Odd coupling, no-frills storytelling power ‘Kita Kita’ to box office success

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Empoy Marquez and Alessandra de Rossi in 'Kita Kita.'

When her film “Kita Kita (I See You)” opened last July 19, director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo posted that she was just happy that it would make it to a second day without being pulled out of theaters.

To her surprise, 50 more cinemas were added on the film’s third day last Friday. On its fifth day in theaters last Sunday, the film, which was reportedly made for less than P10 million, earned a single-day gross of over P25 million.

Now on its second week, the charming romantic-comedy headlined by the unlikely tandem of Alessandra de Rossi and comedian Empoy Marquez is a bonafide blockbuster and continues to play in full house theaters nationwide. Although the total box office gross is yet to be released, Direk Sigrid need not worry about seeing her film being pulled out of theaters anytime soon.

As posted on its Facebook page, “Kita Kita” is still playing in more than 120 cinemas nationwide and will open on several countries that will be announced this weekend.

What makes the success of “Kita Kita” more remarkable is that it has more than held its own against Hollywood powerhouse films that are also playing simultaneously, including “Dunkirk,” “War for the Planet of the Apes,” “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” “Baby Driver” (which sneak previewed for two days starting Monday) and the Star Cinema teen thriller, “Bloody Crayons.”

This week, it faces another onslaught of box office competition mainly from Disney Pixar’s “Cars 3” and another Star Cinema romantic-comedy, “Finally Found Someone,” which reunites the box office-tested pairing of John Lloyd Cruz and Sarah Geronimo.

No one, however, is betting against “Kita Kita.” Given its momentum, the film is likely to sustain its staying power for up to two more weeks at the very least. Cracking and surpassing the P100 million mark is likewise not a remote possibility as well. (UPDATE: The film has grossed over P100 million and is now up to 150 cinemas)

Director Sigrid Andrea Bernardo (right, seated) at the sold out Philippine premiere of ‘Kita Kita’ at UP Cine Adarna last May. (Photo from the film’s Facebook page)

Not bad for a film that was originally entered in last year’s Metro Manila Film Festival but was pulled out by its producers just before the selection of the official Magic 8 entries.

“We exerted a lot of effort to make the MMFF deadline but in the end, it was the producers’ decision to pull out. While I would have been thrilled to be part of the MMFF, [the pullout] allowed us a lot more time to further polish the film, tighten the editing and make it even better overall,” Direk Sigrid said in mostly Filipino during an earlier interview with InterAksyon.

Although the acclaimed director of “Ang Huling Cha Cha ni Anita” and “Lorna” is used to producing her own films where she wielded total creative control, “Kita Kita” was a new experience for Direk Sigrid.

Spring Films, the production company of Piolo Pascual, fellow filmmaker Joyce Bernal and producers Erickson Raymundo and Suzanne Shayne Sarte, took a chance on Sigrid and produced “Kita Kita,” the story of two heartbroken OFWs in Japan (one of them afflicted with temporary blindness) who found solace in each other’s arms.

“I don’t compromise as a writer and director so the effort is the same. But unlike before, I now have producers that I constantly conferred with,” she acknowledged. “To the producers’ credit, they also gave me creative control. I had a director’s cut which was the one that premiered in Osaka last March but the commercial cut is really not much different.”

Casting Alessandra and Empoy as Lea and Tonyo was the biggest gamble. While Alessandra has received her fair share of acting honors and Empoy is a talented comedian with his own solid following, neither are proven box office draws.

Even Piolo admitted that he wanted to play Tonyo but had to defer to Empoy who he thought was perfect for the character.

In a country where most people watch movies mainly on the strength of its lead stars, the casting risk paid off big time. And while Alessandra, Empoy and yes, Piolo worked hard to promote the film through radio, television and mall appearances, no one could have predicted the phenomenal success of “Kita Kita.”

The key, of course, is word of mouth that started as early last May when the film held an advance screening at UP Cine Adarna and has since echoed loudly on social media. The rave reviews have also helped. But the best way to really gauge the film’s appeal is through the thumbs up testimonials of average moviegoers.

And just about everyone who came to see “Kita Kita” are one in saying they were drawn by the buzz about its engaging storyline.

“Word of mouth has been spectacular, proof yet again of a responsive, appreciative audience eager to support local movies that go beyond the usual, worn out formulas. Sure, several just-as-worthy movies have not had the same good fortune. But ‘Kita Kita’ is not the first and it won’t be the last. When things go right, we celebrate,” independent film producer Moira Lang noted in a recent Facebook post.

For sure, “Kita Kita” is not the first love story involving protagonists that are either or both handicapped and heartbroken. But it’s the refreshing manner in which Sigrid tells her story—keeping the narrative simple and devoid of distracting subplots—that made “Kita Kita” resonate with audiences.

While other filmmakers are more concerned with showing off new techniques or making personal, self-important statements, Sigrid Andrea Bernardo is simply focused on making movies the old-fashioned way.

“More than being labelled as indie or mainstream or crossing over to either side, what is more important to me is to simply tell a good story,” she concluded.

And that is why “Kita Kita” continues to draw full house crowds with every screening.