Into the Heart of Ho Chi Minh City
By Leah C. Salterio
The Philippine Star 07/04/2005
Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam ï¿½ Filipinos who have lived long enough since the 1950s would perhaps associate this quaint and historic city, formerly called Saigon, with the unpleasant ravages of war, which fortunately ended three decades ago. Once known as the "Pearl of the Far East," this city today is not only a commercial and cultural hub, but also a scientific and industrial center, named in honor of the leader of the Communist forces during the war.
Todayï¿½s generation, however, would most likely remember Saigon as the backdrop of the world-famous musical, Miss Saigon, where Lea Salonga originated the award-winning role of a Vietnamese girl who falls in love with an American soldier during the war.
Recently, the city became the production locale of ABS-CBNï¿½s upcoming drama series, Vietnam Rose, which stars Maricel Soriano as a Vietnamese girl traumatized by the Vietnam war and later moves to the Philippines where she is adapted by a Filipina mother. She is supported by a host of other first-rate talents. The series, set to air sometime in August, marks Maricelï¿½s return to the drama genre following her critically-acclaimed anthology, Maricel Drama Special, which folded up more than a decade ago.
ABS-CBN recently flew a 35-member team of stars, production staff and crew to the city to tape Vietnam Rose, with multi-awarded megman Joel Lamangan at the helm, Don Cuaresma as second unit director, Monino Duque as lighting director, Cathy Perez as production manager, Desirey Fernandez-Juan as executive producer and Joey Luna as wardrobe consultant (who also doubled up as makeup artist).
Two months before the actual taping, Direk Joel and his production staff went to Vietnam to do an ocular of the significant spots that would merit important scenes in the drama series. The scenic sights in the city as well as in the outskirts were also explored to give an authentic feel to the series.
"Bilib ako kay Direk Joel," said Vietnam Rose executive producer Desirey Fernandez-Juan. "He remembered every place we went to prior to the shoot and kung ano ang mga nakita namin doon. He knew where he previously saw a bridge and he knew where that particular location would fit in the shoot."
In the past, adapting Southeast Asian telenovelas has become a programming trend on ABS-CBN since the airing of Meteor Garden, which was followed by Lovers in Paris and Memories of Bali, among others. The said Asian programs have tickled the fancy of teenagers and housewives alike.
This time, however, ABS-CBN comes up with its own take on Southeast Asian culture. Thus, Vietnam Rose, a new teleserye about the journey of a Vietnamese woman, Yeu/Carina (Maricel), who is caught between two worlds and two loves. As a child, she learns to embrace life in the Philippines and struggles to forget her tragic past in Vietnam. But only by taking courage to face the past will she find where her heart truly lies.
The taping was hampered by intermittent rains, which made it not feasible for the stars and crew to do some of the required exterior shots. But throughout the shoot, the directors and the stars never lost their cool and simply went on to work, rain or shine.
Aside from Maricel, other stars of the drama series who joined the taping in Vietnam were Jay Manalo, Ricky Davao, Angelica Panganiban, AJ Dee and Jason Abalos.
In the story written by Ricky Lee, Maricel plays a Vietnamese boat lady who leaves her country when the war ended and after witnessing how her father (Luis Alandy) gets brutally killed by a doctor (Ricky Davao). She gets adopted by a Filipina (Chanda), who raises her in the Philippines. While on the boat to Manila, Carina meets a Vietnamese guy (Jay), who saves her when she goes overboard and nearly drowns. But fate separates the two and years later, Carina marries a rich businessman (John Estrada) and gives birth to a daughter (Michelle Madrigal).
Angelica plays Maricelï¿½s half sister, who gets torn between two boysï¿½AJ Dee as her Vietnamese boyfriend and Jayson Abalos as the Filipino whoï¿½s in love with her. Completing the star-studded cast are Gina Alajar as Rickyï¿½s wife, Joseph Bitangcol as the son of Maricelï¿½s housekeeper who falls in love with Michelle and Luis Alandy in a special role as Maricelï¿½s dad. Christopher Peralta plays the young Ricky.
"This is my first soap opera," Maricel said. "I did Maricel Drama Special before for 10 years, but that was a weekly show. This (Vietnam Rose) is different because viewers will see me on TV every day. I thought hard before accepting this project because I know itï¿½s not easy to do a soap opera. But as we go along, you appreciate more what youï¿½re doing and the more it becomes important to you. This is also a challenge for me, because doing a soap is like doing a film. Itï¿½s very different from a sitcom, which I used to do."
Maricel disclosed the script of Vietnam Rose was first sent to her talent manager, Wyngard Tracy, who went over Ricky Leeï¿½s latest work. Then Wyngard passed on the script to Maricel and said, "Basahin mo muna. Hindi muna ko magko-comment. Letï¿½s see if we have the same remarks."
