“Of all the movies I made, there are two I love best: one, as a writer, is “Oro, Plata, Mata,” and then, as a director, “Radio Romance.”
Jose Javier Reyes may have sealed his stature as writer-to-reckon-with through “Oro, Plata, Mata,” the Peque Gallaga film that showed how war ravaged the lives and mores of two Filipino families in the 1940s. But it is light-hearted movies like “Radio Romance” that really brought the director closer to Filipino audiences.
For a long period in the 1990s, no other writer and director was more attuned to the pulse of the middle class youth than the prolific Joey Reyes. He exhibited his mastery of the burgis romcom milieu in films like “May Minamahal,” “Pare Ko,” and “Bukas Na Lang Kita Mamahalin,” among others. Of all these pictures, “Radio Romance” remains closest to his heart.
To celebrate the movie’s 25th year—it was Star Cinema’s Valentine presentation in 1996–ABS-CBN Film Restoration premiered its digitally restored version Thursday night on KTX.ph. Before the screening proper, Joey spoke very candidly with Sagip Pelikula prime mover Leo Katigbak about his memories making the film.
He said the project was really intended to boost the popularity of ABS-CBN’s then FM radio station, DWRR 101.9, whose format at that time was to play easy-listening love songs (the two Rs stood for Radio Romance, in case you missed it). Malou Santos and Olive Lamasan, Star Cinema’s big bosses, told Joey then that there was already a ready material written by Mia Concio—all he needed to do was see how he can enhance it, and eventually direct the film.
“Radio Romance” in its final form is a romantic comedy with the story of three couples at its center: the Claudine Barretto-Rico Yan pairing with their you-and-me-against-the-world narrative; the Sharmaine Arnaiz-John Estrada coupling where the former is coming into her own as a woman and realizing her jock of a boyfriend is no longer the man that matches her state of mind; and then there’s the Gelli de Belen-Paolo Abrera part.
The tale of the librarian leading a double life was the basic premise of the original Mia Concio material. The librarian Veronica turns into Roni Night by evening, working behind the deejay’s booth, playing love songs, reading letters and dispensing relationship advice. The irony is that she’s a single woman who has been turned bitter by a past romance.
The Robert Altman fan in Joey turned the basic story into a more ambitious undertaking: an ensemble film. He created an entire universe of lovers around Veronica/Roni and her prospective Mr. Right, in the end weaving the simple plot of the untrusting love guru opening up to new love into a full tapestry of stories that show contemporary Pinoy romance in its many forms.
“I take great pride that I came ahead of ‘Love, Actually,’” said the writer-director, referring to the 2003 British romcom classic, also an ensemble picture. In “Radio Romance,” some 20 characters are brought together by the radio station, particularly the program called “Love Thoughts, Love Lines.” In the end, they all listen to the channel in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day. “It was a nice romantic trip on my part,” Joey recalled. He knew ensemble films are a pain to write—case in point: his “Oro, Plata, Mata.” ”It was so hard to make a script like this. It’s so hard!” he said. “But when I was writing it, it came out so easily because the stories told themselves.”
Joey can’t believe it was 25 years ago when he made the film. It was Claudine and Rico’s first encounter on the movie set. They would fall in love in real life, but six years later tragedy would befall the relationship. Jolina Magdangal was only playing support in the project but she was soon going to be lead star in her own movies. John Estrada can still then pass as a college jock, and Nikka Valencia's idea of a guy she will do anything for is a college dude with bangs.
Joey was also working with a wonderful cast of fantastic older actors—from Mon Confiado to the father and son Koko and Noel Trinidad to Gina Pareño (who is brilliant in the movie as Claudine’s ensaymada baker mom) and theater actress Ama Quiambao. Joey also wanted to work with The Company to make an all-OPM soundtrack, and Star Cinema made it happen. “It was a joy, a dream project. I loved the script I wrote but also I was working with the people I love and that made a lot of difference.”
He was given a deadline, of course: finish it in six weeks! Joey had just wrapped up another movie then, and the Valentine’s play date Star Cinema gave was not something one fools around with. There was a tight two-week window between opening day and last day of shoot. He was forced to use live sound—because there was no time to dub dialogue for the entire film, hence you could perhaps hear the noise of firecrackers in some parts, if you really listen closely.
But the way Joey talks about making the movie, it seems like it was the most stress-free endeavor he’d taken on. “I never felt the presssue. And when you are happy doing a movie, the movie turns out to be a happy movie,” he said in the interview, adding that actors from that set still remember that time with fondness. “I don’t believe you have to pass thru the eye of a needle to come up with a masterpiece,” Joey added finally. “Masterpieces are done because there is great joy in its making.”