COVER STORY

The 25 best Filipino rom-coms of the last 25 years

The Philippines is a nation enamored with its love stories, blown into epic proportions on the big screen through the rom-com. We rank the 25 best local rom-coms so far, from the past 25 years, in an attempt to discover which of them endure.

 

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The rom-com is an enduring testament of hope and faith. That despite the odds, fate will bring two unlikely lovers together, preferably forever. It’s a tale told too often, with scenarios that have been played out endlessly to the same karaoke ballad. It's the story of the damsel, the prince, and the dragon, but in this case, the dragon takes on many forms: youth, old age, stardom, obscurity, death, societal conventions, and even amnesia. The prince — or both him and the princess — slays the dragon and paves way for a happily ever after.

Great filmmakers have always drummed up interesting ways to tackle this wildly Filipino obsession. On the other side of the pond, Nora Ephron, Woody Allen, Mike Nichols, and Cameron Crowe have made a living out of romantic comedies. But most of their Filipino counterparts have subscribed to a formulaic droll that have become all too familiar come Valentine’s day — or when a studio needs to build up interest for their hottest love team. It doesn’t help that most of them take titles from one songbook, and one by one they start to resemble each other. At some point, you have to ask, who’s really watching these films?

We do, we always do. No matter how hard we try to hide the fact, kilig reigns eternal, perhaps second only to fear. We see these films in the hopes that it will be better than the last one and in some cases, we get out of the theater with a new gem to be held up against all that come after it.

In a way, the list doubles as a survey and evaluation. It is a reflection of our memories, how films sit in our subconscious, idealized and waiting to be summoned. And despite the dominance of one big film studio, the only constant supplier of this subgenre on a regular basis, it is apparent that the love stories that endure are the ones that sustain our fantasies, yet real enough to exist even when the credits have stopped rolling.

Editor’s note: Click here for the voting process.

I'm Drunk I Love You Photo from I'M DRUNK, I LOVE YOU/FACEBOOK

25. “I’m Drunk, I Love You” (JP Habac, 2017)

At once a road film, a music film and a rom-com, JP Habac’s “I’m Drunk, I Love You” tells the story of a college barkada’s final road trip the weekend before graduating. The film’s biggest hurdle is Carson’s (Maja Salvador) seven-year crush on her best friend Dio (Paulo Avelino). Will she tell him on this trip? Will it ruin the friendship they’ve cultivated for nearly a decade?

Much of the film’s magic comes from Habac and Giancarlo Abrahan’s cutting dialogue and an unforgettable lead performance from Salvador. She’s equal measures crass and vulnerable; stoic but occasionally rendered helpless by love. Even at the character’s most unsympathetic, you can’t help but root for her.

All of this unfolds to a soundtrack that compiles some of the best local music from the last few decades, from Cynthia Alexander’s “No Umbrella” performed here by Kai Honasan to Shirebound and Busking’s “Lloydy” performed here by Avelino. The centerpiece of the soundtrack is a heartbreaking rendition of Sugarfree’s “Burnout” by 3D (Johnoy Danao, Ebe Dancel and Bullet Dumas). The song and the film are reminders of how love transcends the complications of the past and present, and how, for whatever heartbreak you feel, there’s a song that’ll make you feel a little less alone. When Dancel sings “O kay tagal din kitang mamahalin,” Carson feels it, and so do you. — APA AGBAYANI

Kailangan Ko'y.png Screencap from VIVA FILMS/YOUTUBE

24. “Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw” (Joyce Bernal, 2000)

Nothing signified the eventual decline of Pinoy action films more than “Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw,” Robin Padilla’s first romantic film which is essentially a Filipino version of 1999’s “Notting Hill.” Instead of a Hollywood actress, Gimo, the local bad boy of the barangay, ends up falling for Francine (Regine Velasquez), the biggest pop star in the country. What starts off as a celebrity kidnapping ends up in romance as Francine falls in love with Gimo’s down-to-earth sensibilities. As with the Julia Roberts British-American romance, things take a turn when the public realizes that their biggest pop star is in love with a nobody. It may be a rehash of a hit Hollywood film, but Bernal’s signature humor, the joy of seeing Padilla in a different light, and the undeniable chemistry between Padilla and Velasquez make “Kailangan Ko’y Ikaw” a rom-com classic that stands on its own. Did “Notting Hill” have Regine Velasquez and Rufa Mae Quinto drunk singing at Cowboy Grill with gay comediennes doing an interpretative dance of Aegis’ “Halik”? No, it did not. — SHINJI MANLANGIT

