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Filipino BL series flies high

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - November 14, 2020 - 12:00am

It can only happen in social media. While some Filipinos bashed Pope Francis for his idea that same-sex couples could be protected through civil unions, Boys’ Love TV series streamed in YouTube. In fact, they have attracted phenomenal numbers: one series drew 250,000 views in just one day!

Yesterday I watched “Oh Mando!” while resting from mopping the floor of rain water. Produced by Dreamscape, it was written by Paolo Valconcha and by Eduardo Roy Jr., who also directed it.

With “Oh Mando!,” several premises are already established. The hunky basketball player played by Alex Diaz already declared himself as “bisexual.” On the other hand, Armando Deputado Jr., also known as Mando, as his long and formal name implies, is still in the closet. This role is played by Kokoy de Santos, who also did well in the pioneering BL series “Gameboys.”

The first episode is furiously funny. It is a cartoon-like reworking of Rapunzel, with De Santos (Mando) in drag and long blonde hair, ensconced in the castle. One day, the horse bearing the prince played by Diaz (Barry) trots by. Barry climbs the castle, and Mando notes the three scars on the pulse point of Barry, a foreboding as well as a character signifier.

It’s only a dream, of course, and Mando wakes up to the noise and clamor of city life. I like the fact that they set the school right in the middle of the University Belt, with its many shops and its ceaseless noise, where Barry bumps into Mando in romantic-comedy fashion. Later, Mando would audition for the part of Romeo in “Romeo and Juliet,” and one of the delights here was watching Joel Saracho channel the wickedness and flair of directors and National Artists Rolando S. Tinio and Ishmael Bernal in the audition scene.

The BL series is told from Mando’s point of view, and the funniest moments here are his interior monologues. Watch that moment when he eats fish balls as he sees Barry walk away with his boyfriend. It is a homage to the brilliant scene at the end of “Ma Rosa,” which won for Jaclyn Jose the Best Actress Award at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival, beating Hollywood A-listers like Charlize Theron.

Some writers know that they can start their novels if they’ve found the character’s voice. Likewise, this BL series moves along, its emotional moments awkward and fluid, the way we are when we’re in love – straights as well as lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders, queers, intersex and the rainbow colors of it all.

A literary streak also runs in “Hello, Stranger,” where Tony Labrusca and JC Alcantara play the hunk and the nerd brought together in a school project on a love poem by the Ateneo professor and Palanca winner Benilda Santos. Both Labrusca and Alcantara infuse their roles with charm and intensity. Written by Patrick Valencia and directed by Petersen Vargas, the ABS-CBN-produced series was successful and has spawned a film.

The world of the supernatural limns “My Extraordinary,” written by Vince de Jesus and directed by Jolo Atienza for Asterisk Films. It stars Darwin Yu and Enzo Santiago in a love story gone wrong – and fatal – because of the hurdles set up by parents and peers. You should listen to the hauntingly beautiful music of this show.

On the other hand, the antic world of computer games is shown in “Gameboys,” where De Santos and Elijah Canlas duel and fall in love. It’s written by Ash Malanum and directed by Ivan Andrew Payawal for The Idea First Company. Elijah’s back story is freighted with emotions, which the young man plays with vulnerability. He has just won as Best Actor for “Kalel, 15,” produced by Cignal TV, which has just started a TV station called One Ph filled with promising shows.

The boys’ meeting in the central business district of Ortigas, with face masks and shields protecting them from the virus and yet hindering them from intimacy, is a powerful metaphor for the layers of covering that society imposes on those who dare to be different.

I’m also delighted to watch “Gaya sa Pelikula,” written and directed by Juan Miguel Severo for Globe. One day, Jessica David, my assistant at my show “Remoto Control sa Radyo 5,” told me that we should have him as a guest. “He has millions of views for his spoken poetry,” she said, and I agreed. Severo came to the studio, shy and soft-spoken. But when he began, it seemed as if a spirit overtook his body and began to speak.

Severo has signed up with a major TV station, appeared in TV shows and films, published a well-received book of poems, and now wrote and helmed “Gaya sa Pelikula.” It is also a tweak on the romantic-comedy genre that has starred thousands of boys and girls in a bittersweet love story. But the only difference is that the boys fall in love with boys – in the context of a society were parents plan their children’s lives, from career choices to those whom they should love.

Lead stars Ian and Paolo Pangilinan have great and light-hearted chemistry. Ian plays a Film major and Paolo plays a would-be Film major and together, they watch the films that show, in light and shadow, the images of our lives. There is good ensemble acting here, from Ian’s sister to the concerned neighbor, with hummable songs by Kakie Pangilinan as well.

Last but certainly not the least, I am also watching “Ben x Jim,” “Lockdown Boys” and “Better Days.” The first stars Jerome Ponce and Teejay Marquez in a charming lockdown story which Easy Ferrer wrote and directed for Regal. The lockdown theme is also found in the just-finished “My Quaranthings,” as well as in “Lockdown Boys,” starring Alec Kevin and Ian King, with deft direction by Jade Lopez. “Better Days” stars Chesther Chua and Benedix Ramos in a BL written and directed by Carlos Obispo. It has gorgeous photography and is set in the province, with its green, open fields and vast, blue skies.

Such vastness and openness should also be the frame from which to view the love that dares to speak its name.

Email: danton.lodestar@gmail.com. Danton Remoto has just published his first novel, Riverrun, with Penguin Random House.

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