Guy Ritchie: Re-Imagining Camelot

 

 

I’ve lost count of how many King Arthur movies I’ve watched all these years.

 

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But “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” was the only one where whores fished out the monarch (Charlie Hunnam) from the river, like a Biblical Moses, and raised him in a brothel.

 

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He grew up a-la Robin Hood with his gang of ruffians in Londinium, the Roman city forerunner of London.

 

I found the movie heretic, gritty and funny. You can feel the dirt and the grime, the cold of metal, the texture of leather, the hardness of wood and rock.

 

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No dragons, though. Instead, this Guy Ritchie-directed epic fantasy action adventure featured a Camelot with snakes as big as subway trains and rampaging tuskers longer than football fields.

 

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Beneath the castle lived an octopus-like version of the three winged infernal goddesses of vengeance, the Furies. Here, they are the Syrens, who feed off the blood of love.

 

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The usurper king, Vortigern (Jude Law), brother of Arthur’s father, King Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana), summons them with a bell. And he has to murder someone he loves each time he asks them to grant him power.

 

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Unfortunately, there’s no Merlin in the story. The filmmakers must be reserving the appearance of the great magician-mentor of King Arthur for future episodes still in the drawing boards.

 

What they conjured to be Arthur’s adviser was a gaunt-faced female Mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) whose eyes blacken out whenever she works her spells.

 

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Most of all, this version of Arthur is a feral street fighter turned reluctant king, inadvertently created by his father’s murderer, Vortigern.

 

Of course, history says Vortigern was not Uther’s brother. But then Arthur himself has been everything from a Celtic warrior to a Roman centurion and no one can say for sure whether he even existed, so who cares? He’s a legend.

 

“In our version of the story, Arthur’s life starts small: an urchin in a brothel, running the streets, learning to fight and dodging the law with his mates.  Then the actions of others—some with good, some with not-so-good intentions—force him to expand his vision of who he could be,” says Ritchie, who also co-wrote and produced the film.

 

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“Guy has taken the classic hero’s journey and created an origin story with a very accessible Arthur for a new generation,” adds Charlie Hunnam. “Our Arthur has grown up fending for himself, rough and ready, carving out a little world where he’s a prince among thieves.  But he’s no noble soul looking for a cause.”

 

Nevertheless, his destiny is looking for him. As soon as he comes into contact with Excalibur, that extraordinary piece of iron firmly embedded in granite, his life changed forever.

 

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Yet, “This is not your father’s King Arthur,” producer Akiva Goldsman stressed.

“This isn’t a man faced with removing the sword from stone who’s thinking, ‘Could it be me?  Will it be me?’ This is a man who’s thinking, ‘What the hell am I doing here?  Don’t let this be me.’  In fact, he has no idea what accomplishing such a feat will mean for him, but he suspects it won’t have a desirable outcome. And he’d be right.”

 

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“As far as he knows, Arthur was always poor. He’s had to take anything he wanted, he’s never been given anything,” was how Charlie saw the monarch he played.  “When he grasps hold of Excalibur, it overpowers him in every way. He rejects it and anything that comes with it.  He doesn’t want the responsibility.”

 

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As bad luck would have it, Arthur is shipped off to Camelot where like every man of a certain age, he’s subjected to a test: to pull a sword from a stone, a futile effort for most as only one man is destined to do it.

 

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Vortigern imposed the test  precisely to find his nephew, Arthur, the “Born King”, so he can get rid of the ultimate threat to his power.

 

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So, passing that test is a death sentence.

 

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But after everything’s said and done, it’s good entertainment.

 

“Making movies is like watching movies. It boils down to wanting to have fun,” Ritchie professed.

 

“There are certain genres we loved as kids that we filmmakers feel can be done for a modern audience in a way that wasn’t possible back when we watched them.  I hope that pulling that sword from the stone and going on a real hero’s journey with this ‘King Arthur’ can give today’s moviegoers the same pleasure we experienced in the theater when we were lads, but in a fresh and exciting way.”

 

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BALABAC: BACKPACKING BY THE BACKDOORS

 

Balabac, the Southernmost backdoor of Palawan, is a prisoner’s paradise, four hours sailing to Malaysia, four days journey from Manila – depending on the whims of its sapphire seas plied by poachers, pirates and Muslim rebels.

 

Rio Tuba port with boats bound for Balabac

 

 

FIRST VIEW OF BALABAC COMING FR THE SEA

 

Few tourists ever see these scattering of 31 islands with their sugar and peach beaches, unexplored reefs, blood red earth, verdant mangroves and mountains full of flora and fauna found nowhere else in the planet, from tree shrews to bearded pigs who feel their way through dark, dense jungles by their whiskers.

 

BALABAC IMPERIAL PIGEONS

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A lone stone sentinel, the Melville lighthouse, has been guiding ships for over a century now as they steam for Sabah, Borneo across Balabac Strait, the half a hundred kilometer-wide corridor of coral shelves linking Sulu Sea and South China Sea.

 

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The island group is also home to 30,000 people. The native Molbogs mix with Muslims who fled the conflict in Jolo, miners who lost their jobs in neighboring towns, ex-military men and city folks who married locals and descendants of revolutionaries whom the Spaniards jailed here and used as forced labor to build the lighthouse in 1892.

 

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I felt like an inmate too. For the first time in my travels, two bodyguards shadowed every move I made. I should not wander before daybreak and after nightfall, they warned. Too bad because Balabac’s most famous wildlife, the endangered dwarf mouse deer or “pilandok”, only comes out to graze on flowers after dark.

 

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These rabbit-sized ruminants are depicted as tricksters in folklore, burrowing under trees, cohabiting with pythons in a strange symbiosis. The constrictor beds down with the mouse deer who lures in meatier fare than itself for its housekeeper. Molbogs eat the “pilandok” and hunt him with their dogs. So, the mouse deer lures his pursuers to his burrow, straight into the python’s waiting jaws.

