Picture of Colleen Consorio

Colleen Consorio


Picture of Yzzabel Gache

Yzzabel Gache

Graphic Artist

Third World Romance: The Real Filipino Love Story

“Kahit pasukuin pa tayo ng sistema, ng buong mundo, ilalaban kita! Lalaban ako, kasama mo.”


For us Filipinos, the portrayal of romance in the media is muddled by sensationalist tropes of forbidden love due to social stature, long lost families, and endless agawans with sabunutans and sigawans to serve as the benchmark. These are a dime a dozen, but once in a while, a more mundane but genuine tale of love and survival can be found on the silver screen.


From Dwein Baltazar, the director of other known Filipino films in the indie scene such as “Oda sa Wala” and “Gusto Kita with All My Hypothalamus,” comes Third World Romance, the closing film at Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2023 that displayed the reality of the Philippines’ economic and political state beneath the surface of a typical romantic comedy. The film was released for streaming on Netflix last November 16, 2023.


It stars leading woman Charlie Dizon, known for her remarkable performance as the lead actress in Fangirl (2020), as a loud and blunt state university scholar undergraduate named Britney “Bree” Gatmaitan. She’s accompanied by her leading man and offscreen partner Carlo Aquino, an established longtime actor known from various romance and historical films, as an optimistic grocery bagger named Alvin “Vin” Tolentino. Together, they navigate through life as blue-collared lovers simply trying to achieve their goals of happiness even when everything comes at a price—which may be too high from their purely working class perspective.


The political undertone is established with their not-so-cute meet-cute, which is the term for a first encounter between two romantic partners in a story. At a line for essential aid, Bree urges Vin to steal the ayuda instead of waiting for another opportunity after being cut off, emphasizing that they earned the stolen share as taxpayers. The two grow closer together as Vin helps Bree earn a job at the grocery store he works at. As the bagger, Vin tends to carry Bree’s baggage in the relationship too. He does so without complaint, being compliant in all aspects of his life. On the other hand, Bree stands up for her beliefs and is not afraid to speak her mind. The two characters’ contrasting personalities were reasons to cause both harmony and contradiction in the relationship. They tell their stories in fitting settings, such as outside the typical commercial Korean Barbecue restaurants, eating only what their budget can afford as they can only fantasize about what lies behind the commonly populated establishments surrounding them.

Captured in well-thought-of cinematography paired with striking and naturally flowing dialogue, the plight of poverty is seen and tackled in the film without resorting to romanticizing it nor falling into the pit of despair as a major conflict is resolved by standing up against the grocery store’s exploitative branch supervisor. This was preceded by a climactic one-shot scene between the two leads, where internal practicality and external commitment clash. The famous two-minute scene is surely well worth the two-hour watch. Various concepts, such as “endo” and contractualization, Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs), missing overtime pays, ghost employees, double shifts, utang na loob, and the country’s state of labor in general are also incorporated into the story. Aside from Director Baltazar’s evident call to action regarding economic injustice in the Philippines, the normalization of LGBTQ+ characters was also dominant in Vin’s family composed of only queer members. 


Third World Romance may showcase the real Filipino love story, but it is by no means revolutionary or a game changer. Its themes can be seen in plenty other works of art, even expounded on to a more meaningful extent, yet its novelty lies in the craftsmanship found in producing an astonishing balance between palatable kilig-worthy romantic comedy and genuine socioeconomic commentary that can reach the hearts and minds of the Filipino community without the need for the usual dramatic and unrealistic cinematics. Bree and Vin show the delicate and pure proletariat love that blossoms despite the controversy involving the necessity of financial stability in romantic relationships, always begging the question, “can you afford to love?”—since in a developing country where the ideal monetary standing still cannot be met by individuals who work their bones off day and night, a fantastical romance can still be achieved; just not thrive without the need to stand up for both one’s partner and self in a system full of injustice. That, in life, we’d be lucky to have unconditional love and support to face an unlucky world.