Summer MMFF review: Rey Valera biopic tells stories behind hits

Fred Hawson

Posted at Apr 11 2023 05:33 PM

RK Bagatsing is Rey Valera in the biopic'Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok Ko'
RK Bagatsing is Rey Valera in the biopic'Kahit Maputi na ang Buhok Ko'

Reynaldo Guardiano (Carlo Mendoza) and his brother Nelson (Caden Hann) grew up in a broken family, shuttling between their father (Ariel Rivera) and mother (Gelli de Belen). The two boys had no real friends at school because they kept on moving around. Reynaldo was a plain-looking kid, but he had a talent in singing. As a young man (RK Bagatsing), he learned how to play the guitar and later, to compose his own songs.

His song "Ako si Superman" caught the attention of a Vicor Records executive (Lloyd Samartino), and let Rey record it himself. Rey composed songs by observing people around him and told their stories in songs that had popular appeal. At first, his songs went to singers like Sharon Cuneta ("Mr. DJ") or Rico J. Puno ("Sorry, Puede Ba?"). After his marriage to Ditas (Meg Imperial), their wedding song "Pangako sa 'Yo" revived his solo career.

Rey Valera was one of the most prolific Filipino pop music composers of the late 1970s to the 1990s. It seemed so natural and inevitable that a jukebox musical was going to be written built around his rich discography. Writer-director Joven M. Tan took a stab at this bright idea and came up with this biopic which told about Rey Valera's difficult childhood, his rise to fame as a singer-songwriter, and the process by which he wrote his most immortal songs. 

Tan had Rey Valera himself narrate his life story, complete with his personal insights about the events in his life and career. Valera did not hide his unpleasant experiences as a child growing up in abject poverty, nor that notorious 1983 gossip column news item about an imposter using Valera's name to commit various crimes, including rape. Knowing these painful episodes of his life made how his rise to fame and the beauty of his songs more impressive.

For each hit song, Tan had Valera in various places (in the cemetery or at the jeepney stop) observing couples and giving them stories. For "Maging Sino Ka Man," it was the story of a cemetery cleaner (Dennis Padilla) in love with a prostitute (Rosanna Roces) who had an invalid husband (Ronnie Lazaro). For "Kung Tayo'y Magkakalayo," it was the story of a man (Pekto Nacua) and a woman (Janine Desiderio) saying goodbye to their illicit affair. 

For "Walang Kapalit," it was the story of a gay talent manager (Gardo Versoza) and his unrequited love with his stud neophyte actor (Aljur Abrenica). For "Kung Kailangan Mo Ako," it was the story of a very despondent man (Epy Quizon), and how he moved on after an aborted suicide attempt. In all these little stories, Tan made the various characters lipsync to Rey Valera's singing to signify that he took their words right out of their mouths. 

I had only seen two Joven M. Tan films, both also biopics, namely "Suarez" (2020) and "Yorme" (2021). This new one basically hewed to his earnest style of straightforward storytelling, soaked in melodrama (almost everyone was crying) and unintentional comedy (ugly wigs, cheesy lines, inconsistent mole under Rey's left nostril). 

Rey Valera fans will still want to watch this, if only to hear his songs and stories that inspired their creation. 

This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."