Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Not too long ago, the majority of Philippine cinemas favored and more commonly screened Western and international releases, with the occasional or even sporadic movie from local major production companies to mix things up. But moviegoers have proven themselves able to command change: Because they’re showing up and being vocal about their enthusiasm for Filipino films, along with critical acclaim and record-breaking box office success, they were able to pave a way for more independent production houses and therefore more local choices to grace theaters.
This month alone sees a nationwide premiere for a new Filipino movie every week. The rest of 2019 promises dozens of interesting and possibly base-breaking new releases, from sequels and reboots to anticipated love team comebacks and unexpected pairings. They’re also set across different cities and countries — some are even collaborative projects with foreign creators.
There’s something for everyone, whether you want to laugh, scream, or swoon. From LGBTQ+ representation and pressing social issues, to high-concept sci-fi, to familiar places and history we haven’t quite left behind, to perennial feelings of sawi and kilig (of course), the crop of local movies this year are bound to capture the Filipino experience, allowing us to see parts of ourselves and our lives on the big screen once more.
If you’ve seen the image of Carlo Aquino and Nadine Lustre taking shelter from the rain at a shed that’s unmistakably located in UP Diliman, it might interest you to know that it’s from “Ulan,” Lustre’s first film that doesn’t pair her with boyfriend James Reid. Helmed by “Sid & Aya” director Irene Villamor, the movie is said to be about self-love and self-acceptance, and gets its title from the belief that even when it’s particularly sunny, if a pair of tikbalangs are getting married, the skies begin to pour down rain in protest. Marco Gumabao and AJ Muhlach co-star.
“Sakaling Maging Tayo”
In McCoy de Leon and Elisse Joson’s first co-starrer, set in Baguio City and opening on Jan. 16, two college freshmen meet on their last day of school — one of them despairing over a failed romance, and the other just looking to let loose at a music festival. Hoping to make the night something to remember, they begin to engage in a series of dares: eating strange food, getting tattoos, and perhaps the riskiest of all, telling certain truths.
The film’s director JP Habac has also announced a sequel to 2017’s “I’m Drunk, I Love You” called “I Love You, I Do,” which is set seven years after its predecessor with leads Maja Salvador and Paulo Avelino set to reprise their roles.
This sequel to “Die Beautiful,” which revolved around the life and death of a trans woman and beauty queen, was first announced as a T.V. series starring Christian Bables. In “Born Beautiful,” out Jan. 23, Martin del Rosario takes over as Barbs, the best friend of Paolo Ballesteros’ Trisha. She now has to find her purpose and continue to live her truth, and maybe even fall in love in the process. The film is directed by “Die Beautiful” producer Perci Intalan and co-stars Kiko Matos, with a special appearance from Ballesteros.
Based on Mac Alejandre’s 1980s short film of the same name, “Kaputol” is the director’s first independent feature, its screenplay written by Ricky Lee with cinematography by Lav Diaz. Starring Alfred Vargas, Cherie Gil, and Angel Aquino, it is currently in post-production and is described by Vargas to be about “the desaparecidos, the power of film, and the love for family” as well as having a “film within a film.”
This buddy comedy centers on best pals, played by Arjo Atayde, Ketchup Eusebio, and Joross Gamboa, whose friendship is put to the test when they meet a woman (Jessy Mendiola) and each develop a crush on her. Their individual efforts to win her over, naturally, may just end up tearing them apart. “Tol” is directed by Miko Livelo and opens on Jan. 30.
“Lila” stars Enchong Dee and Janine Gutierrez have reunited for this project, which is apt, because they play exes who cross paths again. Bert (Dee) and Elise (Gutierrez) were childhood friends who eventually became each other’s first love and first big heartbreak. And if Bert is being honest with himself, he has to admit that he might still be in love with her, after all. “Elise” is directed by Joel Ferrer and opens on Feb. 6.
“Baka Hanggang Dito Na Lang”
This Bona Fajardo-directed romantic comedy, also premiering on Feb. 6, features first-time co-stars Xian Lim and Louise delos Reyes. Its plot has yet to be revealed, but a rather sweet and goofy teaser sees delos Reyes and Lim bonding over increasingly suggestive puns and canoodling all around Japan.