Lorna Screencap from CINEMA ONE ORIGINALS

23. Lorna (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2014)

What’s in a name? Apparently, Lorna means “forlorn, lonely, Alone.” — emphasis on the capital ‘A’ and the terminating punctuation mark, at least according to a dictionary that appears early on in the movie. The rest of “Lorna” proceeds to illustrate this sad definition, rendering Shamaine Buencamino’s titular 60-year-old in a perpetual quest to end her loveless state: seemingly an impossible task given the lateness of her age. For a film about love, “Lorna” is violent, and what is love if not a battlefield? There are numerous illusory shootout scenes involving Lorna and her lovers (including a very raunchy Lav Diaz) — it’s as close as we can get to seeing Buencamino and Diaz in a “Mr. and Mrs. Smith” situation — running around in nasty, slowed down versions depicting the hazards of love. “Lorna” is about giving in to the atrocities of relationships, the all-consuming high of the ligawan stage, the violence it incites, and the loneliness that comes soon after. The film’s last line tidily sums it up: “Sometimes you have to be alone.”  — DON JAUCIAN

Kita Kita Screencap from SPRING FILMS/YOUTUBE

22. “Kita Kita” (Sigrid Andrea Bernardo, 2017)

In a genre where risk-taking is a folly, Sigrid Bernardo’s “Kita Kita,” despite its still formulaic storyline and its very familiar grooves, moods and patterns, is quite a daring adventurer. Its leads, Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez, aren’t exactly actors known for their ability to make audiences swoon. De Rossi is more popular for portraying more serious characters. Marquez, on the other hand, is a reliable comedian whose appearance will not inspire adoration from audiences who have traditionally been bombarded with typical good looks. However, their delightful pairing ends up being the cherry on top of the cream that is the film’s cute and fanciful take on serendipitous love. It isn’t a film without its faults, but it works because of its indisputable charm and affecting energy. The film works exactly like a magical kiss, seamlessly turning a relentless and alcoholic loser (or maybe even a stalker to some) into a funny and charismatic prince, and in turn, making all of its risks pay off with both pleasures for its viewers and profits for its hardy producers. — OGGS CRUZ

Basta't Kasama Kita Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

21. “Basta’t Kasama Kita,” (Rory Quintos, 1995)

When Dayanara Torres won the Miss Universe crown in 1994, she also won the hearts of the Filipino people and the country’s favorite matinee idol, Aga Muhlach. “Basta’t Kasama Kita” is testament to their romance as they fire up the screen in this modern fairy tale. Sick of her life as a royalty, Princess Marinella (Torres) of Bavaria runs away from her handlers during her visit to Manila. She ends up meeting Alex, an angsty jeepney driver who just wants to make ends meet. Not knowing the ins and outs of Manila, Marinella agrees to become Alex’s maid in exchange for home and board, but along the way the two end up falling for each other. When Alex finds out about the truth about the princess, he questions whether he and Ella are really meant to be together.

At the time of its release, “Basta’t Kasama Kita” had one of the longest on-screen kisses in local cinema. It’s also one of the realest kisses ever depicted on film. With traces of classics like “Roman Holiday” and “It Happened One Night” running through the film’s DNA, what makes “Basta’t Kasama Kita” memorable, however, is how Princess Marinella and Alex are able to transcend the bounds of class — a jeepney driver and a royal princess can and will find love, even in the grimiest parts of Manila.  — SHINJI MANLANGIT

She's Dating the Gangster Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

20. “She’s Dating the Gangster” (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2014)