After Maricel had read the script, she immediately called up Wyngard to tell him that she likes the project, exactly the same sentiment that her manager had after going over the script. "In fact, we were gushing over the same scenes that we liked," she shared. "If Wyngard thinks the project is good for me, I trust his judgment and follow him."
The award-winning actress cannot be thankful enough that ABS-CBN has trusted her with a soap opera. "This project is a big blessing for me," Maricel said. "After doing sitcoms for years, Iï¿½m now given a teleserye. Iï¿½m also thankful that I have been given a chance to work with Direk Joel in a significant series like Vietnam Rose. Heï¿½s a very good director."
Since Maricel did Abandonada with Direk Joel five years ago, the two have worked together in four other filmsï¿½Mano Po 1 filmed in Beijing, Mila (with Piolo Pascual), Filipinas and I Will Surviveï¿½thus prompting others to notice their winning tandem and tag Maricel as Direk Joelï¿½s "favorite actress." In fact, Maricel won Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical for I Will Survive at the Golden Screen Awards early this year. Vietnam Rose is her first TV project, though, with Direk Joel.
With her leading man, Jay, Maricel has previously worked in four filmsï¿½Mano Po, Filipinas, Abandonada and I Will Surviveï¿½also all under Direk Joel. The Vietnam taping marks Jayï¿½s homecoming to his birthplace which he left when he was only three after his family moved to Thailand. It was in Saigon where Jay was born 30 years ago.
Ricky Davao is a veteran of soap operas, having starred in TV classics like Flordeluna and Manila (directed by the late Ishmael Bernal). He also did more recent teleseryes with ABS-CBN like Kay Tagal Kitang Hinintay, Mula sa Puso and Spirits.
Angelica had her first foray in the soap series with Pamilya Zaragoza, where she played the granddaughter of Gloria Romero and the daughter of Jaclyn Jose. Angelica was next cast in the Judy Ann Santos-Piolo Pascual soap, Sa Puso Ko Iingatan Ka. This was followed by her daring role in another Piolo starrer, Mangarap Ka.
In Vietnam Rose, Angelica plays Maricelï¿½s half sister. "Iï¿½m really very happy that I was included in this project," Angelica said. "I have a very good role here and I get to work with really good stars."
For her latest TV role, Angelica has to deliver her lines in Vietnamese, something which is really challenging for her. Direk Joel notes the young actress is very good in delivering her Vietnamese dialogue, with only a language consultant on the set to guide her. "I have to talk in Vietnamese during my confrontation scenes with Maricel and also when Iï¿½m with AJ," Angelica said.
Filming in another country is nothing new to Direk Joel. Previously, he did the Sarah Balabagan Story in Bahrain, the Flor Contemplacion Story in Singapore, Filipinas in Israel, Mano Po 1 in Beijing and Mano Po 3 in Shanghai. Vietnam Rose marks the first time, however, that he is taping abroad for a TV drama series.
The multi-awarded director admits he had a hand in choosing the cast members of his newest TV project. "All the stars in this soap, even the younger ones, are very good," Direk Joel noted. "AJ has the interest and passion to learn. For me, thatï¿½s a plus factor, aside from his great potential to become a really good actor. Jason registers well on the (small) screen. He reminds me of Richard Gomez when Goma was Jasonï¿½s age. Joseph amazes me and so does Michelle. Angelica is consistently good."
Cast and crew shot at the historic Chua Vinh Nghiem Buddhist pagoda and seven-storey classic style tower, the Lam Son Square which is named after a 19th century king, the Notre Dame Cathedral (which is a smaller replica of Parisï¿½ own) and the Ben Thanh market where one can find the best bargains and souvenir items, from hand-woven bags, embroidered table cloths and bed sheets to authentic Vietnamese food, silk paintings, lacquerware vases and marble figurines.
The team also explored the Mekong Delta district with its famous floating market, houses on stilts and the river leading to Cambodia. It is in the same river where US warships used to dock and Vietnamese infantry troops launched a powerful conventional offensive and guerilla warfare tactics against the Americans.
Then, too, Vietnam Rose taped scenes at the War Remnants Museum, where one can find some of the most gruesome chapters in Vietnam war history with graphic displays of countless photographs, articles and artifacts documenting the events. In the courtyard are planes, bombs, helicopters and tanks which remind guests of the shocking and brutal effects of the war. Inside the museum are US armored vehicles, artillery pieces, bombs, infantry weapons and even a guillotine used by the French.
"This is drama with magic realism that reacts with the emotions of the lead stars," said Direk Joel of Vietnam Rose. "There are minimal special effects to underline emotions and sentiments. The magic comes out as nature also reacts to the emotions. When Maricel is happy, the flowers bloom, the sun shines or birds and butterflies fly. When sheï¿½s sad, the flowers wither or it rains. The weather also reacts to the emotions of the two other female starsï¿½Angelica and Michelle. It will really be a different viewing experience."
Posted on Nov 5, 2006, 7:16 PM from IP address 22.214.171.124