Before I discovered Asian dramas, there were Filipino dramas. We grew up watching them after school or work and before dinner. And we complain about our mothers talking about the characters in the drama as if they knew them or they were real people.
But it’s been a while since I watched a drama from my own country. And the last one I ever got hooked on was Pangako sa ‘Yo (I Promise You) just before I started working in that TV network on Scout Albano.
I have a Malaysian colleague who is more updated on Filipino dramas than me and fangirls Filipino actors, while there is me who has to ask “who’s that” every time I go home and watch TV.
By strange coincidence, I watched Talk Back or You’re Dead during a flight earlier this year so I’m not totally clueless when it comes to “JaDine” (James Reid and Nadine Lustre). But the main reason why I gave On The Wings of Love a try was because my friends highly recommended it, even saying they won’t be embarrassed recommending it to anyone. Plus of course the dearth of good dramas to watch these days (I’m side-eyeing you, Yong Pal).
And marathoned I did finishing all 25 episodes over 24 hours. Now, Filipino dramas are weekdays so If you get hooked, either you bid your nightlife goodbye because you have to be home during primetime or you record them (thanks, technology). And for those of us who live abroad, thank you streaming.
With 30 minutes per episode five times a week, that’s a total of 150 minutes per week. OTWOL has been running for five weeks now so I marathoned roughly 12 episodes if going by the norm of Japanese and Korean dramas. Now, if this were a dorama, it would have ended already.
The drama is set in San Francisco and a tenement in Metro Manila. The contrast between the picturesque state-side life and the occasionally grotesque tenement existence registers well onscreen.
But what I love about OTWOL is because it reflects Filipino culture, humor and values. It is injected with loads of family ties, social values, and wit that sometimes can be lost in translation and won’t be as hilarious anymore. The plot is also something most Filipinos can relate to, considering the diaspora: Filipinos leaving the country for greener pastures and the families they leave behind. Whether it’s the United States, Europe or Asia, many Filipino families have their own story to tell, and that makes OTWOL very relateable.
We have heard the plot many times before: Nanang finally gets her visa to work in the US so she leaves her husband and two daughters behind. She dreams of one day bringing her family with her but then, she meets an accident and dies. Many years later, her younger daughter, Leah, goes to the US. She wants to find the grave of her mother (they were not able to bring her body back home because of lack of funds) and also see if she can try her luck in the “land of opportunities”.
Parallel to her story is that of Clark, who is working odd jobs including being a bellboy at a hotel so he can pay his debts and send money to his two siblings back home. Clark came to the US in his pre-teens because his mother wanted him to meet his father, who disowns him. His mother died months later leaving him at the mercy of social services that passed him from one foster home to another. He has a green card but he could not get citizenship because his father refuses to acknowledge him.
Leah and Clark’s paths cross many times in what could have otherwise been cliched scenes but they managed to inject something fresh to them, before they formally meet through Tita Jack, Clark’s aunt and the mother of Leah’s now ex-boyfriend, the spoiled, arrogant Jiggs. Tita Jack represents every universal “tita” (aunt) out there who takes people under her wings and helps them out.
One thing led to another and Clark and Leah end up in a “fixed marriage” so she could get a green card while he could use the cash to pay Barracuda, the loan shark that is after him.
Such situation is quite common among those who want to stay in the US and while it is is sensitive and potentially controversial plot, the production injects humor in it without trivializing the issue, but without overly exploiting it for cinematic effects either. Of course, for the JaDine fans, you get a dose of “kilig” (giddy) moments as they begin to know each other more and develop feelings.
There are familiar elements all throughout the episodes that have aired so far: balikbayan boxes (even a commentary by the characters on what these boxes mean to overseas workers and why customs should bloody leave them alone), TNT (“tago nang tago” referring to illegal migrants who keep hiding from immigration to avoid being caught), family ties and sanctity of marriage, sacrificing for the family, success stories, Filipino communities overseas, and bayanihan (a recurring theme in the drama whether back in the tenement neighborhood or among Filipinos abroad).
While I’m sure JaDine has a strong following to bring in the audience, the support cast also contributes in making this drama memorable. The characters are unforgettable and while it’s a given that the story revolves around Clark and Leah, Tita Jack (played by one of the Philippines’ best character actresses, Cherry Pie Picache), Tatang (played by another good actor, Joel Torre), Ima (who knew comedienne Nanette Inventor could play a grandmother role like this), Manang Tiffany (Bianca Manalo) and even the annoying Jiggs (Albie Casino, though my friends describe him as the-father-of-Andi-Eigenmann’s-baby) all make their mark.
Even the sidekicks (Tolayts, the suitor of Manang Tiffany), Cullen (Jason Francisco) and Rico (Jiggs’ best friend) are characters that add spice, if not humor, to the drama, and which it can’t do without even if they were minor to the story.
Another reason why I like OTWOL, there is no outright villain, not even Jiggs with his selfishness. The characters–including, yes, Jiggs–are all people we may encounter in real life. And while we watch dramas for the entertainment value, and maybe to de-stress from the daily grind–I personally prefer those that are not makjang. Please don’t give me a drama that not only requires us to suspend our disbelief but also throw logic away altogether. I hate dramas that insult the intelligence of the audience and thankfully, OTWOL does not do that.
OTWOL’s director is the same one who brought us That Thing Called Tadhana and English Only, Please, so the drama is riding on the wings (couldn’t resist it, sorry not sorry) on the goodwill of her previously well-received works.
One doesn’t have to be a JaDine fan to be able to enjoy the drama, though I am genuinely curious on how non-Filipinos will find it. There are so many Filipino dramas out there but except for the language and actors, they have universal plots. But OTWOL is a truly Filipino story.
I just hope they are able to sustain the flow of the drama and not choose to take uber-dramatic turns because that would certainly clip the wings of the rave reviews on OTWOL.
Okay, now I’m ready for the new episodes!
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