25 years ago, three films about Overseas Filipino Workers fought it out for the top plum at the 19th Gawad Urian. Two films, Bagong Bayani and The Flor Contemplacion Story, dealt with the case of a Filipina domestic servant sentenced to death in Singapore. I haven’t seen both films although reviews suggest that they are really deserving of their Best Picture nominations. The third film Sana Maulit Muli may or may not have benefitted from split votes for the Contemplacion films but viewed on its own it is a worthy Best Picture winner.
Director Olivia Lamasan collaborated with two other scriptwriters on the award-winning script. The plight of illegal aliens working in the United States of America (USA) and the difficulty of maintaining a long distance romance were effectively shown in the film.
Immigrant Agnes Sarmiento (Lea Salonga) is having a hard time adjusting to life in the USA. She misses her boyfriend, Jerry Morales (Aga Muhlach), a big-shot advertising executive in the Philippines. The two struggle to keep their relationship afloat despite being thousands of miles away from each other.
Agnes’ early days in San Francisco, California, are extremely tough on her. She struggles to fit in with her mother’s new family. A simple errand takes her nearly the whole day to fulfill because she can't properly read a map. To make matters worse, her desperate calls to her boyfriend end up in futility. She can't seem to catch her ever-busy boyfriend, Jerry. The film shows how hard it was for couples to be worlds apart during the mid-1990s. There was no Twitter and FB back then that can instantly hook up the pair. Internet social networks were still years away and the founders of Twitter and FB were still in their teens and early twenties. Making phone calls is the way couples communicate. Sending letters via post office is an inexpensive albeit non-real time alternative.
Agnes eventually gets tired of making expensive overseas calls. Slowly, she tries to forget Jerry. Agnes takes on the job of a caregiver. A Filipina friend, Karen, guides and shows her the ropes to being successful in the USA. Agnes becomes more assertive and eventually nabs a job with a realty company. She rises from the ranks to become a top realtor. Her boss is so smitten with her lovely face and good character that he proposes to her. Agnes rejects it because she realizes that she still loves Jerry.
The jerk of a boyfriend, Jerry, wakes up from his stupor. He gets to fly to the USA because of a work-related seminar. He decides to stay as a TNT (illegal alien) and tries to revive his sagging relationship with Agnes. He takes on different odd jobs such as selling second-hand cars and working in a restaurant.
First-hand encounters of abuses against illegal aliens become a big issue for Jerry. He contemplates returning to the Philippines. His decision is made easier by Agnes’ closeness to her boss. He goes back to the Philippines alone and heart-broken.
I loved the open-ended finale of the film. Agnes returns to the Philippines and meets up with Jerry. The romantic viewers may see it as a happy reunion for the two former lovers. On the other hand, career-oriented viewers may look upon Agnes’ return as just a vacation for the hardworking lady. Lamasan said she and her fellow colleagues had a hard time thinking of an ending for the film. It took them months before settling on the finale.
One more thing I adored with the film was the inclusion of the song Walang Hanggang Paalam. The film shows Joey Ayala playing the song in a bar filled with Filipinos. The classic indie song talks about a couple’s love growing strong despite the distance separating the lovers. This love ultimately serves to bring out the full potential in the other person. Agnes blossomed into a powerful executive.
Lea Salonga floundered in the early part of the film but made up for it with a solid performance in the latter part. She wasn't effective playing a wimpy girl. She was better essaying the role of Agnes as a strong, cosmopolitan lady. Aga Muhlach won a second Gawad Urian for his vivid portrayal of an executive bruised by his experiences as a TNT in the land of honey. Muhlach was not overly-directed in his scenes. It is a good thing that Lamasan was not big then on having her actors cry. Nowadays, Star Cinema films have male characters crying their hearts out. Lamasan teams up once more with Muhlach in the 2011 film In the Name of Love. Will Lamasan make Muhlach’s character cry?