Love and loneliness in Hong Kong: a movie review

Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards: Brilliant, virtuosic performances

By Nanet Barone

“Hello, Love, Goodbye” is a story told by Joy, a Filipino nurse by profession but a domestic helper by occupation, in Hong Kong.

The first few minutes set up the entire movie and its pace extremely well.  The shots of Joy as a young woman in the airport, as DH rushing from one task to another, and as an illegal side job worker pursued by cops in the precipitous alleys and backstreets of Hong Kong were fast-moving.  There is an overhead shot of the region and its trains, bustling streets, and people walking with places to go.  

Joy states, “Hong Kong is a place where no one stays still.”

The movie shows exactly that; Joy wakes up every day at 5 a.m. and she starts cooking, cleaning windows, bathing her old and young wards, walking the little girl to school and just never stops working. Joy also engages in “extracurricular” activities or illicit schemes or “raket” as Pinoys would say and buy/sell under the guise of gifts for contrived occasions. At night, when she rests, she thinks about how to make ends meet for her blind father and two siblings and at the same time, save enough money to fly to Canada to work as a nurse when her two-year Hong Kong contract ends in a matter of months.

Joy meets Ethan, a bar tender, who is coasting along life with nowhere to go as he says, “nandito lang ako” mainly due to his pending HK resident status in three years. Joy realizes that “time stops” when she starts to fall for Ethan. Their lives intertwine with their friends, along with hundreds of OFWs that regularly meet at the HK central district. Central is the intersection of the Filipino diaspora in Hong Kong, where OFWs spend their weekends to commiserate, counsel, and encourage each other.

Joy and OFWs like her: A movie about ‘suffering for your family.’

One of the funniest scenes in the movie is the beauty pageant joined by Joy and her friends. Behind their wide smiles and loud laughter, OFWs mask their pain until the time when they have go back to their jobs. We see scenes that depict some form of physical abuse on Joy’s mother by her Chinese husband, or in others physical labor, homesickness, sadness, loss of self and identity from being away from the motherland.

In these vignettes, there is a sense of what the quote  “suffering for your family” being implicit in Philippine culture really means. In the midst of these real struggles, Ethan and Joy’s story becomes the focus of this confluence of love, and the divergence of aspirations, choice and necessity and the priorities of life and living over love and loving.

Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards are brilliant as Joy and Ethan, respectively. There is sensitivity, realism, and passion in their portrayals. Alden plays Ethan so smoothly and naturally that he is very convincing. Kathryn as Joy shows the bravado of the fighter in the face of formidable obstacles: Her determination to go to Canada, work as a nurse, and lift her family out of poverty. Her virtuosic performance hits every emotional note: love, sadness, regret, rage, resolve and sheer grit.

This movie tells us Joy is not a revolutionary character. She represents anyone who has had to make pragmatic life decisions.  It tells us life is transitory but one thing that remains constant is love for self and love for others. This movie is about the formidable spirit of the Overseas Filipino Workers Joy and Ethan represent; it is about their resilience and ability to rise above adversity. It is about inevitable cultural immersion while preserving character, identity, and dignity.

The script, written by Carmi G. Raymundo, skillfully focused on the lead characters’ love story while making it as an expository of the OFW psyche. The intelligent directorial job by the amazing director Cathy Garcia-Molina sets a relatively light tone with comedic relief throughout the movie yet mightily communicating strong statements about family, obligations, and the working and living conditions of OFWs in the Hong Kong district.  She showed us sad and happy truths and realities in a film with balanced touches of humor and compassion. She introduced us to Ethan and Joy to make us realize that every person has the power to choose his/her pathway.

Hello, Love, Goodbye is about looking at your life and going after the things you believe are right for you. The movie had a lingering impact and viewers watched it multiple times. All its elements, the story, acting, directorial work, editing, cinematography and music, resonated with many fans and casual viewers and that is why it was highly effective and became a phenomenal hit. 

Nanet Barone is an associate at the New York State education department. For 30 years, she has worked with children with disabilities in a variety of roles from teacher, evaluator and administrator of a program, and now as auditor. She is a graduate of U.P.  Diliman, Manhattan College, and Adelphi University.  

(C) The FilAm 2019

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