Hot young Filipino pop stars join forces to excellent effect in “Hello, Love Goodbye,” a romantic drama with an extraordinary setting: Hong Kong’s community of Filipino domestic workers.
The movie, which topped the box office when it opened in July in the Philippines (some reports say it broke first-day ticket sales records there), stars 23-year-old acting-singing veteran Kathryn Bernardo as Joy, who struggles to make ends meet as she cleans, cooks and takes care of a Chinese family that includes an elderly granny and special needs girl. She also looks out for her own split-up family, with her mom remarried to a Chinese man in Hong Kong, and her dad in the Philippines.
To bolster her earnings, which she sends to her parents, she and her fun, talkative friends have another hustle: They illegally sell goods on the street.
It’s a hectic, no-win lifestyle, but it won’t last. Foreign workers in Hong Kong toil under contract, with harsh rules, but Joy, who’s trained in nursing, plans to move to Canada after her gig concludes.
Additional complications come up when she takes yet a third job, also illegally, and Ethan (pop phenomenon Alden Richards), the bartender there, comes to her aid when she’s on the run, kissing him to throw off authorities who are chasing her.
Ethan then pursues Joy relentlessly, and at first she declines. But she gives in, and their journey together begins.
Bernardo, Philippines “queen of hearts” and “queen of the box office” — typically paired onscreen with her real-life sweetheart Daniel Padilla — and Richards are undeniably adorable. (Fans and showbiz industry experts note that their coupling represents the unusual coming together of major stars from the Philippines’ two big rival media companies, ABS-CBN and GMA.)
Despite their charisma, the best thing about “Hello, Love Goodbye” isn’t their burgeoning romance, which suffers from cliché, as do some of Joy’s and Ethan’s family dynamics, particularly as the story unfolds during a slightly stretched, nearly two-hour running time.
On the other hand, scenes of bustling life on the streets of Hong Kong, in the places Joy and Ethan work, in family homes and restaurants, and of Joy and her friends commiserating about their trials, but also gossiping and laughing, are terrific.
A funny beauty pageant segment has Joy and her pals jovially competing for top honors, with Joy amusingly displaying no singing talent.
With an eye toward expanding to audiences beyond Filipinos, studio heads are promoting the heck out of “Hello, Love Goodbye” — the film’s cute stars visited San Francisco this week — and it makes good sense. The movie offers to mainstream America a compelling, detailed, compassionate look at the little-known lives, and hopes, of domestic workers.
Hello, Love Goodbye
Starring: Kathryn Bernardo, Alden Richards
Written by: Carmi Raymundo
Directed by: Cathy Garcia-Molina
Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes