I was eight and it was my mom's annual company outing. The resort we were at was playing Roselle Nava's "Bakit Nga Ba" loudly and on repeat. Half-submerged in the shallow end of the adult swimming pool, despite not being able to relate to the song ("walang hugot," in Filipino slang), I had the chorus memorized. "Bakit nga ba mahal kita kahit 'di pinapansin ang damdamin ko? 'Di mo man ako mahal, heto pa rin ako, nagmamahal nang tapat sa'yo," the lyrics went. They were that simple.
Almost two decades later, "Bakit Nga Ba" makes a comeback in the Filipino romantic comedy English Only, Please as the song Jennylyn Mercado's character sings on karaoke in front of Derek Ramsay. In her case—and she actually sings this for the both of them—there is definitely some hugot.
English Only, Please tells the story of English tutor Tere Madlangsacay (Mercado) who gets hired by New York-based Fil-Am Julian Parker (Ramsay) to translate a speech he has prepared. Tere is still hopelessly and foolishly in love with her cheating ex-boyfriend (Kean Cipriano) while Julian is angry and still hasn't come to terms with being dumped by his ex-girlfriend (Isabel Oli). Julian flies to the Philippines so Tere can teach him the translation of his speech, enabling him to recite it to his ex and maybe get her back, but he never gets to, or at least not as he had originally intended, because during the course of his and Tere's tutorial sessions, the two lovelorn "foolish hearts" fall in love with each other.
English Only, Please works as a romantic comedy because it is simple and has the right amounts of funny and romantic. Nothing is overdone. Not the story or the length of the movie. Not the urban dictionary word slides that serve as transition between scenes. Not Kean Cipriano's character's doucheyness. Not the way Derek Ramsay pronounces with an American accent the Filipino words his character is trying to learn. Not Jennylyn Mercado's make-up and costume (she really does look like a regular Manileña), and especially not her acting (I don't think Mercado has shined in any role the way she definitely has in this movie). Even the product placement of Dunkin Donuts, endorsed by Ramsay, isn't overly awkward. No wonder the rom-com won Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Director among many other accolades at the 40th Metro Manila Film Festival (shame it only won second place for Best Picture).
I normally stay away from romance films, even romantic comedies, but this one I knew I had to watch at the cinema with my friends from work. I was glad I could say "it was so funny I cried" at the end of the movie, although I didn't really get to make that excuse because everyone in our group, cynics and idealists alike, had tears in their eyes. It was the light and sweet ending we needed after a stressful day at the office.
I'd actually like to see English Only, Please again. And that's saying something for an MMFF movie.