After two dull feature-length movies (“Must Be… Love” and “Pagpag”) and two remarkable television shows (“Princess and I” and “Got to Believe”), Kathryn Bernardo and Daniel Padilla are already well-acquainted with the body language that drives their fans mad, gestures and actions that can set off incredible reactions. In “She’s Dating the Gangster,” Garcia-Molina takes advantage of this, but she also challenges them. By putting them in two backdrops, it feels as though she wanted them to relearn the basics of kilig, stretching their boundaries to discover finer distinctions that can be explored and new flirty tricks that can be carried out to maximum effect. She is a director that can be easily dismissed or overrated, but after more than a decade of sticking to her method and style, appropriating them to a number of love teams whether tried or new, it just seems fair to recognize that she is an indispensable filmmaker, as vital to this industry as Lav Diaz and Wenn Deramas. And in her best movies (this being one of them) she can deliver romantic comedies that are entertaining, insightful, and sensitive, with flair and skill, with hardly an unpleasant aftertaste. — RICHARD BOLISAY

Baby Love Screencap from REGAL FILMS

19. “Baby Love” (Peque Gallaga and Lore Reyes, 1995)

Most rom-coms show us grown men and women acting like children, so to watch preteens loving like adults is a supremely subversive delight, as well as a moral and philosophical challenge. Jason Salcedo and Anna Larrucea — cherub-faced but possessed with intense passion and burgeoning sensuality — are students from separate schools in Baguio City forced to grow up faster because of family problems. They go through slapstick meet-cutes and boisterous playtimes, but the kids push to take their feelings to the farthest ends, through marriage, devotion, and fighting others (literally, with bloody fists!) for the heart's desire.

Touched with the offbeat wonder of a fairy tale, the swooning gloom of Romeo and Juliet, and the believability of a realistic coming-of-age, “Baby Love” is the rare edgy-but-soft gem in the rom-com universe. It pits not only love against all odds, but also children against adults, nature against civilization, and film against audience's own expectations. Are our notions of love merely juvenile fantasies we must outgrow, or are they the purest expressions of our soul that we must learn to protect? What other film could unsettle with that question and still be so darn cute? — JADE CASTRO

Radio Romance Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

18. “Radio Romance” (Jose Javier Reyes, 1996)

Here’s one for all you lovers out there. Seven years before Richard Curtis showed that love, actually, is all around in “Love Actually,” Star Cinema and Jose Javier Reyes have proven the exact sentiment with “Radio Romance,” a star-studded intertwining tale of three romances driven by love letters and some of OPM’s most iconic hits. Notable as the first big screen pairing of Claudine Barretto and Rico Yan as two nerds bound by their love for computers and going against the will of their parents, the film transcends the pa-cute nature of Filipino rom-coms, choosing to highlight meaningful conversations that drive the story forward instead of the formulaic notions that come with the genre.

In one story, Roni (Gelli de Belen) takes pleasure in her life as a single woman juggling work at a college library during the day and moonlighting as a radio DJ for “Love Thoughts, Love Lines,” a program where lovers send their letters to be read out on air. “Alone is not necessarily lonely,” she quips when her colleagues question her decision to be single. Of course, Roni ends up finding romance in Jed (Paolo Abrera), her macho musician tenant who is also an avid listener of her program. Another thread tackles growth as Babsy (Sharmaine Arnaiz) realizes that there are greater things than dating the boy on the basketball team. Stepping out into the great big world of advertising, she realizes how much of a pig her jock boyfriend (John Estrada) is and trades him for her intelligent boss (Robin Da Roza). Local cinema isn’t short of multi-narrative love stories but “Radio Romance” stands out as the sole classic that brims with wit, maturity and charisma, something that other films of its ilk obviously lack. — SHINJI MANLANGIT

Til There Was You Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

17. “Till There Was You” (Bb. Joyce Bernal, 2003)

In “Till There Was You” Pascual plays single father Albert who, with his young daughter Pippa (Eliza Pineda), meets Joanna (Santos) by chance on a bus trip. The girl comes to believe that Joanna is her mother, and eventually Albert hires Joanna to live with them and take on the role of Pippa’s mother.

It’s a farce that slowly gives way to the blossoming of a real romance. Albert and Joanna tease one another, and struggle to act out their roles as husband and wife for Pippa until the emotions become all too real for them. As complicating factors and new players enter the scene, from Albert’s estranged wife (Angel Jacob) to Joanna’s concerned parents (Gina Pareño and Pen Medina), the two must navigate the messy emotional minefield they set up for themselves.

