Filipino movie and TV actors don’t know how to play rich people

Many people have been wondering why Filipino films and television shows are such massive cringes. On the surface, the most obvious observation is that the emotional hooks used by the template plots of these products are overused and obsolete. Shouting matches, loud monologues, and slapstick chatter pepper stories about “love” between characters from opposite sides of the tracks, one-dimensional infidelity, and infantile youth angst. In short, the cinematic devices haven’t evolved much since Lavinia Arguelles played by the late Cherie Gil issued the words “You’re nothing, but a second-rate trying hard copycat!” to Dorina Pineda played by Sharon Cuneta in the 1985 film Bituing Walang Ningning.

Unfortunately the root causes that contribute to the mediocre quality of Philippine cinema and TV run deeper. Filipino script writers are incapable of grasping the nuances of what it means to be a true member of the alta ciudad (high society). To top that with another layer of dysfunction, Filipino actors and actresses are woefully ill-equipped to play such characters. Back in 2018, Get Real Post contributor Kate Natividad wrote a damning piece about that year’s ABS-CBN Ball that captures the kernel of the bankrupt cultural faculties of Philippine showbiz that likely accounts for this creative deficit…

But the Filipino elite — the real ones — are nothing like the poor copies on exhibit in this Ball. To be fair, the untrained eye would be hard-pressed to find fault in the dresses of the girls. But, man, the boys. Their outfits were screaming f…. (sorry, we’re no longer allowed to used that word).

Natividad goes on to eviscerate any semblance of what’s left of a talent-poor industry’s pitch to much needed fresh blood…

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Tasteful fashion is hard to get. Trying hard to get it makes it even harder. Perhaps the first step is to try to make working in showbiz a bit more of a viable career path for the supposed “best and brightest” of the private school set. Otherwise, all you’ll get are designers of stories and looks who know nothing about the “rich” characters they populate their dramas and romcoms with. That’s a tall order as well considering Pinoy showbiz has still to shake off the baduy stigma it suffers…

The sad fact is that people who write and perform for the Philippines’ mass entertainment businesses come from those baduy classes. As such, they craft the characters of their stories, direct their “talent”, and perform the parts using the underclass perspective they bring to the industry. The products are predictable: rich kids dressed in label-screaming outfits acting like assholes shouting at their servants in trying-hard English and poor folk doing the old batang yagit act to tug heartstrings. Really edgy stuff, right?

This is a huge gap considering that class war is the default thematic frame of most of Philippine mass entertainment products.

When will Philippine cinema and TV level up in a region of players already starting to give Hollywood a run for its money? It begins when a bit more reality and a bit less unimaginative melodrama and stereotypes are applied to the local craft. The world is an interesting place and, as such, offers no excuse to creators who suffer a deficit of imagination and a lack of focus on quality.

14 Replies to “Filipino movie and TV actors don’t know how to play rich people”

  1. Sadly, that has always been the case, especially in our drama series where they stick to the formulaic ‘poor gets oppressed by the rich plots’–plus those rich people who act as they are crude, boorish and without manners, as if the rich can act as they please like savages. An expat whom I personally know from the Indian subcontinent (he is Pakistani) who loves this country as well as the friendliness and family values of us Filipinos, has greatly observed that when other Asians see Filipino TV shows like these, they will be given the impression that the rich Filipinos are crass, vulgar and with no culture. Contrast these to other Asian TV series as well as Asian indie flicks (especially from countries like Korea, Taiwan and even Singapore) that get screened on Red by HBO which have even won appeal beyond their borders where the acting is much more subdued, the plots much more real and where these have very high production values. You can also account for the aesthetic poverty of our Filipino TV production people for giving the audiences stuff that reek of intellectual bankruptcy, based on the ‘hanggang dito lang yung alam namin’ mentality.
    On another angle, when somebody told me how the older Filipino TV series, especially sitcoms are much better than than today, think of the series John En Marsha which was aired from 1974 up to 1989 over RPN-9; indeed the ending line of Dona Delilah, ‘kaya ikaw John, magsumikap ka’ made up for sheer comedy magic. Yet, unknown to many, such a phrase did not come overnight; this was result of ‘DevComm’–developmental communications–which was instilled by the then KBS Networks–to promote positive values while, at the same time, satirizing the negative aspects of Filipinos in Filipino shows. I grew up watching John En Marsha and I can remember how I laughed at the humour of Dolphy, Nida and Dona Delilah–yet the humour also makes you think. At least standards were set back then, thanks to DevComm. So unlike today’s jokes of Vice-Ganda that are so tasteless and hitting-below-the-belt. I do agree that Filipinos deserve something better, and that is a challenge for our TV people to come up with something that they NEED instead of want. Perhaps reviving drama series with adaptations based on the diverse literary works of our noted figures Alberto Florentino, Nick Joaquin and Wilfrido Nolledo, among others with their no-nonsense, thought-provoking plots–the way the pre-martial law ABC-Channel 5 did with Balintataw, revived by PTV-4 in the late ’80s but sadly, failed in the ratings game–can be a good start that can raise the level of entertainment that is not escapist but enriching to the minds and spirit.

    1. It does not help either that Filipino performers are so evidently self conscious when they perform. Perhaps this is because most movie and TV stars in the Philippines are actually just ordinary folk plucked from the streets and lack any sort of formal training in the performing arts. Compare that, say, to Korean performers the top talent among which had been trained in these arts since childhood. This is but another instance of the ingrained mediocrity that characterises most Filipino undertakings.

      It is, indeed, interesting that a country of more than 110 million cannot produce even a single world class entertainment product or act.

