Chito Roño: Don’t disturb; scare in progress

FUNFARE - Ricky Lo -
That blurb for a Hollywood movie (title of which skips me at the moment) flashed in my mind as I sat face-to-face with my fellow Waray, direk Chito Roño (from Calbayog City, Western Samar), for a "scary" little talk about his latest movie, Star Cinema’s Sukob, which revolves around the superstitious belief that bad luck will befall siblings who get married in the same year.

The movie, set for world premieres end of this month in L.A. and Hawaii (and opening in theaters across the Philippines on July 26), stars Kris Aquino and Claudine Barretto who go against that superstition and suffer the consequences of their defiance. It’s direk Chito’s third movie with Kris, after Bakit Kita Minahal? years ago and 2004’s hit suspense-thriller Feng Shui whose theme is similar to that of Sukob; and his second with Claudine, after the forgettable youth-oriented flick Sige, Ihataw Mo! (with the disbanded Universal Motion Dancers).

"I wanted to do something very urban legend and at the same time Asian ang dating, so I did Feng Shui," said direk Chito who’s marking his 21st year as a director with Sukob (his directorial debut, Private Show, made its stars, Julio Diaz and Jaclyn Jose, overnight sensations; the movie was so bold that direk Chito’s late mom walked out after watching barely 15 minutes of it). "After Feng Shui, there was a clamor for Kris and me to do a movie of the same genre and it took time for me to decide on Sukob. I wanted the follow-up to be very Filipino and what could be more Filipino than the pamahiin (superstition) about sukob sa taon? Sukob is different from a double wedding which used to be popular among Filipinos who wanted to scrimp on the budget."

storyline was inspired by the experiences of four couples (two from the South and two from another province) who, based on the research made by those behind the movie, have been going through untold misery because they disregarded the superstition and got married in the same year. Two of the couples haven’t been blessed with a child no matter how hard they try while the two other couples have been suffering one bad luck after another.

So, beware?

"I’m not superstitious," said direk Chito, "I want to make it clear. But out of courtesy, I think there’s nothing wrong with going against superstitions."

Like when his brother planned to get married one year after their mom and dad died only within months of each other in the same year, direk Chito asked him to delay the wedding, not because he was superstitious (the Chinese believe that it’s bad luck to get married while the family is grieving over the loss of a loved one and it depends on how long the grieving process is taking) but because of, yes, common sense.

"I didn’t think we would be happily celebrating while we were still mourning for our parents," explained direk Chito. "First, our dad was no longer around to accompany him near the altar. That would make all of us cry and it would turn an otherwise happy occasion into a sad, emotional one."

So he treated Sukob in such a way that the conclusion (whether to believe in superstitions or not) is left to the moviegoers.

Like Feng Shui, Sukob is predicted to be a crowd-drawer and once again make Kris (and Claudine for that matter, especially after last year’s Dubai, her hit starrer with Aga Muhlach and John Lloyd Cruz) a box-office queen.

Come to think of it, is direk Chito determined to establish Kris as a Horror Queen, too?

"Ang pangit naman ng
title na Horror Queen. It just so happened that that kind of movie worked well with her. But you know naman that Kris is more than just a Horror Queen – she’s a Gameshow Queen, a Fashion Queen at kung anu-ano pang ‘queen’ titles. Now, she’s the queen of James (Yap’s) heart."

How has Kris evolved as an actress since Bakit Kita Minahal? (produced by Regal Films, with Ruffa Gutierrez and Richard Gomez as Kris’ co-stars)?

"She was younger then and her acting (range) was very limited. She couldn’t relate to the problems of the characters. Mababaw pa lang ang pananaw niya sa buhay. Her mom, Cory Aquino, was still President at that time and Kris was very sheltered, heavily-guarded."

So her experience (having a love child and surviving failed romances, etc.) has helped turn her into a good actress?

"Oh yes, definitely! When I worked with her in Feng Shui, ang laki na ng pinagbago niya. But she was adjusting to my style, to my pacing, to things I ask from my actors."

How does he bring out the best in Kris?

"You know, Kris is an intelligent person. When you talk to her about certain emotions, she can now easily relate to them; she understands. You don’t have to explain to her that much what kind of emotion you want from her."

And Claudine?

"She’s the same. She’s also an intelligent person and a sensitive actress. She was only 16 when we did Sige, Ihataw Mo. She’s the kind of actress who comes to the set fully-prepared; she really studies how to act and react in her scenes. At the same time, she doesn’t mind adjusting to on-the-spot changes on how certain scenes should be shot. It’s a breeze working with these two actresses."

Does he have any personal style of "scaring" the moviegoers?

"When you do a horror genre, you have to think of scenes and find objects that are not usually scary but which you can turn around and make really scary. Like the bright, colorful house in Feng Shui. It’s not scary per se but you can turn it into a scary house depending on things you want to happen in that house. It’s more scary that way. I used the same technique in Sukob. One of the most scary scenes in the movie is ang daming tao. Di ba it’s supposed to be more scary kapag mag-isa ka lang?"

Does he have any favorite horror (suspense-thriller) director(s)?

"Well, Alfred Hitchcock, of course! There’s also Wes Craven. Si George Romero, gustong-gusto ko siya. And M. Night Shyamalan, although his movies after Sixth Sense ay hindi na talagang horror, parang nagkukunwari na lang na horror. It’s as if he’s just playing with the audience na. His latest, Lady in the Water, is more like a fairy tale and a fantasy than a horror/suspense-thriller."

And what could be his favorite horror/suspense-thriller?

"Several. Two of them are Roman Polanski’s The Tenant and Rosemary’s Baby."

Meanwhile, as I said earlier in this piece, Don’t disturb direk Chito Roño. Scare in progress!
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