Kim, Xian and Richard (Composite file photo)
MANILA – Chinese-Filipinos, or "Tsinoys," have been part of Philippine society for centuries such that Binondo is recognized as the world's oldest Chinatown.
Yet despite this long history, the rise of Tsinoy stars is a fairly recent phenomenon in local tinseltown, which has traditionally favored mestizos.
Some of the biggest ABS-CBN stars of today are of Chinese-Filipino descent such as Kim Chiu, Xian Lim, Enchong Dee, and Richard Yap, whose hit series "Be Careful With My Heart" has changed the landscape of daytime television.
Chiu and Lim have successfully taken their TV love team to the big screen, with their latest hit, "Bride for Rent," earning almost P300 million in two weeks.
In an interview with Dr. Sidney Bata, director of the Ricardo Leong Center for Chinese Studies at the Ateneo de Manila University, credited the rise in popularity of Chinese-Filipino actors to the Filipinos’ growing interest in Asian telenovelas and movies, particularly from Korea.
Bata singled out the boy group F4 and the phenomenal soap "Meteor Garden" for this shift in the taste of TV viewers.
“Before the F4 guys came, we had our viewers wanting to see Hispanics in their dubbed series. 'Meteor Garden' gave a glimpse of what Asiannovelas had to offer. The series did not only sweep the Filipinos off their feet, the same was happening in the East Asian and Southeast Asia (and was also felt in other territories around the globe),” he said.
Local networks gamely rode on the bandwagon, launching reality shows like "Star Circle Quest" to search for new talents.
The ABS-CBN show discovered Hero Angeles and Sandara Park, whose love team continued even after the series wrapped up. Angeles and Park were given lead roles, opening new story arcs for scriptwriters.
“Another factor is the Filipino viewers wanted an alternative to the dominance of the Hispanic mestizo lead stars. The last few years had seen Hispanic mestizo-looking kontrabidas making life miserable for East Asian-looking bidas," Bata noted.
“I think it’s good for the industry because there’s a new flavor. Hindi lang parating pareho. Because when you become so predictable, people would stop watching,” he added.
The integration of the Chinese into Filipino communities began centuries ago even before the Spaniards "discovered" the Philippines.
“Chinese and Filipino friendship dates back to the 10th century. Many of us, including our national hero, Dr. Rizal, would have at least a Chinese relative. This link makes it easier for the locals to absorb the culture,” Bata said.
“Basta nag-contribute ka sa society, [Filipino] ka. That’s how we see people in the Philippines. We don’t really discriminate too much. People here know that everybody has mixed ancestry,” he added.
But despite this long history, Bata conceded that decades ago, a Tsinoy actor would not land leading roles in big movies and TV shows.
He also noted Yeng Constantino’s hit song, "Chinito," which talks about liking a Chinese-Filipino boy and describing the qualities the girl likes about him.
“If they sing that 40 years ago, I think people will be like, ‘No, we like mestizo’. Baka hindi masyado magcli-click,” he said.
As such, he feels that this current interest in Tsinoys in local showbiz also shows how society has become more accepting of different cultures and diversity.
But Bata stressed that this isn't a passing fad.
“I don’t think it’s a trend. People now are more accepting. Chinese-Filipinos are really part of the society,” he said, adding that his hope is that people would continue to be more accepting of other cultures.
“I think people would have to open. I really hope (it’s not) a trend. I hope it continues opening the industry, opens the door wider for more people to come in. Like I said, I don’t really think we a have a homogeneous society. It is to our advantage,” he explained.
4 top Chinese-Filipino stars
Here are four of the biggest stars in showbiz of Chinese descent.
Starting out as the first teen winner of the reality show "Pinoy Big Brother," Kim Chiu has since been winning hearts through her hit TV dramas and movies. Some of her recent hits include the movies "Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo" and "Bride For Rent" and the primetime shows "My Girl," "My Binondo Girl" and "Ina, Kapatid, Anak."
Although Xian Lim has been in the industry for only a few years, his tandem with Chiu has proven to be one of the most bankable in the local entertainment scene today. After appearing in the show "Katorse," Lim worked with Chiu in "My Binondo Girl," "Ina, Kapatid, Anak" and the movies "Bakit Hindi Ka Crush ng Crush Mo" and "Bride for Rent."
Enchong Dee is the Tsinoy guy featured in Constantino’s "Chinito" music video. Dee has appeared in well-loved romantic comedies like "I Do," opposite Erich Gonzales. Last year, he was cast as the youngest brother in the star-studded movie "Four Sisters and a Wedding." He also starred with Chiu and Lim in "Ina, Kapatid, Anak."
Some would call it luck but a lot would attribute it more to perfect timing. Actor Richard Yap, who plays Sir Chief in the hit daytime series, "Be Careful With My Heart," has become a bona fide leading man in showbiz. His chemistry with Jodi Sta. Maria in the show quickly hooked viewers, who fell in love with the story and kilig treatment. Before this, Yap played as Chiu’s dad in "My Binondo Girl."