 

Just three kilometres out West, Balabac’s Great Reefs fringe 14 kilometers of the coast, going down ten fathoms deep. Giant clams and rare cone shells abound here. Mantas, hawksbill turtles, sharks, a newly discovered species – the dwarf spinner dolphin, plus an occasional whale shark cruise by.

BIGA BIGA beach 3 and Tambon across the sea

 

The white coast of Candaraman is half an hour away. Roughton, another reef-encircled island, along with Nasubata, are less than an hour’s sailing. But nobody parades around the beaches in bikinis. This is Moslem country. And as spectacular as the diving maybe, no dive shops do business in these parts. You bring your own scuba gear and plunge in at your own risk. The island has a clinic but no doctor. The nearest hospital is in the capital, Puerto Princesa, 300 kilometers away.

 

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Even the bugs that inhabit the islands are not to be messed around with. Malaria and disfiguring elephantiasis, both mosquito-borne, are rampant. I slept under a net, took anti-malaria pills, drank only bottled water and sprayed insect repellent. Yet I was covered with sand flea bites and had nightmares of parasites invading my spleen, liver and bone marrow.

 

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Still, I ventured barefoot in the mangroves, sneaking up on sandpipers visiting from Russia, praying I don’t tread on stingrays, sea urchins or crocodiles. Pink-bellied Imperial pigeons, cockatoos, hornbills and blue-headed raquet tail parrots plucked strangler figs while a white-bellied sea eagle glided over the treetops lazily, until he spotted a fish and dropped like a bomb into the sea.

 

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Everywhere, the earth is rich red from deposits of copper and nickel –  a blessing and a curse. A defunct copper mine two kilometres from the “poblacion” has been poisoning the island’s groundwaters for decades now. On our last day, the denuded limestone mountains unleashed flashfloods through the heart of town.

VERANDAH VIEW of cove fr our lodge in BALABAC

Tragically, the islanders destroy their own land, poisoning the seas, devouring endangered wildlife, chopping down the mangroves, slashing-and–burning the forests while Taiwanese and Vietnamese poachers trawled the waters, stealing and killing what they can.

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People here are poor though the land is rich. Land Without Hope, some locals call it, but even they refuse to leave, prisoners of Balabac’s raw beauty and promise unfulfilled.

 

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Indeed, getting in and out is a challenge. No commercial flights serve Balabac. Without a floatplane, a round trip takes 4 days – good weather permitting.

 

I went the way locals go. After an hour and half flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, I squeezed in a rickety van, jolting 8 hours over rough roads, dust and red mud to Rio Tuba, spent the night there, then took the boat for 6-hour’s sailing to Balabac in blinding rain.

 

Close up boat bound for BALABAC

 

When visibility turned zero, the captain killed the engine. We bobbed in the middle of the angry sea as he sought our bearings over sandbars and reefs that can eviscerate the ship. Our bodyguards tensed. Here, we are most vulnerable to raiders. After an eternity, the fog lifted and we raced for land, bucking and jolting over the waves.

 

BALABAC coastal houses

 

Remnants of a Spanish stone fort stood in the heart of Balabac, cut by a single road lined with houses and stores. No jeeps or cars in sight, only locals on foot, motorcycles and tricycles charging half a hundred pesos per trip. There’s no bank, just a single pawnshop.

 

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I was relieved that our lodge, J&D, was a real house, not a tent crawling with bugs. For P200 per night, I enjoyed a single room with a hard bed and ceiling fan. The sheets are freshly laundered. No towels or hot showers though. They turn off the generator at midnight and urge you to sleep under a mosquito net.

 

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Surprisingly, the food was good. The restaurant in the corner fed us fresh-caught fried “samaral”, cuttlefish, native chicken “adobo”, “tulingan” in tamarind broth and tuna “kilawin”. The owner lists down everything you eat in her notebook. You settle your bill on the day you leave.

 

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When the rains abated, we climbed the lighthouse on the hill above Biga-Biga beach and looked across the strait to the blue-hazed outline of Borneo less than 60 miles away. But going down, our bodyguards came face to face with the muzzle of a cocked rifle – police patrol. Another reconnoitred on the beach.

 

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Just a few days ago, they caught Chinese poachers who killed critically endangered hawksbill turtles and lopped off their flippers. Incredulously, even the local police ate 3 turtles, one of them admitted.

 

It reminded me of soldiers in Aurora who shot down one of the province’s last Philippine eagles just to find out what it tasted like. It was sad. Only one in a thousand turtle hatchlings survive. They don’t reproduce till age 30 and are almost extinct. As I argued the hawksbill’s case, the young policeman shrugged lamely, looking out to sea.

 

Our bodyguards urged us to get out of Balabac as soon as possible but our boat captain jabbed his fingers at the dark clouds bloated with rain and refused to sail. It will be suicide to cross the open sea.

 

So, we took a small boat to Tambon, a satellite island across Balabac, though the waters churned ochre and the rain pursued us. I was soaked but overjoyed when a white-bellied sea eagle materialized in the mangroves and circled over us.

 

INSIDE TAMBON HUT

Tambon’s caretaker invited us to his nipa hut and quenched our thirst with fresh young coconuts. I perched on his window ledge, squinting in the smoke while he set a kettle to boil on his charcoal stove. Between the slatted bamboo floor, I made out scrawny chicks scratching for grubs below.

 

Island life is hard, he confided. He plants tomatoes and cucumbers among his coconut trees to earn extra. The mangrove yields fish and oysters but he still needs cash for rice and gas for his boat.

 

DOOMED WATER MONIT TAMBON BALABAC

 

Behind the hut, a tethered water monitor lizard lashed his tail menacingly when we approached. Yesterday, he killed three chicks. So the caretaker snared the monitor, the third he caught so far, to sell to locals who eat lizard meat.

 

I felt sorry for the doomed reptile, remembering the huge monitors of Coron who begged for handouts in the kitchens everyday. Monitors are endangered, I told his captor, but they tame easily and tourists love them.  But he didn’t seem to hear.