Set apart by some sharp writing by Dindo Perez and Mel Mendoza-Del Pilar, the film also finds Bernal solidifying her distinctive voice as a director of romantic comedies. More than a decade on, “Till There Was You” makes for an enduring record of its era’s genre tropes — the comedy of errors, the acerbic relationship that gives way to love, the surprising moments of kilig — at their finest. — APA AGBAYANI

My Only U Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

16. “My Only Ü” (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2008)

It's implausible, over-the-top, and bathed in a fuzzy glow that makes you grin for no apparent reason. Like love, nothing about “My Only Ü” makes real sense and that's what's great about it. Starring Toni Gonzaga as a female incarnation of Woody Allen, the movie revolves around the neurosis of a woman convinced that death is waiting for her around the corner. But it is really about how the love of one man (Vhong Navarro) saves her from herself.

Cathy Garcia-Molina — make that the whole of Star Cinema — has never been more morbid, loony, and ballsy than in this one-off freak of the giant romantic comedy production plant. Thankfully, this one got past the assembly line's rigid quality control without getting the life sucked out of it. Feel-good cinema had a moment right here: a movie obsessed about dying will outlive its saner contemporaries. — MOIRA LANG

Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros Photo from TLA RELEASING

15. “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros” (Auraeus Solito, 2005)

To call the relationship between young Maxi (Nathan Lopez) and the idealistic new cop (J.R. Valentin) a romance would be more than a little bit misleading. A romance requires at least an understanding from its two participants that they want the same amorous end with each other. Maxi, on the brink of his own sexual awakening, sees the cop as some kind of knight in shining armor amidst a family and neighborhood where corruption is a way of living. On the other hand, the cop, straight and atypically honor-driven, sees Maxi maybe as a diversion from his rigorous job. Whatever emotions they harbor for each other is beside the point because that undeniable feeling is what grounds “Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros.”

Much has already been said about what the film has ushered for the then-burgeoning independent cinema movement or its contributions to the mainstreaming of queer stories. However, the “love” story that is in the middle of all the film’s numerous pleasures has always been glossed over.  Its many unusual elements, including not only the age gap between the pairing but also their differences in sexual orientation, put a cinematic face on an aspect of homosexual longing that many filmmakers have had difficulties relaying with both sincerity and levity. — OGGS CRUZ

Kasal Kasali Kasalo Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

14. “Kasal Kasali Kasalo” (Jose Javier Reyes, 2006)

Chaos reigns in “Kasal Kasali Kasalo.” There are hardly any moments of kilig here; the necessary courtship is condensed in merely 15 minutes, and the marriage proposal comes as a solution rather than an act of love. The film is doled out in episodic scenarios wherein Angie (Judy Ann Santos) and Jed (Ryan Agonicillo) duke it out on an assortment of issues, from in-law headaches and farting to “human rights” and marital cheating. But it works, mainly because of Santos — especially Santos — and Agoncillo’s devotion to flesh out the absurdities of their characters. Angie isn’t a suffering housewife nor does she want Jed de-clawed. Her strong headedness means she won’t take no shit, at times evoking Maricel Soriano’s fast-talking ball buster; while Jed is a mewling man confused in the face of high-stakes conflict. “Kasal Kasali Kasalo” destroys the image of happily ever after: Marriage is hard work and you’d be damned enough to think that only true love can save you from its tempestuous waters.  — DON JAUCIAN

Always Be My Maybe Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

13. “Always Be My Maybe” (Dan Villegas, 2016)

Dan Villegas’ “Always Be My Maybe” arrived at a time when we thought we’d memorized the rom-com and didn’t know it could still make us feel this way. The film took these well-worn beats and freshened them up with a genuinely funny script, sharp visuals (with Mycko David as the film’s cinematographer), and the surprisingly effective leading pair of Gerald Anderson and Arci Muñoz.

The script by Patrick Valencia, Jancy Nicolas, Pertee Briñas, and Woorahm Lee does away with much of the high-stakes drama typical to Star Cinema romantic comedies and runs with the simple premise of two people who meet six months after having their hearts broken by the partners they expected to spend the rest of their lives with.

