A Tale of Two Direks: Kdrama Perspectives from 2 Filipino Directors

Filipino director Erik Matti recently came under fire for making a negative comment on social media about the Filipinos’ fascination with Korean dramas. In his post, he lamented that Filipino cinema is doomed because  Pinoys are more inclined towards watching Kdramas with superficial tropes and actors who underwent cosmetic surgery.

It was a pretty straightfoward attack if there ever was one, first on the Filipinos’ lack of nationalism in patronizing foreign made content over their own, and second, on the quality of Korean dramas that Filipinos are so addicted to viewing.

Of course, it came naturally that Kdrama fans rose to the defense of Korean dramas. As a fan myself, it seemed pretty obvious that Direk Erik did not watch any of these shows before judging them based on their Netflix posters.  Kdrama fans know that apart from the gorgeous celebrities, Korean dramas offer so much more in terms of quality.

They are canned, meaning they run for 16-24 episodes, meaning before actors agree on a certain project, the outline and script are already pretty clear. There’s no dragging out the plot simply because of ratings. If a formula works, they end the series and start a second season, but they don’t toy with the material that they already have.

Kdramas also explore different genres, and are not relegated to singular Cinderella type tropes as Direk Erik Matti claims.  Shows range from period dramas, politics, married life, medical, fantasy, youth, love stories, supernatural horrors, zombies, zombie period dramas and even thrillers. Yep, OCN, in particular delivered to us the brilliant Strangers from Hell which featured different facets to Lee Dong Wook and Im Siwan’s acting and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s not leave out the strong casting and marvelous cinematography that screams quality within the first five minutes of a 20 hour series.

Direk Matti seemed incensed at the fact that Kdramas are preferred by Filipinos over the Pinoy films and series being offered by Netflix and thought it to be a commentary on the Filipinos’ lack of loyalty to their own. Perhaps, he wanted to spark Pinoy pride at their own work that he tweeted his opinion, but he was flooded by angry tirades instead.

The director has remained generally quiet over the backlash but replied to a netizen that it was just sad that he was “misinterpreted.” I don’t know but the intent was message seemed pretty clear. You were a traitor to your country if you preferred foreign work over your own.

On the other side of the spectrum, screenwriter and director Jose Javier Reyes also made a comment about Korean dramas, fascinated was he about its appeal to the Filipino audience.

To sate his curiosity, he gathered opinions from the audience themselves and watched a Korean drama himself.

Mark the difference in the tone. One was ranting about content that he never even gave a chance to explore while the other tried to learn from its appeal and sought to bring the same experience through Filipino cinema.

I know the Filipino film industry is a tightly knit group and I don’t mean to pit one director against the other. Both Direk Erik Matti and Direk Joey Reyes have delivered on quality Filipino films. Direk Matti helmed OTJ and Honor Thy Father, while Direk Jose Javier Reyes was responsible for Ama, Ina, Anak, Batang PX, Kasal Kasali Kasalo as well as other lighter mainstream films as well.

However, on this issue, Direk Matti should learn from Direk Joey Reyes. Rather than launch an embittered attack on what he perceived to be an enemy of the local industry, He should have asked instead why it was so appealing to the audience. What are local networks offering in comparison to the fast paced Korean dramas that he is so inscenced about?

If Direk Matti wanted to draw more Filipinos to local television series, then perhaps networks can re-evaluate their offerings and level up their game. ABS-CBN was doing well through Dreamscape’s 100 Days in Heaven, May Bukas Pa and Honesto. It reflected Filipino values and was a great watch for children and adults alike. It connected with audiences because the message resonated with them.

However, they dropped the ball when their well intended Ang Probinsyano blew up in the ratings game and got extended to four years (and counting). Now, its one villain after the other triggering a singular angry face expression from Cardo.

GMA also did well with Mulawin and My Husband’s Lover but everything pretty much collapsed when they started churning out substandard knockoffs of the successful series. Is this really what we want our local industry to be known for? 

It also bears to note that in terms of distribution, there are only a handful of Pinoy series available on streaming platforms like Netflix because local networks are partnered with other streaming platforms like iFlix, Hooq or also run their own streaming app. Plus, local series have too many episodes to work on these platforms. Perhaps, this also bears attention?

Audiences should not be attacked for the type of content that they prefer. And art should know no race. Good cinema is good cinemaa. It transcends language and boundaries. If we want to bring local cinema to the attention of the world, our filmmakers should be open to different world views and approaches. Our local industry should be mindful of quality even while balancing it with profitability.

In my recent coverage of Cinemalaya, I was completely blown away by the quality of work that Filipino directors are capable of, should they be given a chance to explore their boundaries and receive support. We have such great potential. We should not be blinded by jealousy and hate over something that foreigners definitely worked hard on to deliver. If this will be our mindset, we would be trapped in the same loop and never develop the local industry.

Its a collective effort between the local industry and the audience. Give us something good, and we’ll be the first to support. Don’t limit our choices to hugot films and illicit affairs and we will definitely have something to talk about. Challenge us with good material and we’ll rave over it for decades to come.

To our local filmmakers, blow our minds, we are ready for it.