 

Near dusk, he saw us off with a bag of shellfish fattened from the mangroves plus a coil of “makabuhay” – a medicinal plant that deadens pain. “I don’t believe this land is without hope,” he called out in parting.

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Back at Balabac’s port, run-off from the mines bloodied the coast. A dark water line marked the walls of stores and homes. We gawked at the refrigerator on top of the dining table in the store across our inn. The mountains unleashed a flash flood awhile ago, the owner explained.

 

WE WERE WELCOMED BY WHITE BELLIED SEA EAGLE

 

Reluctantly, we left Balabac at dawn. As we passed by the mangroves, my sea eagle emerged from the canopy, spreading his wings in a last salute. And I found myself praying for hope – for him and his wild abode.

 

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BANTAYAN: HARD WAY TO THE WATCHTOWER OF THE KINGS

 

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8-BANTAYAN SUNRISE OVER SEA

The ruins of Bantayan’s watchtowers rose like wraiths of stone from the white sands. Over four centuries ago, the Spaniards built lookouts to guard this Northern Cebu island from Moro marauders, calling it “Bantayan sa Hari” – Watchtower of the King.

 

In the plaza, St. Peter and St. Paul Church loomed, a fortress in itself, among the evergreen “agoho” trees. Ancient wooden houses with “capiz” shell windows stood incongruently between rows of boxlike modern dwellings. Even the theater survived pirate attacks and World War II bombings.

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But I found out, soon enough, that getting to this former bastion was just as hard for today’s backpackers, just as it must have been for the Moors.

 

To romp for a single day in this retreat touted as the “Next Boracay”, I took a two-day journey beset with trouble from start to finish. The alternative was to pay USD$1,500 for a chartered half-hour flight from Mactan – equivalent to one round trip fare from Manila to the U.S. Mainland.

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First, my noon flight from Manila to Cebu was delayed by over an hour. I arrived at Mactan Airport before 3PM. The overland trip by rented van to Hagnayan Port, San Remigio took four hours. From there, it was another two hours ferry ride to Bantayan.

 

It was a picturesque drive, nonetheless. In the gathering dusk, I watched women balancing coal sacks on their heads while men troop home with their carabaos from the fields. Peddlers of “pintos” – home-made ground corn mush rolled in their husks, ran alongside buses packed to the roof with goods and livestock. Trucks overloaded with raw sugar cane chugged past us, tipping dangerously to one side.

 

20-SAN REMIGIO BEACH LOOKOUT

 

It was dark by the time we reached San Remigio, a coastal town named after the Spanish commander who saved it from a pirate attack. We checked in at San Remigio Beach Club in a P4,400 per night executive suite with a rock-hard bed and equally rock-hard pillows. The shower spurted water in trickles, so the marble bath had a plastic pail and a dented plastic ladle, the kind found in budget hostels. The TV tunes in to a single channel and there was no wi-fi access.

 

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Anyway, we had the hotel’s Cafe Gloria to ourselves at dinner. Their American-sized servings were priced from P150-300 and their calamari was fabulous. But my beefsteak Tagalog was a let-down and the pork in tamarind broth tasted like boiled pork with tomatoes.

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Still, the beach view was worth it. I rose at dawn to watch locals clutching plastic bags, combing the exposed sea floor for crabs and shellfish. Boisterous kids tramped in the muck startling flocks of gulls stabbing the sand with their beaks.

 

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We drove to port early to discover that without notice, our ferry left ahead of schedule. With more than two hours to kill, we visited San Juan Nepomuceno Church where they just unearthed an Iron Age burial site complete with 1,000 year old bones and a large carinated clay pot incised with chevron zigzags.

 

Burial jar San Remigio Bronze Age dig

 

In the shallow square pit behind the church, archaeologists brushed a handful of skeletons still imprisoned in the earth – two males with two burial jars beside their heads, two women with single jars each, plus a child. The adults were 40 to 45 years old when they died but surprisingly, bore no signs of violence.  In those times, people often fight to the death over fishing rights.

 

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At last, we reached Bantayan at high noon. I didn’t expect it was that crowded – about 200,000 people crammed in a 7-mile wide by 10-mile long island. Foreigners have set up hotels, bars and restaurants but most residents are fisherfolk. The market is full of all kinds of dried fish, from “dangguit tocino” marinated in spicy sugared sauce, fish skeletons fried like pig skin crisps to stick fish, which tastes like squid when steamed. After all, this is the “Dangguit Capital” and “Egg Basket” of Cebu.

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18-DRIED STICKFISH sold in Bantayan Danggit Capital

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It took just an hour to go from one end of the island to the other. Driving from Santa Fe port down the tree-lined road to Madridejos, we went through poultry farms producing a hundred tons of eggs daily. Little Alaska, they called it, once a rich fishing ground, the site of the country’s first canning factory until it was bombed to rubble in World War II.

 

On the way back, I paid my respects at the St. Peter and Paul church, one of the oldest in Mindanao and Visayas. Thrice rebuilt, it sheltered people during calamities and war. Moros burned and destroyed the first church in 1600 and the roof, formerly of “tisa” clay, was replaced by stainless steel.

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Interestingly, the Pope granted a special dispensation to Bantayan’s parish in 1800, exempting locals from abstaining on holy week because fishermen do not set out to sea for seven days to repent. Henceforth, town folks feast on Good Fridays and serve “lechon”- roast suckling pig. Tourists flock here too for the Lenten procession of life-size icons depicting the Passion of Christ on elaborately-decorated “carrozas”.

 

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When we reached Marlin’s Beach Resort, my best friend and I looked forward to relaxing in our P4,200 per night beachfront twin room. Problem was, it took us six hours to check in despite being pre-booked with a fully-paid deposit.

 

The staff booked us in an occupied room. Next, they tried to put us in a room with a single bed, made us wait some more while they booted out two guests, dumped them in the hotel next door, transferred another pair to the room they tried to give us earlier and took P1,000 off our rate for wasting our day.