“Always Be My Maybe” tells a simple story of finding love at a point when all of your illusions of love have been shattered. Thanks to sensitive performances from Anderson and Muñoz, their characters’ gradual process of recovery and discovery is a pleasure to watch unfold. The film is proof of how, stripped down to the formula’s bare essentials, a love story is complex and enthralling in its own right.  — APA AGBAYANI

Kung Ako na Lang Sana Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

12. “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana” (Jose Javier Reyes, 2003)

Jose Javier Reyes’ “Kung Ako Na Lang Sana,” unlike many other rom-coms, ends not with a bang but with a graceful bow. Essentially a chronicle of the decades-long relationship between career-driven and spinster-like Emmy (Sharon Cuneta) and happy-go-lucky Vince (Aga Muhlach) as they go in and out of their respective relationships leading them to promise to marry each other if they still remain single in their 40’s, the film never loses sight of its goal to glamorize platonic relationships to the point of etching into it a room for possible romance.

What is most fascinating about the film is how Reyes makes the narrative relatable without sacrificing the escapist intentions of the genre. Each character, while seemingly just exaggerations of middle-class stereotypes, grow older alongside the leads. By shifting its focus from the much-abused cliche of finding that one true love, to the more realistic idea of friendship growing into love, the film has cleverly closed the gap between the fairy-tale fantasy that the genre has peddled for decades.. — OGGS CRUZ

English Only Please Screencap from QUANTUM FILMS/YOUTUBE

11. “English Only, Please” (Dan Villegas, 2014)

“English Only, Please” has a love plot that falls comfortably into local rom-com formula. To its filmmakers’ credit, though, the movie makes the most out of this tried-and-tested method by sheer force of personality and a commitment to a lighthearted tone reminiscent of many an Asian rom-com. In it, a sassy Filipino tutor (played with pitch-perfect hilarity and vulnerability by Jennylyn Mercado) is tasked by a New York-raised Filipino-American (a well-matched Derek Ramsay) to translate an angry and resentful speech that he intends to deliver to his Filipina ex-girlfriend. Throughout the pair’s journey from their meet-cute situation to their “getting to know each other” phase to their “falling in love” stage to the emergence of some complicating circumstance to the concluding feel-good reconciliation, the film takes on the myriad ways language can abet and hinder communication. It also revels in the many pleasures and idiosyncrasies of the Filipino language, from the phonetic absurdity of “Bababa ba?” to the use of the fast-food industry staple “willing to wait” to denote one’s patience with a noncommittal beau. “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” suggests this rom-com about two foolish hearts deciding to be foolish together in “the thing that makes a person tanga”: pag-ibig. — ALDRIN CALIMLIM

Don't Give Up on Us Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

10. “Don’t Give Up On Us” (Joyce Bernal, 2006)

“Love alone is not enough para magsama ang dalawang tao,” Judy Ann Santos’ Abby says in the middle of a heated but flirty debate on the nature of relationships. On the other side is Piolo Pascual’s Vince, sporting a ponytail-and-blue-jeans look that wouldn’t be amiss at an Aegis concert. Vince, the balladeer and the patron saint of True Love, counters, “It’s not enough but it’s a start of forever.” Abby almost throws up in disgust. “Big word! WOOOH!” she says in a huff.

Of course, by the end of the film, Abby gets swept in the arms of Vince, her hardened, career-driven shell mellowed by a scenic weekend in the Mountain Province with him. It’s a fluke, her boss tells her, proceeding to break down the charming road movie that was “Don’t Give Up On Us,” for a chunk of its running time. See, Abby works in an ad agency, and an analysis of her two short days with Vince gets whittled down as “an illusion of love, beautifully choreographed and deliciously photographed.” Rom-coms are a product, it seems to say, prepackaged, and focus group-tested to perfection. And then reality comes knocking.

