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Chito: (Not only) Master of the Macabre

Director Chito Roño (showed his natural forte in films with strong social messages with Bata, Bata Paano Ka Ginawa? (right) and Dekada  ’70. Both star Vilma Santos and depict a woman’s discovery of her worth as a person

It has been director Chito Roño’s business to bring audiences to the edge of their seats.

During the wave of scare flicks in Asia, he pounced on the genre with blockbuster Feng Shui (2004), Sukob (The Wedding Curse, 2006) and T2 (Tenement-2, 2009). But how does one go from being King of Horror movies to director of the country’s first sung-through feature in Emir?

Before finding his claim to horror films, Chito scaled to prominence with socially explosive films Private Show (1986) and Itanong Mo Sa Buwan (The Moonchild, 1988), with the latter earning various awards from the Gawad Urian including his first Best Director trophy. Many compare Private Show with Ishmael Bernal’s debut film Pagdating sa Dulo, critically praised but generally ignored by the viewing public. It dissects the story of a teenage live sex performer who despite attempts cannot leave her job.

Private Show came as an utter shock to direk Chito’s mother, who was very religious and who never imagined scenes to be blatantly explicit. Like many idealistic filmmakers, his early works consisted mainly of socially relevant films. Olongapo: The Great American Dream (1987), starring Jaclyn Jose as a bar hostess who grapples her way to America, and won notice of the Metro Manila Film Festival Best Film and Screenplay awards. But it was the psychological drama Itanong Mo Sa Buwan which takes off from the narrative style of Rashomon and Laurice Guillen’s Salome that reaped him and his picture accolades from Gawad Urian.

The beginning of the ‘90s marked his slow transition to the commercial. His early films during the decade, Separada (Separated, 1994), Dahas (Force, 1995) and a remake of Patayin Sa Sindak Si Barbara (Kill Barbara with Fright, 1995) were crowd favorites, going from schooled filmmaker to box-office master.

One would be hard-up to think of genre Chito hasn’t had success with. Of all these, however, the director would show his natural forte in films with strong social messages, such as an adaptation of Lualhati Bautista’s novels — Bata, Bata Paano Ka Ginawa? (Lea’s Story, 1998), Dekada ’70 (Decade of the ‘70s, 2002) and finally Eskapo (Escape, 1995).

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Both topbilled by Vilma Santos under Star Cinema, Bata, Bata and Dekada depict a woman’s discovery of her worth as a person and significance in society. In Bata Bata, she is mother to two children, fighting human rights battles and her children’s father. In Dekada ’70, she is mother to five sons and wife to a domineering husband who transcends passivity and takes an active role as an empowered woman and Filipino.

Twice, Chito has tackled the harrowing events of Martial Law with Eskapo and Dekada ’70. Film critic Noel Vera pegs Eskapo as one the country’s 100 best films, which tells the true story of Serge Osmeña and Geny Lopez’s escape from a Marcos detention camp.

Caregiver (2008) marked both Chito’s and Sharon Cuneta’s return to a dramatic vehicle of a teacher-turned-caregiver in London, based on real-life stories of caregivers and Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) abroad. The film was widely applauded and watched.

However, after Caregiver, Chito would come up with even bigger tribute to the OFWs in Emir. It is likely to go down in Philippine cinematic history as an all-original movie musical whose lavishly budgeted production values might not be immediately apparent, but will ultimately be appreciated through the years. It was a government project of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) and the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

(For comments, call 571-1569, text 0917-8991835 or e-mail at bibsyfotos@yahoo.com)

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