The setting is picturesque Sapporo, Japan. A pretty Filipina named Lea works there as a tourist guide. She had been engaged to marry a Japanese boy for five years but that did not pan out. One day, in a moment of extreme stress, Lea suddenly lost her vision.
Enter her next-door neighbor, a homely but funny Filipino guy named Tonyo. Despite her constant rebuffs on account of her blindness, Tonyo wins Lea's confidence over with his friendliness and sense of humor, eventually encouraging her out of her shell.
Alessandra de Rossi is really very much at home in these offbeat roles in indie films. She has such a natural performance style that is refreshing to watch. Her character Lea is so kind and generous, but she really had it very tough when she lost her fiance and her vision one after the other. De Rossi captured this bitterness and wariness so well, such that Lea's gradual opening up to Tonyo's offer of friendship was such a delight to witness.
Empoy Marquez has been a familiar comic face on various TV shows, yet honestly I never knew his name until promotion for this movie came out. He started his career when he was a finalist on a Mr. Suave look-alike contest on the "Magandang Tanghali Bayan" noontime show way back 2003. With his winning and affectionate performance here in "Kita Kita" as Tonyo, I look forward for Marquez to turn over a fresh new leaf in his career.
This film written and directed by Sigrid Andrea Bernardo is definitely not the typical rom-com. Having Marquez as a leading man alone already sets it apart from others. It was this unlikely pairing of De Rossi and Marquez that made "Kita Kita" work so well to engage its viewers to laugh and cry. His plain looks and her blindness made a strong statement about discovering another person from what's inside him foremost. It tells how the physical appearance is not really important when it comes to finding genuine love. Co-producer Piolo Pascual was wise not to take on Tonyo's role himself.
Like most local films shot abroad, we will be taken on a virtual tour of Sapporo's many tourist destinations. The Japanese milieu adds an element of charm and mystique. KZ Tandingan's heartfelt rendition of Air Supply's song "Two Less Lonely People in the World" enhanced the romantic mood. The effervescent chemistry between de Rossi and Marquez, however quirky and odd they may look together, is palpably sincere and lovingly infectious.
The confessional denouement may feel a little contrived and its revelations may feel a little uncomfortable, but seeing events unfold from another perspective gives Lea and Tonyo's love story the bubbly thrill of serendipity and a surreal taste of rich bittersweet. 8/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."