But what makes “Don’t Give Up On Us” more than a calculated vehicle is how it is essentially a devastatingly charming talkie: polar opposites distilling their views on love and life until they become mirror images of each other. The outside world becomes a nuisance at some point; we’d rather hear Abby and Vince plumb the depths of their togetherness. Why choose to stop at the destination when the journey is more striking than a happily ever after? — DON JAUCIAN

Shift Screecap from CINEMA ONE ORIGINALS/YOUTUBE

9. “Shift” (Siege Ledesma, 2013)

What happens when a liberal tomboy with her hair dyed red like blood and speech slewed to a gay colloquial twang, falls for her flamboyant, boyfriend-obsessed call center mentor? Nothing in recent years felt as immediate and original as Siege Ledesma's most welcome debut “Shift,” an ode to today's lost and perpetually soul-searching Pinoy young adults. Yeng Constantino boasts in here a performance of laidback authenticity opposite Felix Roco, exuding offbeat charm as one of local cinema's most feisty, sassiest leading men. Ledesma, as if it's the simplest of tasks, exposes the matters of the heart and how its many histories tend to foolishly repeat themselves.

“Shift” is more than romantic and funny; its relevance stems from its devotion to capture the smallness of its characters' lives, chatboxes and social media timelines included. It's a film driven by its earnest intent to cover a singular experience to discover where an entire generation's aimlessness is headed. Rarely does a Pinoy rom-com flick provide the satisfaction of real, human characters facing the possibility of love headstrong, not knowing where it's headed or if it's possible at all. — PETERSEN VARGAS

Starting Over Again Screencap from STAR CINENA/YOUTUBE

8. “Starting Over Again” (Olivia Lamasan, 2014)

The many pitfalls of Olivia Lamasan’s “Starting Over Again” is essentially due to the escapist intent of the genre. This is the reason why the nature of the relationship between Marco (Piolo Pascual) and Ginny (Toni Gonzaga), is never depicted with any necessary heft. If placed in real-world circumstances, a relationship between a younger girl and her ex-professor would cause more than just a stir. It is all part of the fantasy that Star Cinema aims for its viewers, that there is still a possibility of a happy ending for a once-failed romance between an older man who also turns out to be a person of authority and a younger woman who is that person of authority’s ogling fan. Much of the film’s pleasures come from Gonzaga’s often hilarious pining for her former beau, and Pascual, who only needs to look like the dream boy he has mastered to portray through years of playing puppy-eyed hopeless romantics. Its mightiest weapon however is its supposedly surprising ending which, given an entire film bent on selling a relationship that has survived through heartbreaks, embarrassments, and moral quandaries, feels like that convention-breaking element that justifies its being remembered notwithstanding its fealty to formula. — OGGS CRUZ

Labs Kita, Okey ka Lang Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

7. Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang?” (Jerry Lopez Sineneng, 1998)

Bujoy (Jolina Magdangal) has long been harboring feelings for her best friend Ned (Marvin Agustin) not knowing exactly how to tell him. When Ned ends up falling for her balikbayan cousin (Vanessa del Bianco), Bujoy has to decide whether to forget or reveal her feelings for her best friend. “Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang? is an iconic tale of the “friend zone,” one that has stood the test of time and remains exciting even when adapted into a Twitter thread. It’s relatable, endlessly quotable, and boasts some of the best-looking sweaters ever worn in local cinema. With the rerelease of the film earlier this year, digitally-restored and remastered, “Labs Kita, Okey Ka Lang? still holds its place in Pinoy pop culture for there will always be those who want to become more than just best friends. — SHINJI MANLANGIT

Vince and Kath and James Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

6. “Vince and Kath and James” (Theodore Boborol, 2016)

The lone Star Cinema contender in one of the most remembered iterations of the Metro Manila Film Festival, Theodore Boborol’s “Vince and Kath and James” filled the quota for the mainstream studio rom-com, a sore thumb sticking out from the sea of “indie” films. With no huge love team to the tune of Kathniel or Jadine or Lizquen as its top-billed starrers, “Vince and Kath and James” seemed like a movie destined to be a short-lived blip on the movie-going audience’s radar.

But then, it clicked.