  2. Pinoy entertainment is baduy people who entertain other baduy people. This reduces the likelihood any kind of quality being produced. People refuse to believe the eternal truth of GIGO ( Garbage In Garbage Out). Baduy permeates all manner of culture in this country. Their is nothing in this country that involves marketing to the bulk of population that is not overtly baduy. Like I said in previous blogs:

    Baduy is anything or anybody severely lacking in the following traits: wit, reverence, originality, irony, self awareness, nuance, IQ and dignity. Our local TV industry operates on a 3 word mandate : appeal to baduys.

    Being baduy does not encourage excellence, patience , intellect and refinement. If anything it encourages appealing to the lowest common denominator. Being baduy encourages lowbrow humor and moronic laugh tracks. Say what you want about Hollywood movies but a lot of their actors and actresses go undercover for months learning what the real life equivalents of their roles do. Scott Glenn was on an actual nuclear submarine, Bryan Cranston learned how to make meth , Adam Sandler was trained by Sean Salisbury , Christian Bale & Robert De Niro and Charlize Theron go through transformations with their bodies etc. Local productions are not about perfecting a craft. It is not about preparing to be as authentic as possible on screen. They are about appealing to the baduy. You appeal to the baduy by hiring the baduy to act , write and produce baduy.

  3. what can you expect from an audience/culture that still caters to TV/Movie love teams for god’s sake?! this is the country’s mentality…ad infinitum.

  4. The real “rich” people of High Society or the traditional old-money ( old money is “the inherited wealth of established upper-class families (i.e. gentry, patriciate)” or “a person, family, or lineage possessing inherited wealth”. The term typically describes a social class of the rich who have been able to maintain their wealth over multiple generations, often referring to perceived members of the de facto aristocracy in societies that historically lack an officially established aristocratic class (such as in Europe and the Philippines).

    The term is often used in contrast with new not act the way as portrayed in movies and soap operas since a lot of writers have no first hand experience of these refined, cultured and educated class. Those portrayed are mostly the “noveau riche” – people who have recently acquired wealth, typically those perceived as ostentatious or lacking in good taste, who love to show-off their newly acquired wealth as status symbol but lack social skills, refinement and culture. I have many friends and even relatives who belong to either group and one can truly see the differences among them.

    1. Yes, true. The only film I could recall that captured a bit of that “old money” essence is Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata. The rest come across as caricatures of this because writers and directors seem to habitually apply this stereotypical character of the old rich of the 19th Century and early 20th Century to crafting modern 21st Century characters.

  5. @benign0 and @Gogs: So we can have something concrete or specific as oppose to something general, having said what you said, is Peque Gallaga’s Oro Plata Mata a baduy Filipino film? Why or why not?

    1. Put it this way, it’s one of the least baduy of the lot.

      I’m being a bit harsh there though. I do recall actually enjoying Oro. I haven’t seen it again in more than 20 years so I should probably check it out again. There was another good one I recall as well called Kakabakaba ka ba? starting the late Jay Ilagan and Ms Charo Santos. That one had the sort of dry humour that is as rare as a diamond in Philippine cinema and TV.

    2. @benign0 thanks for your honest reply though @gogs did not commit to answering directly despite of his claim of not even having to think about his answer, but thanks just the same.

      As opinion writers, it’s interesting how the ‘least baduy’ of the lot type of Filipino films can also be considered good and enjoyable.

      I also noted how you hailed and approved the British film Metro Manila in your reviews. A film based on a true Filipino story as personally witnessed by the director himself which also features Filipino actors shot here in the Philippines. Quite sad for a review though… not much details in the merits of film itself but more on its synopsis.

      Some interesting facts:

      Before there was a government entity called the Experimental Cinema of the Philippines (ECP). It was created to promote the growth and development of the local film industry.

      ECP is a government-owned corporation headed then by Ms. Imee Marcos as its Director General. When the Cory Aquino administration came to power in 1986, it decided to dissolved the state-owned enterprise.

      It produced the Filipino film Oro, Plata, Mata (1982) along with four other films: Himala (1982), Soltero (1984), Misterio sa Tuwa (1984) and Isla (1985) which was co-produced with Viva Films.

      ABS-CBN Corporation now owns the copyrights to the first four films.

      Having interest mainly in films as a money-making venture it did not level up.

      While ABS-CBN Corporation’s Star Cinema brags it has produced and released most of the highest-grossing Philippine films of all time it has lead only to the proliferation of their so called baduy films banking on its talents’ star power lead by Vice Ganda.

    3. If I’m not mistaken, the ECP also produced films like Scorpio Nights in later years and became known for those which probably accounted for the popular backlash against it by the emerging woke movement following that “revolution” in 1986.

      I did issue thoughts some time back on the plight of edgy film makers in my piece Filipino indie film makers need to stop whining and step up where I wrote…

      For indie film producers, an audience is a bonus. For Studio movie producers, an audience is the whole point. The latter is driven by credentialism and the former by insight. We all know mass appeal brings home the bacon, whilst edginess and loyalty to vision attracts a far smaller subset — insightful minds.

      …which highlights the conundrum. Making movies does require capital and when those who require that their capital yield financial returns (as is usually the case), producers need to make compromises.

      Unfortunately there is no critical enough mass of insightful people in the Philippines to warrant good movie making or, as may also be the case, perhaps the deficit of imagination, vision, and creativity in the Philippines (on the supply side) is, quite simply, too acute.

  6. It just so happens I don’t even have to think about the answer. I tried to make the case in a similar blog where I poke fun at politicians who believe the threat is external and not internal. It just happened to fit into one of the themes of Oro … Seriously – think about pinoy movies made in your lifetime. How many of them even have a theme or any kind of symbolic conflict? How many of them make any kind of serious societal statement? I always said mass media is a mirror that reflects the audience it wants to capture. I prefer you read the whole thing but if you must then skip to the end.

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