 

While waiting, we ordered “pancit bihon” at Marlin’s Beach Bar. They served us “miki bihon guisado” instead, along with an anemic mango shake. When we finally moved in our room, it smelled dank and fishy. The bed was rock-hard. The frayed towels and sheets seemed to have been used a thousand times. When I opened the armoire, a foul scent assailed me. I noticed they never even bothered to dispose of the mildewy magazines on our night tables.

 

At least, they had ample water in the shower, Cable TV and access to the glorious beach. But by the time we managed to emerge from that room, the sun was down and the sea has receded. I can no longer snorkel or dive. Anyway, the best spots are on the other side of the island, 20 minutes away by pump boat, I was informed.

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So, I amused myself in the tide pools. I chased crabs and fished out stranded, zebra-patterned starfishes the size of my hand. I flipped one belly up and gleefully watched him retract his mouth while he wiggled his hundreds of tiny feet, trying to go upright. One arm snaked around my fingers, tickling me, as I put him back.

3-STARFISH IN TIDEPOOL

The resorts strung along the coast began turning on their lights while we burrowed in the wet sand. My best friend shrieked and laughed when tiny pincers closed on her toes. Even under the fast-spreading darkness, people tarried on the beach. Children went on building their sand castles.

 

At dinner, we sauntered over to D’Jungle Mongolian Grill & BBQ, which received rave reviews from Lonely Planet for their P345 per head buffet with 60 dishes. Too bad it wasn’t available.

 

When we ordered grilled “liempo”, they gave us grilled porkchop instead and it took over an hour to be served. The food was good but the service was lousy, we told Robert, the gracious European owner, who apologized for his absent chef.

 

In the morning, our pre-ordered breakfast at Marlin’s wasn’t ready and the orders were mixed up, we thought we’ll never make it to our boat. After we settled our bills and checked out, their staff chased us to the port, demanding payment for bottled water we didn’t consume.

 

It was a hassle to the very last. We booked a RORO (Roll-On, Roll-Off) vessel to load the van we hired to return us to Mactan but they changed the vessel at the last minute, again without notice.

22-SAN REMIGIO STRANDED ANEMONE

Despite everything, I’ll go back to Bantayan anytime. I haven’t seen all of its old houses yet nor explored its ancient caves. I’d love to hear mass at the coral stone church, join the processions at Lent and feast on roast suckling pig on Good Fridays.

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Here, I can write and paint, play with starfishes or explore the reefs. I’d love to try building sandcastles. Maybe I’ll just pack a tent, hunt for ghosts in the watchtowers, or dream all day long, baking on that endless white beach.

 

6-BANTAYAN BEACH

 

 

 

 

 

CHIPS: BROMANCE ON MOTORBIKE

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CHIPS happens when an ex-X-Games star with a painkiller habit gets loose in California with a police badge and a sex addicted undercover Fed.

No wonder, “CHIPS”, short for California Highway Patrol, opens with a disclaimer: “This film is not endorsed by the California Highway Patrol. At all.”

And the audience howled with laughter right away.

The stars of the action-comedy – inexperienced rookie Jon Baker (Dax Shepard, who also wrote the screenplay), a beaten-up former pro motorbiker trying to put his life and marriage back together, with cocky pro partner Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña), had everyone in stiches as they investigated a multi-million dollar heist.

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This is about two very different guys with vastly different agendas and skill sets, who have to learn how to ride together, pick up the slack for each other and trust each other with their lives,” Dax explained.

It also has nudity—though granted, mostly of me—and epic chases, destruction, and explosions. I don’t think we went more than three days on this movie without blowing something up. The action is real, the jumps are real and the fights are almost real.”

In other words, this ain’t your parents’ “CHIPS”, he warned.

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Jon’s a mess. But, fueled by optimism, prescription meds and a stubborn desire to make it good in CHP to win back his ex-wife, he’s ready to face any challenge or humiliation with everything he’s got. For now, that means playing it by the book, keeping his nose clean and writing lots of tickets. Just one problem: he’s stuck on day one with a take-charge partner who doesn’t give a damn about any of that.

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Ponch is actually Miami FBI agent Castillo, a guy with a big success rate and the swagger to match. He also has a pathological weakness for women, especially women in yoga pants, which is a much bigger problem now that has to straddle a bike every day. Perpetually cocked and locked, he’s in L.A. undercover to smoke out a dirty-cop robbery ring inside the CHP.

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Of course, Jon doesn’t know this up front, including the fact that he was picked as Ponch’s partner only because they figured he was too green to ask questions. Or get in the way.

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It’s incredibly funny and wall-to-wall action,” says Producer Andrew Panay. “The comedy is edgy and the action is a little throwback because it’s not a lot of visual effects. We did most of the stunts in-camera and Dax does a lot of his own stunts so it feels authentic.”

It helped that Dax wrote about something he loves—motorcycles—and that he knew the players.

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I started this project knowing Michael and I were Ponch and Jon, so I could play to our strengths. A lot of times you’re writing in a vacuum because you don’t know the cast, but I could be more specific here. My passion is motorcycles and cars, so I knew we’d be doing a lot of riding. That gave me the freedom to write scenes where we’re talking trash over a chase. All of that definitely informed the kind of story I was going to tell.”

Astoundingly, he showcased a range of stunts with high-performance machines.

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I wanted great motorcycle action from a variety of disciplines, so we have motocross-style stunts, road race stunts, drifting, a lot of different things. We needed bikes that could jump and corner tight with amazing speed and braking, bikes that could handle stairs. But I couldn’t do those things on stock CHP bikes because the logic wouldn’t hold up. The bad guys could have whatever they wanted and that was a completely different vibe but I had to figure out how to get Jon and Ponch onto cool motorcycles to catch up with them. That introduced the premise of Ponch being undercover FBI.”