The film begins like a makeover sequence in reverse: Julia Barretto’s Kath wins a university pageant, cheered on by her best male frenemy, Vince (played by Pinoy Big Brother alum, Joshua Garcia), and catching the eye of a jock named James (a near-catatonic Hashtag, Ronnie Alonte), Vince’s cousin. Outside the pageant, Kath is a tomboy who stands in place of her absentee father and works at a car shop, studying engineering. Vince is a shy guy who uses humor — and an anonymous viral microblog called “Da Vinci Quotes” — to mask his own drama and affections, and James is just the kind of guy who’s “mabait naman,” but seems to always get what he wants.

The sordid, juicy components of a teen drama are all there — secret admirers and love triangles, silly sidekicks and family problems, questions of identity and the self, and even gender inequality in the workplace — all the while invoking the spirits of “Cyrano de Bergerac” and Olivia Lamasan’s “Got 2 Believe.” The soundtrack coats it with cutesy candy-sweet first crush anthems, made to make you feel like you’re floating out of the cinema in a haze of affection, but the true strength of the film lies in the performances of the leads, because the end is pretty predictable, but you’re glad you took the ride anyway. — CARINA SANTOS

My Amnesia Girl Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

5. “My Amnesia Girl” (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2010)

Cathy Garcia-Molina’s “My Amnesia Girl” takes the basest part of “Runaway Bride” and injects it with a little bit of Asian rom-com neurosis where Toni Gonzaga’s character, photographer Irene, takes evasion tactics to astronomical heights by pretending to have contracted amnesia when, at a grocery store, she runs into Apollo (John Lloyd Cruz), the man who left her at the altar three years prior.

Hijinks ensue — from grand gestures to small, with both characters intent on pretending their sordid past never happened — and in revenge-seeking Irene, Gonzaga proves to be an expert actress of this genre, piling on the charm and the drama, with Cruz standing in as her worthy leading man. Cruz is the quintessential “good boy,” i.e. sweet, charming, and earnest in his attempts at rekindling their regrettable lost romance, seeing Irene’s “amnesia” as a gift from the gods, as a way for him to make up for his wrongs and pursue her again.

The film ends with a harebrained twist — the groan-inducing “Did they really just?!” kind — but the rest of the movie was strange enough for it to fit right in. “My Amnesia Girl” is a satisfying enough rom-com, delivering enough wooing, kilig, hugot, and jokes, with that magical slant of absurdity that sets it up to be remembered.— CARINA SANTOS

May Minamahal.png Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

4. “May Minamahal” (Jose Javier Reyes, 1993)

It’s conservatives versus liberals in Jose Javier Reyes’ “May Minamahal.” The director has always been adept at showcasing the lives of the upper and middle class and in “May Minamahal,” the dividing line between the well-heeled and the “uncultured” are all too apparent. What’s really standing in the way of the relationship between Carlitos (Aga Muhlach) and Monica (Aiko Melendez) is their backgrounds: Carlitos is too hampered by his bickering family to fully devote himself to Monica. Having lost their father, Carlitos is a paternal stand-in at 24, with his mother, as precious as she is, and the rest of Carlitos’ sisters too enmeshed in the conventions of gender: The man has to provide and do the heavy lifting, even to the point of suffocation. Meanwhile, Monica is looked down upon because her family is a bunch of boors who listen to loud rock music and laugh with their mouths open. Carlitos’ mother doesn’t hide her disdain for Monica: “She will ruin your life!” she tells her son. Monica is too ‘progressive’ for her own good: She defines their relationship despite Carlitos’ misgivings, she doesn’t mince words, and she won’t be bullied into submission. “Ang mga babae naman kasi ngayon walang kinatatakutan,” an old fashioned tita blurts out during a conversation about the modern woman. “Kung magkikilos akala mo mauubusan … ‘yun ang nakikita sa mga palabas na Amerikano,” but who is she really fooling? “May Minamahal” is part cautionary tale, part family drama. The ridiculousness of Carlitos and Monica’s situation still rings true in this age — some people are just too over their heads to see beyond their self-imposed limits.  — DON JAUCIAN

A Very Special Love Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

3. “A Very Special Love” (Cathy Garcia-Molina, 2008)

Back in 2008 when it was released, “A Very Special Love” was nothing more than just another fantastic romance between a wealthy man and an ordinary girl. Starring John Lloyd Cruz, who's just played the affectingly heartbroken boyfriend to perennial partner Bea Alonzo in “One More Chance,” and then newcomer Sarah Geronimo who was more famous for belting out versions of the old pop ballads, the film was more than just adequate. Geronimo turned out to be a charming performer, turning Laida Magtalas, the always optimistic admirer of Cruz's dashing Miggy Montenegro, into an adorable ray of sunshine in a film whose aim is to brighten up anybody's dreary day.

