I was all of 13 years old when “Kung Mangarap Ka’t Magising (KMKM)” was first shown on Dec. 24, 1977 as part of the Metro Manila Film Festival.
A die-hard Christopher-Hilda fan, I begged my parents to let me see the movie but they wouldn’t. The material, they said, was “too mature” for my 13-year-old mind.
My best friend took pity on me (she was a huge fan of the tandem, too) so she ended up recording the entire film on cassette and passed on the precious, and by today’s law, “pirated” commodity to me the first day we returned to school after the Christmas break.
That night I put on my earphones and played the cassette over and over, my 13-year-old heart giddy and my mind imagining the scenes playing out in my head.
Under the mango tree
Thirty-nine years later, the film restoration team of ABS-CBN and Central Digital Lab brings back to the screen the immortal love story of Joey and Ana, this time digitally restored and remastered. Once more, with the sounds and colors so vivid and vibrant, in the darkness of Power Plant Cinema, I found my 51-year-old heart giddy once more.
The film, which was given an R-13 rating by the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (so my parents were right after all!), was produced by LVN studios back in 1977, in time for the centennial celebration of Doña Sisang, founder of LVN.
Rey Santayana, who wrote the screenplay with Mike de Leon, says the goal was to bring together all the elements that made LVN movies memorable.
“The singing under the mango tree concept, young love, fun, laughter… that’s why there was a lot of original songs and music in ‘KMKM.’”
And true enough, 39 years later, it’s still the cinematography (Baguio at its most beautiful!), music and the chemistry of its lead actors that set the movie apart from most romantic Tagalog movies I’ve seen.
In an online conversation with Hilda Koronel and a phone interview with Christopher “Boyet” de Leon a few days ago, both reminisced about the movie like it was shot only yesterday.
“I was at the height of my career, and being accepted as an actress and not just a beautiful face was really important to me. ‘KMKM,’ though, was just not a great film, but really, a visual feast because of our director. It was stunning to watch the play of colors, the lighting, listening to the music… and we shot in what was considered the most beautiful and romantic spot back then— Baguio and Sagada,” Hilda begins.
Santayana validates this—“Baguio was the place everyone went to at that time. It was the perfect setting for a love story.”
Christopher recalls that he and his friends were, quite like Joey in the film, at a stage in their lives when their romantic lives were in limbo.
“Bobot [Edgar Mortiz], Johnny, Jay and I were a group and we called ourselves the Lonely Hearts Club because at that time, we had all been recently separated from our respective partners.”
He has only fond memories of Hilda’s beauty and like a schoolboy, recalls how Hilda was “in super top form. I think that was the height of her beauty, that film really showcased it. She was really all woman na in that movie.”
Boy-next-door roles were coming one after another for Christopher, but “KMKM” was special because it was a chance to work again with Hilda and be directed, for the first time, by Mike de Leon.
“I had to learn how to play the piano for the role. It was a condition given to me. My favorite scene in the film is when I sing ‘Joey’s Theme’ to Hilda up on the hill. It was also one of the most difficult and nerve-racking, because Mike shot it all in one go!”
Hilda says Ana’s role was one she’d loved from the start.
“Ana is a great role… she’s got a lot happening to her, sort of like my life at that time. I could feel her anguish, having being married so young myself. It was the feeling of being trapped and wanting to get out… of being unhappy and yet you don’t want to rock the boat and hurt other people around you. Ana always thought about other people, and never herself. But, of course, Ana resolves that at the end and so did Boyet’s character, Joey.”
Christopher and Hilda were 22 and 21, respectively, when “KMKM” was shot. Both had married very young, and at that time, brilliant in their craft but also very restless.
“I had never been to Sagada and we were so young. We would go to the disco and dance until the wee hours and then our call time would be 6 a.m. We would all come on time.
“I would be on the set ready, with my rollers wound on my hair, an hour’s sleep, but lines all memorized. Mike wasn’t too happy with it but we knew our lines and weren’t sleepy or anything.
“One night, all the boys were sneaking out and I saw them and asked where they were going. I was so naïve, so I told them that I’d tell if they didn’t take me along. Childish but it worked… with a solemn promise not to tell. So they took me along… and I’ll just say, we had quite an adventure!”
Christopher recalls how mesmerized he was with the experience of working in Baguio and Sagada.
“Going up to Sagada was magical. It was still secluded back in 1977. Baguio was so beautiful and we stayed there for two months until we completed the film.
“Hilda is the classic actress, she has an amazing photographic memory! One look at the script and she gets it! She’ll sit in one corner, read her script, then after a while, she’ll say, ‘Okay, I’m ready.’ Sobrang nakaka pressure and she would tease me about it, ‘Script lang iyan!’”
The chemistry between Christopher and Hilda has always been magical, captured on screen as something memorable and beautiful.
How does one explain such chemistry?
“It’s so easy to fall in love with Hilda. You just look at her and boom! She’s also a really good actress, one of the best we’ve had hands-down,” Christopher says.
“Boyet and I, we’ve always had good chemistry. It’s hard to explain this because it just is. You have it with a few, and you don’t with a lot. Physically, it’s a good match. Not to be shallow, because you know that’s not important to me, but the two of us, on the big screen, it really works. I guess because we were also both Brocka-trained.
“We can anticipate each other —I know how he works and I think he knows how I do, too. Working with Boyet is like coming home to someone you know and someone who knows you really well.”
I asked them what they thought of the possibility of a sequel and how that story might play out if it were to be made into a movie today.
“That’s hard,” Hilda says. “It could be two different stories. So much has happened to the both of them, and maybe they find one another through their children. Maybe they’ll find each other on social media! (Hilda recently joined Twitter. If you like to follow her, it’s @HKoronel)
“Then again, I don’t know, we might be too old for another love story,” she laughs.
Ever the romantic, Christopher sees an older Joey and Ana finding each other again in a foreign country.
“Maybe somewhere in Europe. This time they are finally both free. Whether they end up together, well, let’s leave that to the scriptwriter.”
Art imitates life, and there are always possibilities. Christopher and Hilda are older and wiser now in the ways of love.
Christopher says, “If I knew then what I now know about love I would be more careful, cautious and prudent about making decisions that would affect my life long-term.”
“Me, I would be more careful and not jump into a situation to get away from another one. I would definitely take care of myself more, love myself more,” Hilda says.
It is wisdom that the older characters of Joey and Anna would have said themselves.
Perhaps, like many of us children of the ’70s and ’80s hope for, there’s a second chance waiting for these two characters.
“KMKM” runs this Valentine weekend at Power Plant Cinema, tonight at 7 p.m., and on February 16, 7:45 and 9:35 p.m.
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