The writer/director also took a page from his own life by giving Jon the need to figure out what makes people tick. “Jon’s always trying to understand why he does what he does. I’m very much interested in what drives me, or what drives other people, so that became a part of the character.”

That translates into Jon trying to analyze his hug-averse partner and figure out why Ponch requires so much “alone time” in the bathroom several times a day.

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A running joke in the film, Jon’s touchy-feely observations contrast with Ponch’s more down-and-dirty commentary, like the way he has to enlighten his out-of-circulation partner on the current sexual scene—namely certain back door maneuvers Jon had no idea had gone mainstream.

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Either way, what it boils down to is them being themselves. And being guys.

Ponch and Jon come from opposite directions on so many things,” producer Ravi Mehta acknowledged. “Not only tight-lipped versus TMI, but Jon’s a stickler for the rules and Ponch likes to fly by the seat of his pants, so they start out not clicking at all. But once they’re through fighting it, and let their guards down, they actually feed off of how different they are. That’s when it becomes more of a bromance and a true partnership.”

So much of the story is about their dynamics,” Michael stressed. “Ponch is very logical and focused on the present, and Jon is more in tune with his feelings and about fixing his marriage, like he’s always ‘three beers too deep’ with the intimacy.”

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To his credit, Ponch comes to grudgingly acknowledge Jon’s instincts as a detective, not to mention his insane skills on two wheels. As they continue to work together, with all the minute-by-minute sacrifices and real heroism that entails, they begin to understand more about each other.

Ponch starts to meet Jon in the middle and maybe even attempt a more emotional point of view, and it’s funny to watch him try out this completely unfamiliar approach,” he adds.

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To top it all, Dax kept the action as real as possible.

That was our whole approach. The most we did digitally was to swap out a bike, so generally, if you see something happening on screen, it happened. Everything the motorcycles do in this movie was actually done by someone. And as much as I could put myself or Michael into it, I would. For example, we got Michael to do his own burnout in a scene and it got a fantastic reaction from him.”

They had 100 stunt performers and extras on the beach, with bikes jumping into the sand, going through volleyball nets and heading up a sand dune.

“As Jon and the bad guy hit the berm, the bad guy is in front and spins a 180 in mid air, then shoots at Jon’s leg. That’s X-Games gold medalist Lance Coury. It’s a 75-foot jump. When you see the bike spin around it’s what they call a turndown, but he’s doing it one-handed, which he’d never done before,” says stunt performer Steve De Castro.

“Then following him over the gap is Dave Castillo, an AMA pro rider who won the Motocross 500. For them to jump 75 feet and so close to each other, with Lance turning the bike 180 degrees, it’s just incredible.”

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Production closed the 4th Street Bridge, Los Angeles, for the melee and mash-up between the Hummer and the bulky motorhome. “Dax wanted to do it practically so we drove a stock H1 Hummer straight through a stock RV at 45 miles an hour,” he added.

It was crazy. I’ve lived in L.A. for 20 years and I’ve driven across that bridge a thousand times. To have it as a playground for two straight days to demolish motorhomes and crash motorcycles was pretty amazing,” Dax disclosed.

“Many times, I thought, ‘I can’t believe we are allowed to do this.’ We owned a whole exit off the 210 Freeway to blow up a propane tank with helicopters circling and a fireball nine stories high. There are actual cops watching you peel out and do donuts and they’re giving you the thumbs up, which is not a side of law enforcement you usually get to see.”

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A couple of times, Dax wanted to do a stunt but De Castro said, ‘No, you’re not doing that,’” Michael disclosed. “That’s Steve’s job. He makes it fun but safe. But with a film like this, you really get psyched up to be part of the action.”

But for all the story’s high-octane action, one stunt I won’t forget was the bath tub scene.

After a physically taxing day, Jon wakes up unable to move his wrecked body or reach his meds. He needs a therapeutic soak and calls on a very reluctant Ponch for help.

Ponch baby-lifts his naked partner, trips, face-plants on Jon’s crotch and catapults him in the tub.

I had to get into pretty good shape for that so I could do all my nude stuff on week one then resume eating what I wanted for the rest of the shoot,” Dax admitted. “I had a harness and a cable, and I was on a ratchet, so, as soon as he lets go they hit the hammer and I just flew into the wall. It also spun me, so I hit the wall and then went upside down into the tub, naked, in front of my crew who just met me two days before.”

I remember a fair amount of laughter that day,” says Michael. Obviously, it was an understatement.

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What I like best about it is the old-school action, which we put together with a lot of love,” Dax concluded. “Not to mention great explosions, amazing stunts and lots of comedy. I hope it’s as much fun for audiences as it was for us making it.”

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NEWEST RETREAT IN BORACAY: GETTING TO KNOW HUE

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Hue Hotels and Resorts, managed by Hospitality Innovators Inc. (HII), is the newest retreat in the country’s beach capital.

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Set to open mid-June, this year, the “glocal” retreat – an all-in-one global destination which allows guests to experience local culture and offerings, is a boutique four-star hotel with premium amenities and world-class services, priced as a two to three star accommodation, from P8,000 per night for a deluxe room to P15,000 for a family room.

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Hue Hotels and Resorts Boracay presents the two faces of the white sand island paradise – the fun and vibrant side alongside the relaxing beach destination. Instead of hopping from one place to another all over the island, guests can have a complete shopping, dining and relaxation experience in a single place. Even non-staying guests can visit and enjoy the shopping and dining facilities.

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The hotel, which is close to White Beach and D’Mall, features a new retail complex, Station X, full of homegrown restaurants and local shops in a green open space where people can enjoy picnic-style dining.

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Its signature bar, Prisma, was conceptualized by Pylon Partners Inc., the same company behind one of Asia’s best bars, ABV (Alcohol by Volume).

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The property also houses an enormous pool with a jacuzzi and bar. The guest rooms are located along the fringes.

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Hue’s Boracay operation will be its second in the Philippines, the first being Puerto Princesa.

