something to speculate over

I could just end this review here and call it a day. But since I was unbelievably unsatisfied with the end result, here are four suggestions to properly wrap all of the character arcs up, complete with explanations as to why these would make complete sense.

Carl’s entire arc revolves almost entirely around his absentee father, but is never seen again after their small moment of reconciliation. Since the one year time skip only partly suggests that he stayed in the Philippines, Carl could have had a conversation with one of Lena’s brothers that he only took an extended stay in the country to catch-up with his father, with some hint of only minimal animosity. This way, we see that Carl has moved beyond rage towards his father, and has grown more accepting of his background.

Prior to this wedding, we never really get to know or even see Crissy, outside of newspaper clipping and phone calls with Carl. One big exposition dump from Consuelo at the closing moments of the film suggests that Crissy is never the most committed person to be with. This arc is also made jarring by the fact that we never get to see Crissy feeling bad for having Carl wait for too long, or how she reacted to Carl liking Lena. Instead of that lame conversation between Crissy, her new husband, and Carl, the two could have a private talk and acknowledge their shortcomings. Both wish only the best for each other. This way, Crissy would not come-off as a materialistic jerk who couldn’t care less for Carl’s feelings, because the entire wedding scene that still doesn’t add any layers to her character, but this one small chat would.

Lena’s arc revolves a lot around her love for Abel, but again, we don’t even get to see exactly what happened after Rogelio and his sons find him. To make her and Carl’s relationship less abrupt in terms of development, Lena would mention that though she loves Abel, she believes that she should give herself a chance to be happy with someone else. This way, Jericho Rosales’ very brief cameo would at least serve a purpose for Lena’s arc.

Finally, Rogelio and Lena had their father-daughter bond broken by Lena’s relationship. Despite being a massively crucial driving point for the entire film, we never see how this plotline is resolved, because both of them never said a word to each other during the last five minutes. Mere silence and brief glances mean nothing in the grander scheme of things. Instead, they both should at least have one long discussion prior to this scene to have either Lena and Rogelio put aside their differences, or Lena, regardless of what Rogelio feels, decides to live her life by her own accord. In addition, there should at least be a mention of Lena’s progress in life in the form of a mention of the scholarship proposal mentioned earlier in the film, which she decides to take.

All of these suggestions are very small additions, with each of them at least ranging from either thirty seconds, or roughly three minutes. By inserting all of these four in the closing moments, we could have had a much more complete, much more satisfying conclusion.

Overall, Kailangan Kita is a great family drama that manages to discuss colonial mentality and patriotism through a great character-driven narrative that manages to overcome its base level of depth. However, it is an overwhelmingly terrible romantic drama that does nothing unique to distinguish itself from others in the crowd, and is made more frustrating by its melodramatic and rushed ending. Though Aga Muhlach and Claudine Barretto both give everything that they have, in the end, its flaws outweigh its stronger points.

To better explain, this movie is just an average sandwich, wherein the contents within the slices of bread are delicious, but the bread surrounding said fillings are stale and underwhelming. I hereby grant this film a 14/25 (Okay?).

All this talk about food really got me hungry. Speaking of food, it is no secret that food is essential in our everyday lives. They give us strength, and perhaps something to be joyful for. We did mention awhile ago that eating is a custom that helps build bridges and mend fences between people. Of course, no such occasion would be successful with a horrendous menu. That is why, if you or your friends really want to have a fruitful festivity, we highly recommend that you go green. By "going green," we mean that you ought to have yourselves some healthy and nutritious salads that are simple and very easy to make.

Tuttle, the world's leading international publisher of innovative books discussing all things Asian, from culture, martial arts, travel and design, to economics, to obviously, food, has sent us a copy of their latest book: "Asian Salads: 72 Inspired Recipes from Vietnam, China, Korea, Thailand and India" by writer Maki Watanabe. To give you a brief background on Ms. Watanabe, she is said to be active in the natural community, from forming a partnership with SHOP to create kitchen utensils, to writing various works on the topic. Her Japanese work, "Daily Side Salads" won the "Recipe Book Award" twice!

As the title of the book states, readers have access to 72 different salad recipes based on and inspired by various Asian recipes. As a salad lover myself, I wholeheartedly recommend that you give this book a shot. It allows not just culinary artists everywhere, but even inexperienced fellows such as I, would be given the chance to experiment with various recipes. Through this book, with its easy step-by-step guide and photos, you would be able to not just mix fruits, vegetables, and some sauces, but you would also be able to try with chicken, seafood, and meat. Simple to make for your daily meal and great to share for every occasion with your family and friends! 

So what are you waiting for? Buy now at your favorite bookstores near you, and happy salad making! (If that's even a phrase.)  You can buy it directly at the Tuttle website by clicking the link: https://www.tuttlepublishing.com/asia-general/asian-salads

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And that's a wrap for our latest movie review. Be sure to check-out Gary Valenciano's theme song for the film, and stay tuned for more Dateline Movies! 

1 comment:

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