Leave to pursue your dreams, or stay for the love of your life? This is the question that Hello, Love, Goodbye asks us.
This latest offering from Cathy Garcia-Molina, best known for her Filipino romantic comedies, is set in Hong Kong. Molina sheds light on the experiences of Filipinos working overseas by following the story of Joy and Ethan, two Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs). We see their lives unfold through the eyes of Joy, a hardworking domestic helper who’s trying to save money to move to Canada as a nurse, and Ethan, a bartender trying to find his motivation in life.
Hello, Love, Goodbye stars two of the Philippines’ biggest names from the two of the biggest “loveteams”—Kathryn Bernardo (from KathNiel) and Alden Richards (from AlDub). What’s also surprising is that Bernado and Richards are from rival television networks; in the Philippines, it’s common for actors to be signed to one network exclusively. Their performance in Hello, Love, Goodbye proves that once in a while, it doesn’t hurt to break out of your loveteam to grow as an artist.
An Empathetic, Authentic Performance
In Hello Love, Goodbye, Bernado graduates from her teen roles and blossoms into a dramatic actress—a total transformation from her child acting days—in a tour de force performance. Richards rises to the challenge and exhibits his versatility as an actor, proving why he’s one of the country’s matinee idols.
To get into their roles, Bernardo was separated from the cast to better empathize with Joy’s feelings of isolation; after just a week of filming in Hong Kong, she wanted to go back to the Philippines. Richards, on the other hand, lost almost 25 kg to play Ethan. Molina is notorious for her strictness with the artists that she works with—but it’s paid off as they are all household names, and her films have been blockbuster hits.
Hello, Love, Goodbye’s love story is not new, yet it provides us with a unique perspective of the realities of being an overseas worker. The film tears away the layers of the OFW experience with sheer intensity. Shifting away from showing the employee-employer relationship found in other films about OFWs, Molina brings her focus to the OFWs themselves, and their families back home.
The film strips down the glamor of Hong Kong, as we follow Joy waking up at 5am every day, hustling through the crowded streets of Hong Kong—away from her family, never catching a dream. She sits down on top of cardboard boxes on Sundays in Central and juggles taking care of her employer’s daughter and grandmother while selling power banks as a side job (which is actually illegal). Molina blends drama and clarity in portraying these hardships, and most importantly, tells the “whys.”
The Burden of Responsibility
“If you stop, you’ll starve”—that’s the reason why.
Joy, and thousands of other OFWs, endure these hardships to provide for their family back home—a message that the film strongly reinforces. We watch as Joy’s friend reminds her cousin to be smart with her money so she can have enough to send back to the Philippines, as the same friend tells her father that she’ll stay two more years because they need the money.
Domestic helpers only earn as little as HK$4,520 (US$576) per month, while working long hours. In Joy’s words, if you stop working, your family will starve. Making sacrifices is almost always a given—a harsh reality if you’re an OFW because you have a responsibility to your family back home. This responsibility that Joy carries is one that resonates with many other OFWs.
But OFWs carry out this responsibility at what expense?
Similar to Still Human, which also featured a Filipino domestic helper, Joy has a degree in nursing. In fact, nursing is a common degree among Filipinos with the hope of working overseas for better pay than what they can get back home. As it turns out, nursing is actually the dream that Joy wants to pursue, and being a domestic helper is just a stepping stone to that goal.
Then Ethan comes into the picture. While a movie following the plight of domestic helpers and OFWs doesn’t really need a romance story, the love story still has a purpose. Ethan’s character contrasts with Joy’s. While Joy is hardworking, determined, and knows what she wants in life, Ethan is a happy-go-lucky guy who jumps from one relationship to the next and doesn’t know what he wants in life.
But his character’s free-wheeling life also echoes Joy’s self-questioning of whether choosing ourselves over our family makes us a disappointment, or selfish.
Joy laments the lack of choice she has in life. As the family’s breadwinner, her family doesn’t know what she has to endure on a daily basis. A nursing graduate that cleans the toilet and eats leftover food—“I’m more than this job, I’m more, and I want to be more,” Joy says.
Surely, this sentiment reflects the many dreams of other overseas Filipino workers. They have dreams but they also have responsibilities that hold them back. Joy and Ethan’s romance show the heavy burdens and choices OFWs face on a daily basis. Even something as minor as buying a snack or not is difficult, because every dollar spent is a dollar you could have saved to give back to your family.
Dreams vs. Love
A common Filipino phrase, “libre lang mangarap,” tells us “it’s free to dream”. But Joy and Ethan realize, as they try to make their love work, that dreams aren’t free. When you make a choice, you give up something.
Joy and Ethan’s mutual romance story mirrors the same sentiments that their individual stories have: choices, responsibilities, and dreams.
Perhaps that’s the reason why the romance element works against the backdrop of an OFW story. In this sense, Hello, Love, Goodbye isn’t just a love story, nor is it just an OFW story—it’s a story about finding yourself, and loving yourself in the process. This universal message is something that will strike a chord with audiences.
Hello, Love, Goodbye‘s message is simple: give yourself the chance to do what you want, get back up from disappointments, be courageous enough to love and choose whether you want to leave or stay. The film doesn’t portray Bernardo and Alden as people to pity—it portrays them as human beings, with stories and experiences that empower them to ultimately choose how to pave their own way for their futures—with or without each other.
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Hello, Love, Goodbye—The Philippines. Dialog in Filipino and English. Directed by Cathy Garcia-Molina. First released July 31st, 2019. Running time 1 hour 58 minutes. Starring Kathryn Bernardo and Alden Richards.