What sets the film apart are the details that Garcia-Molina puts to counter the abundance of saccharine. There is this one scene where Laida's mother, played with so much reserved enthusiasm by Irma Adlawan, gives her daughter some advice while they share what should be a private moment inside their humble home's only bathroom. The scene is strange in a fantasy. It is a dose of reality, of a quaint understanding of the Filipino rom-com's paying audience. In a way, the reason “A Very Special Love” spawned two more sequels that tackle the same old kind of love is because the aspirational element of this kind of escapist entertainment has never felt so real and so sincere, notwithstanding its insistence on making romance the cure for everything. — OGGS CRUZ

That Thing Called Tadhana Screencap from CINEMA ONE ORIGINALS/YOUTUBE

2. “That Thing Called Tadhana” (Antoinette Jadaone, 2014)

Broken dreams and promises and the broken hearts of two strangers who meet on a chance encounter. These and their fragments pierce through the couple’s series of conversations, which seems to rise and fall, alternating between seriousness and levity, as do the ridges of Baguio and Sagada, the main stops on the inadvertent interlocutors’ spontaneous road trip. Mace (Angelica Panganiban), struggling to get over the end of her years-long relationship with her ex-boyfriend, finds a shoulder to lean on (figurative as well as literal) in the person of Anthony (JM de Guzman), himself no stranger to heartache. They talk, walk, ride public transportation, tease each other over their apparently bourgeois concerns, sing a thematically appropriate Whitney Houston ballad, quote a similarly apt line by F. Scott Fitzgerald, make wishes under imagined shooting stars — all while learning lessons in the tricky art of forgetting and moving on. It’s no coincidence that what begins with a scene showing the disposal of excess baggage at an airport ends up making a strong case for the importance in life of jettisoning excess baggage of the emotional kind. What may be truly remarkable is that this thing — a rom-com in which the lead characters never share a kiss, let alone a bed — seems itself reduced to the bare essentials. And what a great thing it is, this thing called “That Thing Called Tadhana.” — ALDRIN CALIMLIM

Got 2 Believe Screencap from STAR CINEMA/YOUTUBE

1. “Got 2 Believe” (Olivia Lamasan, 2002)

As a genre, romantic comedies have to stick to certain formulas to incite the feeling of familiarity with its audience. There’s nothing truly groundbreaking with having two people start off hating each other and have them ringing wedding bells before the credits roll, but when done right as Olivia Lamasan had shown in “Got 2 Believe,” romantic comedies can still create magic while whipping up a fistful of laughs. Partly, what makes the film work lies in Claudine Barretto and Rico Yan’s chemistry. Their off-screen romance made Toni (Barretto) and Lorenz (Yan) a couple of fools worth rooting for. Even though Toni is a cute klutz who is dead set to get married and Lorenz is terribly afraid of commitment, Barretto and Yan make us believe that these characters are capable of falling for each other. No matter how many platitudes about the pitfalls of marriage, despite the ‘40s Hollywood screwball type of sexually tensioned repartee, and regardless of how many Dominic Ochoas would obscure Rico Yan’s angelic face, nothing can stand in the way of these two falling hard in love.

Perhaps the saddest part of “Got 2 Believe” is the fact that we will never see Barretto and Yan light up the big screen ever again. Yan’s tragic death weeks after the film’s release left a serious dent in the fans’ collective hearts. Maybe that’s why “Got 2 Believe” remains cherished by many. Watching it again and again enables filmgoers to experience those magical moments that Toni desires in the film: the magic that lies in the funny montages and dream sequences. It’s in the slow motion scene of Toni jumping on Lorenz’s back, all sweaty during a morning run. It’s in the hiccups. It’s in the timpani heartbeats. It’s in the overlong kiss at the end that no one wanted to end. — SHINJI MANLANGIT