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Hue Puerto Princesa is nestled in the heart of Palawan’s capital city of limestone cliffs, secluded beaches and the Underground River, one of the 7 Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage attraction.

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The hotel, designed with wide open spaces, offers a tranquil haven after long days of touring – packages that explore the best of the city are already integrated into guests’ room accommodation It’s also home to Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar, Chef Gabby Prats’ one-of-a-kind dining experience with a blend of Spanish, American, Vietnamese and Filipino dishes.

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RESTROSPECTIVE OF A MOST COPIED DESIGNER

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Burmese teacher-turned artist Wynn Wynn Ong, one of the world’s most copied designers, recently turned the Yuchengco Museum into a colossal cabinet of curiosities – treasures, rather, as she filled a couple of floors with bespoke jewels, accessories, furniture and clothing she created this past 15 years.

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Her pieces – quirky, playful and breathtakingly beautiful – echoed the colors and textures of a globe-trotter’s life – family roots in Myanmar, a childhood in Vienna, coming of age in Manila, motherhood in Singapore, empty-nest syndrome in Boston.

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Her nuclear physicist father brought the family to Austria when she was three. During her teens, her mom, who had master’s degrees in sociology and library science, took a job with the Asian Development Bank, relocated them in Manila.

Wynn Wynn took up business management, married Filipino investment banker Norby Ong and started a family in Singapore before she could finish her thesis. At the International School, she taught literature for almost a decade until her two kids flew the nest.

Suddenly, she found she had nothing to do in her family’s second home in Massachusetts.

Wanting to amuse herself, she became an “accidental artist”.

From her mom’s old necklaces, she wove Swarovski crystals and beads with gold and silver wire and taught herself how to make jewelry.

“When you work with your hands, it’s like therapy. And as long as I’m creating, I’m happy.”

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Only later did she study the craft – goldsmithing, wood carving, wood staining, lost-wax casting, miniature painting, to “understand what can and can’t be done.”

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Yet, she found, “There are no rules. There’s nothing to fear. You don’t question yourself. You just do it.”

I loved how she transformed everything, from monkeys and molluscs to geckos and peacocks into pendants, necklaces, minaudieres and cabinet handles – each of them little masterpieces of metals and gems.

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My favorites on the first floor, her “Inspired Chaos” section, include chambered nautilus shells – symbol for perfection and beauty, which she fashioned into a clutch with labradorite eyes, 888 freshwater pearls (the number of prosperity in triplicates) and brown tourmalines embellishing its tentacles and insides.

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She sculpted a neckpiece in the form of a coral branch, more like a bib, enmeshed with labradorite beads, repoussé leaves, frosted green glass, Swarovski crystals, button pearls and sculpted charms.

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And there’s that peacock clasp, perched on a bark clutch made of recycled metal alloys – gold set with peridot and sapphire beads, a prasiolite crest, long fan tail feathers flowing.

A mother-of-pearl octopus pendant dangled a repoussé galleon from one tentacle and antique carved crystal quartz in another.

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Wynn Wynn’s whimsical take on furniture showed on her cabinets – one had spiral ram’s horns for handles, others had jewel-studded geckos crawling on their faces, or miniature toucans grasping gems in their beaks. A jade-beaded frog perched on metal leaves on a tray’s edge.

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On the third floor, she displayed her Couture: Sartorial Symbiosis.

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She interwove jewelry into the fabric of the clothes she designed, creating stories through textiles, playing with pure silk, tribal hand weaves, tulle, French lace, organdy, neoprene, silk rope, twine and cords.

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A huge gold leaf Burmese water serpent god (“naga”) gathered the folds of her black draped gown together at the back.

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A quirky cape of black silk leaves had bespoke suspenders of gold chicken feet holding up a pair of tailored gray wool fish-tail pants.

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One of her jackets, assembled and handstitched out of silk cords, pleated silk, silk braids and tassels, featured three jeweled monkey tailors clambering over its front.

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Gold plated repoussé snakes crawled in and out of her “Modern Medusa” corded black fitted vest worn over a billowing black tulle ball skirt.

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A gladiator-inspired ensemble featured a pure black silk tunic with outward extending butterfly sleeves paired with handmade repoussé gold arm and shin guards.

And they are all wearable.

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If there’s one thing in common between designing jewelry and clothing, it’s “not just about form but function”, Wynn Wynn acknowledged.

“A fashion designer has to make sure whoever wears her clothes can move, sit and walk. Can it take a woman from the boardroom to the ballroom? Is it flexible enough to bring in her travels?”

Interestingly, she wants her retrospective to be a “learning tool, to open people’s minds”, to inspire students of design and art.

For this exhibit, she’s not even interested in selling at all.

“My collectors will always be there. I was never driven by money, or by how many pieces I could sell. You have many choices in life. You can call yourself a designer, a jeweler, or a businessperson. Some designers are very successful because they’re savvy in business. But there are those who endure because they nurture the work, not minding the trends, what sells, or what others are doing. In a world of mass production and robotics, originality is still sought after.”

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When it comes to style, “I’ve been drawn to the ‘different,’ the unique, and the quirky, my entire life. I believe that jewelry should reflect a person’s individuality and that the pieces should form stories that tease the mind and taunt the senses. I have no interest in creating two pieces that are exactly alike. The gems I find drive the designs. The piece must resonate with the wearer and, in turn, they must be transformed.”

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As is, “We live in a world of mass production where artisans are vanishing and skilled crafting by the human hand is rare… I believe in the tenet that the number of days, even weeks, put into designing and crafting a single piece makes the difference between a common commodity and a piece of art. Few understand the hours spent studying a gem so that ‘dialogue’ and understanding exists between it and myself.”

“We are only bound by the walls we create.”

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And the future?

After her retrospective, Wynn Wynn intends to go back to writing and pursue other creative interests, from designing spaces to building things and cooking.

