Five Filipino romance movies to stream now

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Thanks to recent restoration efforts and the renaissance of streaming platforms, some of the best Filipino romance movies are no longer so hard to find. In photo: "Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising." Photo from ABS-CBN FILM RESTORATION/YOUTUBE

To me, there is still nothing that comes close to the escapist fantasy that romance movies bring. I know the media we consume directly influences both our social consciousness and capital. But in the absence of real-life prospects and amid the hustle and bustle of early adulthood, I know I can always rely on my good ol’ friends Claudine and Rico or Kathryn and Daniel to help me through — I’m sure many of us who find ourselves painfully available on the 14th feel the same.

Sadly, we’re too quick to relegate these movies as “guilty pleasures” or “thirst watches.” We dismiss them for serving cliches rather than straying away from formula or for implying that there is no bigger problem for a woman than to land herself an eligible man. Shouldn’t she be making a living, girlbossing too close to the sun? Why aren’t any of her conversations passing the Bechdel test?

But our on-screen stories are often a masterclass in amplifying the electric chemistry shared by the lead stars and reflecting the social norms that shape relationships from a particular time. Even some of our most mainstream releases carry surprising layers of depth, as they explore the many forms love can take as it cruises in and out of our lives. And thanks to recent restoration efforts and the renaissance of streaming platforms, they are no longer so hard to find.

Below, we’ve rounded up a list of five Filipino romance movies that you can stream now.

Christopher De Leon and Hilda Koronel in "Kung Mangarap Ka't Magising." Screenshot from ABS-CBN FILM RESTORATION/YOUTUBE

“Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising” (Mike de Leon, 1977)

LVN Pictures was once one of the biggest studios in the country before financial troubles forced them out of film production. But in 1977, De Leon revived his grandmother's film production for this coming-of-age musical film perfect for anyone who has made “Before Sunrise” their only personality. Here, Christopher de Leon is Joey, an aspiring musician who falls for Anna (Hilda Koronel), a visiting trophy wife from Manila. Both of them go about life aimlessly yet are unsure of how to move forward: she’s trapped in a loveless marriage that has stripped her of agency, while he’s living out somebody else’s dream instead of pursuing the career he wants. But by baring their souls to each other as they bask in the tranquility of 1970s Baguio, they rediscover what it means to live for oneself.

The couple’s brief affair surprisingly does not conclude with the happily ever after that is expected of films in the genre — they are living in a “stolen dream,” after all. But we’re made to believe that it’s alright. In the ending scene — SPOILER ALERT —  Joey waves Anna goodbye with a wistful smile on his face, as if acknowledging that sometimes it’s enough that someone comes along and changes the trajectory of our lives completely, even for just a few moments.

Stream on iWantTFC.

Aga Mulach and Lea Salonga in "Sana Maulit Muli." Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

“Sana Maulit Muli” (Olivia Lamasan, 1995)

In this timeless classic that features Aga Mulach at his peak, he plays Jerry, an overbearing breadwinner holding down a demanding executive job. When his dependent girlfriend Agnes (Lea Salonga) takes a vacation to the US to be with her mother, the distance puts a strain on their relationship and forces the two of them apart. Eventually, Jerry risks everything he worked so hard for to follow her and win her back — only to realize that she’s finally learned how to stand on her own.

Aside from showing the distinct pain that comes with watching LDRs die, “Sana Maulit Muli” also highlights the evergreen struggles of being an overseas Filipino worker: the need to assimilate to a culture that will never see us as equals, the pain of being apart from family yet having no choice but to provide for them, and the pressure to appear successful and put-together despite a dehumanizing and unfulfilling day job. Watching Agnes and Jerry go through each flaming hoop can sometimes hit a bit too close to home but it makes for a satisfyingly realistic conclusion: one that pushes them to grow on their own and return to each other as stronger and better people.

Stream on iWantTFC.

Bea Alonzo and John Lloyd Cruz in "Now That I Have You." Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

“Now That I Have You” (Laurenti Dyogi, 2004)

John Lloyd Cruz and Bea Alonzo’s first solo on-screen pairing might not have the cult following of “Close to You” or “One More Chance”: but it was a clear indicator of the success that was to come. Alonzo nails her portrayal of Betsy, a hopeless romantic who spots Michael (Cruz) onboard the MRT everyday and grows convinced that he’s her soulmate. After Mastermind-ing her way into his life with the help of her outgoing best friend (Nikki Valdez), Betsy soon realizes that the man of her dreams is the complete opposite of everything she imagined him to be.

Watching the toxic hijinks that follow but still finding a way to root for the couple feels like a step backward in this day and age. Betsy is clingy, overbearing, and throws childish tantrums over the smallest grievances and Michael is often too aloof and uptight to catch what the problem is. But Alonzo and Cruz establish themselves as people who could be in our own circles of friends, which forces us to view them with a more sympathetic eye. We don’t have to agree with what they do to cope with the very realistic demands of their new relationship but at the same time, we shouldn’t fault them for reacting like human beings.

Stream on Netflix.

Joshua Garcia and Julia Baretto in "Love You to the Stars and Back." Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

“Love You to the Stars and Back” (Antoinette Jadaone, 2017)

According to legend, anyone can summon aliens by scaling up Mt. Milagros in the dead of night and repeatedly chanting “Ashira grevinda mama ajaarum.” Once they appear and take you in, all your problems and worries will disappear. Or at least, that’s what Mika (Julia Barretto) believes. Still shaken by the unexpected loss of her mother, she decides to drive up to the mountains and chances upon Caloy (Joshua Garcia), a boy afflicted with cancer and eager to put an end to his family’s suffering.

On the surface, it’s a quirky road trip movie, peppered with light-hearted conversations that highlight Joshlia’s reel- and real-life romance. But in case you didn’t catch it, their desire to be taken by aliens is a metaphor for a suicide pact. Barretto and especially Garcia are burdened with so much pain, as seen in the film’s famous bridge scene that can reduce any viewer to a puddle of tears, yet they’re made to grapple with what they already mean to each other. Is the glimmer of hope they glean from their blossoming relationship enough for them to start anew? Can true love come alive in the face of grief and death?

Stream on Netflix.

Adrian Lindayag and Keann Johnson in "The Boy Foretold by the Stars." Screenshot from IWANTTFC/YOUTUBE

“The Boy Foretold by the Stars” (Dolly Dulu, 2020)

The country’s burgeoning boys love (BL) industry may already be a step in the right direction for queer representation but there’s no denying that we haven’t seen enough effeminate gays gracing our screens. But in this MMFF 2020 contender, Dolly Dulu finally places one of them at the center: enter the charming and earnest Dominic (Adrian Lindayag), who visits Quiapo’s most famous fortune teller and finds out he’s bound to meet his soulmate at an upcoming school retreat. True enough, he runs into Luke (Keann Johnson), a shy and surprisingly sensitive straight boy fresh out of a breakup with his long-term girlfriend.

The two instantly hit it off and form a deep connection that allows them to be their authentic selves. Though the suffocating machismo in their all-boys Catholic high school is determined to keep them apart, that just makes every moment they share all the more exciting and worth the wait — whether it involves painting props after school hours or singing at the top of their lungs in their secret hiding place. Filled with fluffy moments and just enough angst to keep viewers guessing until the end, “The Boy Foretold by the Stars” is proof that young gay boys deserve their own Star Cinema-type story too.

Stream on iWantTFC.