“Birdshot” director Mikhail Red’s “Eerie” made headlines last year for being Bea Alonzo’s first scary movie as well as another vehicle for Charo Santos-Concio. This ‘90s-set horror-mystery is about a clairvoyant guidance counselor (Alonzo) who investigates a murder in a Catholic school — the only witness being a ghost. Santos-Concio plays the school’s directress, the Mother Superior.
“Eerie” had its world premiere last December at the Singapore International Film Festival, and is set to open nationwide in March. Red is also working on “Block Z,” a zombie thriller starring Julia Barretto and Joshua Garcia.
“Empty by Design”
Directed by Fil-Brit filmmaker Andrea A. Walter, “Empty by Design,” a Philippines-set contemporary drama starring Osric Chau of “Supernatural” and Rhian Ramos, plus “Crazy Rich Asians” breakout Chris Pang, Carla Humphries, and Dante Basco. It’s about two Filipinos (Chau and Ramos) who have been living overseas and, upon their return to the country, are brought together by their mutual loneliness.
Antoinette Jadaone directs Liza Soberano and Enrique Gil in this romance, about a pair who meet again eight years after they first met as college students. Teasers feature Soberano and Gil together and by themselves in UP Diliman’s Sunken Garden, aboard a jeep, and in Palma Hall; she plays an overachieving Art Studies major while he’s a Biology student who does the bare minimum to get by and whose only dream is to graduate.
Agot Isidro and JC Santos, along with Belgian actor Jan Bijvoet of “Peaky Blinders,” join an international cast of actors from Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, and the United States in “Singing in Graveyards” director Bradley Liew’s sophomore film. Santos plays a young man who is groomed by his father to take over the titular motel, which has been assigned by a dystopian government to exterminate immigrants. This is achieved through a haunted bed, which holds the spirit of a Filipino tree demon that eats men and impregnates women.
Principal photography began in November in the Philippines and Slovenia. According to Liew and Isidro, the horror of “Motel Acacia” goes beyond the supernatural — the film aims to address immigration issues and how desensitized we’ve become to death and violence.
“Project: Midnight” (working title)
Jasmine Curtis-Smith and Glaiza de Castro star in Dodo Dayao’s sci-fi horror-thriller, about an almost-utopian Manila of the near future. Mysterious blackouts have been sweeping the city after midnight, leaving no survivors in their wake. Nobody believes what lies in the darkness, but as four friends are about discover, no amount of skepticism can spare you from a grisly fate.
Based on a true story, Kerwin Go’s directorial debut is a crime comedy that stars Dennis Trillo, Jerald Napoles, and Matteo Guidicelli. When three tons of cocaine wash up on the shores of a quaint seaside town in Eastern Samar, two easygoing surfers decide to take advantage of the situation for monetary gain and begin to sell the drug, risking the lives of their families and their freedom in the process.
“On the Job 2”
The highly-anticipated sequel to Erik Matti’s acclaimed 2013 action movie “On the Job,” about a pair of assassins and the law enforcers hell-bent in pursuit of them, is set to complete principal photography next month. Matti made painstaking efforts to make the film unique to Filipino culture and sensibilities, which is fitting for its tentative release date of June 12, 2019. The cast reportedly includes Dennis Trillo, Lotlot de Leon, Ricky Davao, William Martinez, John Arcilla, Dante Rivero, Vandolph Quizon, and Eric Fructuoso.
“Tol” co-stars Jessy Mendiola and Arjo Atayde have another upcoming feature, this time a romantic comedy about two strangers who find themselves trapped in an office thanks to a particularly strong typhoon. Armed with supplies they’ve found in the office, with nowhere to go and no one else around, they have no choice but to depend on each other. Together, they just might make it through the night — and what else comes after. Ice Idanan, the filmmaker behind “Sakaling Hindi Makarating,” directs.
Release dates are subject to change without prior notice.
ERRATUM: In an earlier version of this article, Miko Livelo's name was misspelled. We apologize for the oversight.