“Normally a retrospective is once in a lifetime, so maybe this will be my only one,” she smiled. “You never know. But I hope it will be subsumed by a different form of creativity.”

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(Pictures of most exhibit items and their details were taken with a Vivo5 Plus.)

BEAUTY AND THE BEAST: A DANCE OF THE ARCHETYPES

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It’s the fairy tale everyone hears in childhood – the most romanticized case of Stockholm syndrome in this world.

 

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Once upon a time, a dashing Prince (Dan Stevens) partied nonstop in his castle until a beggar tried to seek refuge there. He drives her away, unaware she’s an enchantress (Hattie Morahan) testing him.

 

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She transforms him into a Beast. His household became inanimate items – a candelabra, mantel clock, coat hanger, wardrobe, harpsichord, feather duster, teapot and cup.

 

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To reverse the spell, he must love a woman and vice versa before the last petal of an enchanted rose falls. Otherwise, he retains his hideous form forever.

 

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In nearby Villeneuve, doll-like Belle (Emma Watson) dreams of adventure and romance beyond the French village where she lives with her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), a reclusive artist, and traipses into the hills ala Sound of Music.

 

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When Maurice sets off to market, wolves attacked him. He flees to the woods, gets lost, stumbles upon the Beast’s castle and takes a rose. Enraged at the theft, the Beast takes him prisoner.

 

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Belle searches for Maurice and confronts the Beast. She trades places with her father and eventually redeems her captor’s suffering. Love won. Good triumphed over evil. All’s well that ends well.

 

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But does it?

 

Well, it’s a fairy tale – and the film rendition of the story was great entertainment, indeed. Yet the characters are archetypes. Beauty and the Beast are a couple among the countless who live inside each of us.

 

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A Beast exists in every Beauty, alongside the Kind Daughter, the Fussy Mom, the Bewildered Orphan, the Willful Maid, the Outcast Country Girl, the Book-Loving Student, the Passionate Dreamer and well, the Hapless Prey and the Willing Victim.

 

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Just as well, a Beauty inhabits every Beast, co-existing with the Noble Protector, the Sorrowing Son, the Spoiled Prince, the Desperate Accursed, the Grouchy Master, the Angry Prison Warden and the Voracious Predator.

 

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It’s ok for as long as the archetypes “behave”.

 

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Beauty’s Compassionate Redeemer interacts with the Beast’s Lonely Hero who’s in need of salvation. Or her Eager Student appeals to her Inspired Mentor – who bequeathed her the Prince’s entire library. Or the Sorrowing Son finds common ground with her Lost Orphan in Paris as they discover that Belle’s mom died in the plague.

 

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But what if Beauty’s own, personal Beast locks fangs with the Beast’s Sadistic Predator? What happens then?

 

What disturbs me is that too many believe in the fairy tale and pay for it dearly.

 

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Each time a woman falls for a Bad Guy, it’s Beauty and the Beast all over again.

 

Nothing like Bad Guys to feed female redeemer instincts – which explains why the most notorious criminals on Death Row get love letters and marriage proposals from women who should know better.

 

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The Belle in her hopes that his ugliness hides an inner Beauty that her love can magically transform to a Prince – handsome, tender, devoted and rich beyond measure.

 

I guess it’s also one reason why it’s so difficult to get out of abusive relationships. The Belle in every besotted woman never loses hope that her Beast may yet turn into a Benevolent Prince – until he cuts her throat or blasts her with a shotgun.

 

Sad that in reality, most Beasts don’t transform into royal consorts and waltz away with their mates happily ever after.

 

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Kicks For Haute Couture to High Street

2017 “Face-Off”#OOTD

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It was the first time I saw Converse kicks paired with gowns.

 

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On the catwalk, models and celebs wore the fab sneakers with everything you can imagine, proving it’s not just for sneaker heads but for both haute couture and high street.

 

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They showed off styles ranging from casual and quirky, playful and festive to sexy and edgy, from millennial designers as well as Manila-based and Cebu-based couturiers.

 

 

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Men donned printed pants – a new take on the basic casual ensemble. A couple even got away with suits trailing  ribbony tails.

 

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The girls sashayed in billowing white capes and black creations, velvet accessorized with leather, metal and fish net, sheer frills and fringes, Japanese denim jackets, embellished chiffon, corsets and chokers – mostly not your typical Outfit Of The Day – but who dared question how designers interpret wearables?

 

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Cebu-based Cary Santiago, known for his red-carpet creations, dressed Tessa Valdes as well as model-beauty queens Gwendolyn Ruais and Cassy Naidas, who donned Sinulog-inspired gowns in vivid yellows, greens and pinks, with feathered headpieces, as they showed off  Converse sneakers in their hands.

 

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For the finale, Rhett Eala dressed Miss Universe 3rd runner-up Maxine Medina in a pearl-studded corselet which ended over three tiers of swirling floor-length fringes.

 

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(All shots of the fashion show & Converse shoes were taken using the VIVO V5 PLUS.)

 

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The Manila-based designers featured include Randy Ortiz, Rhett Eala, Rajo Laurel, JC Buendia, Mike de la Rosa, Efren Ocampo, Vic Barba, Pablo Cabahug, Albert Andrada, Ito Curata, Lulu Tan-Gan.

Designers from Cebu include Arcy Gayatin, Jun Escario, Edwin Ao, Oj Hofer and Philip Rodriguez.

The millennial designers are Thian Rodriguez, Michael Leyva, Seph Bagasao, KC Pusing, Vania Romoff, Mark Bumgarner, Mark Tamayo, Wilbur Lang, Britt Romero, Rei Escario, Andrea Lopa, Ryan Madamba, Risa Bulawan, Joel Escober, Jerome Ang, Tipay Caintic, KC Alaba and Bon Hansen.

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#ForeverChuck

Kong: Skull Island – Hairier Version of Beauty & the Beast

 

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For the past 84 years, a colossal ape has rampaged in the psyche of moviegoers.

 

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The 1933 classic “King Kong” played to sold-out crowds at the height of the Great Depression and broke records through decades of re-releases and television airings.

 

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Needless to say, this original effects-driven blockbuster and monster movie milestone has been remade, parodied and spun-off on every sized screen.

 

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And Kong has become embedded in pop culture, the stuff of video games, hip hop lyrics, college dissertations, reproduced over and over in armies of action figures, models, toys, games, you name it.

 

But his 2017 version – the helicopter-smashing, giant lizard-wrangling, adolescent Kong, of Skull Island, is the biggest in Hollywood history—all 100-feet of him.

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Here, he is a most terrifying alpha predator and yet, a lonely god and a fierce protector of his domain and its people.

 

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“I’m sure you won’t find a gigantic ape-like creature punching a Huey helicopter in another movie,” says director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. “But that’s the movie I wanted to see. I want to take people out of their comfort zone and thrust them into a balls-to-the-wall adventure that’s visceral, intense and like nothing they’ve ever seen before.”

 

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However, “A lot of things define Kong—his size, his power, his animal nature, but also his heart and huge depth of soul,” observes producer Mary Parent.

 

“He keys into our natural affinity for other primates, and his gestures and expressions are much more humanlike than even natural primates—which is what has always set Kong apart from other monsters.  Even though he’s a terrifying predator, it’s impossible not to root for him.  In some ways, he’s been more like the classic romantic hero than a villain.”

 

“Kong embodies the internal clash between our civilized selves and the place in our consciousness that still has a very real sense of something bigger than ourselves,” maintained Tom Hiddleston who played a former SAS black ops officer turned tracker, Captain James Conrad.

 

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Now, this film opens in 1973, when times are changing, wars are being lost, and old beliefs are going down in a burst of gunfire, napalm and rock n’ roll.  Mankind has claimed and tamed every inch of the known world, and NASA has launched a lone satellite into space to hunt down whatever’s left of the “Great Unknown”

 

Moving the story from the 1930s to a more modern, but not modern-day, setting folded into the themes the filmmakers wanted to depict – “a world before the tyranny of global satellites, near total surveillance and information overload”, in the words of Tom.

 

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“We didn’t have the illusion—as we do today, with the internet and cell phones and GPS—that we knew everything about the world we live in.  The period setting also gave us an extraordinary prism to explore what Kong might represent in a conversation about war and the tendency of mankind to destroy what he doesn’t understand.”

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THE EYE DROP IN YOUR TRAVEL PACK

 

Eye drops should be part of your travel pack.

 

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Whether you’re sight-seeing in the city or adventuring in the wilderness, eye care should be part of a traveler’s daily rituals.

 

As they say, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.

 

In the city, dirt and pollution harms not just the lungs but the eyes as well.

 

What to look out for:

 

Red Eyes – usually due to allergy, dirt, pollution, smoke or eye infection.

 

Watery Eyes – excessive tearing not caused by normal crying can signal underlying health conditions –

irritation or inflammation of the eye surface.

 

Sore Eyes – results from staring into a computer screen or a book for too long.

 

Itchy Eyes – often caused by allergies or constant exposure to mold and dust in the home.

 

Dry Eyes – consequence of high exposure to gadgets, TVs, laptops and working in air-conditioned rooms. It’s a problem that also comes with aging.

 

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And do you know there’s a “proper” way of putting eye drops?

1-Tilt your head back and look at the ceiling.

2- Pull down the lower lid of your eye with your index finger to form a pocket.

3- Hold the dropper, tip facing down, with the other hand, as close to the eye as possible without touching it.

4- Brace the remaining fingers of that hand against your face to prevent the tip from touching your eye.

5- While looking up, gently squeeze the dropper so that a single drop falls into the pocket made by your lower eyelid.

6- Remove your index finger from the lower eyelid and close your eyes.

7- Keep your eyes closed for 2 to 3 minutes and tip your head down as though looking at the floor. Try not to blink or squeeze your eyelids.

8– Place a finger on the tear duct and apply gentle pressure.

9- Wipe any excess liquid from your face with a tissue.

10- If you are to use more than one drop in the same ye, wait at least 5 minutes before putting in the next drop.

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“Eye Mo combats eye irritation and comes in two variants,” says Earl Jayona, LF Asia Philippines, Inc. Marketing Manager, Healthcare Division.

 

EyeMo Red Eyes Formula contains Tetrahydrozoline HCl for quick relief of redness and minor discomfort. Eye Mo Moisturizing Formula contains Hypromellose which lubricates and soothes.”

 

Eye Mo comes in two variants - the Moisturizing Formula, which alleviates dry eyes, and the Red Eyes Formula, used for sore, waitery, red, or itchy eyes

 

After being off the shelves for almost one and a half years, Eye Mo is back in the local market, from Batanes to Tawi-tawi,  announced LF Asia Marketing Manager Erlbyn Jayona.

 

In May, the eye awareness month, Eye Mo is launching a big campaign nationwide – distributing first aid kits and travel kits with their product, giving free eye check,  holding forums talking about eye health and eye care.

 

Weitarsa Hendarto (Vice President Combiphar, Glenda Arceno GM LF Asia Philippines, Erlbyn Jayona (Marketing Manager, Eye Mo, LF Asia Philippines

 

Interestingly, the Philippines is the biggest market for Eye Mo outside Indonesia, its home turf, according to Weitarsa Hendarto, VP Consumer Healthcare & Wellness of Combiphar –  a leading consumer healthcare multinational which manufactures 200 prescription and over-the-counter drugs, including Eye Mo.

 

And the demand for Eye Mo is surging more than ever.

 

Aside from keeping its original plant in Indonesia, with a capacity for 23 million units per year, Combiphar is building a new plant close to Jakarta which has thrice that capacity.

 

Combiphar is also targeting millennials. Its Eye Mo is most popular with users above 30 years old who grew up with the product as a must in the medicine cabinet. But then, it can be used by anyone 6 years and above.