Xian Lim: From actor to director

His new film Hello, Universe, whose script he also wrote, reveals the witty, wacky person inside the charming heartthrob

Xian Lim got busy last year not only as an actor but also as a film director.

With real-life girlfriend Kim Chiu, he played the role of an ex-boxer-turned-telemarketer who falls in love with an amiable blind woman portrayed by Chiu. The movie was “Always,” produced by Viva Films, and it’s actually a remake of a hit Korean movie shown 11 years ago.

The adaptation was shown in theaters in September (which means the movie was shot during the lockdown) when the country relaxed a bit its health protocols by allowing people to gather in one place but with “social distancing.”

That Lim was going to direct a film for Viva (which manages his career) was first announced in July 2022. The film, Hello, Universe, begins showing today, 25 January, in cinemas, after a premiere night at a Megamall cinema last Monday.

It’s now among the few Pinoy comedy films that we like and find meaningful. It’s also promoted as a fantasy movie merely because of a mysterious character named Jessie (Benjie Paras) who seems to be everywhere (which is actually how some spiritual groups take God to be).

Also starring Janno Gibbs, Anjo Yllana, Maui Taylor, the bombshell Sunshine Guimary, and Gene Padilla, the film did its best to show how the “Universe” works for humans who chronically regret throughout their life that they failed to fulfill their most ardent desires, making them feel unhappy and unsuccessful.

In some quarters, “universe” is written with a capital “U” to refer to God. In the movie, Gibbs’ (lead) character Ariel blurts out “Lord” once and only once: toward the end of the story, though the character and that of Paras’ genie-like character utter “universe” several times in the story.

The towering Paras, a former professional basketeer, is actually a mysterious driver named “Jessie” who turns up from out of the blue with a limousine-long jeep and offers Ariel (Janno) a ride to his (Ariel’s) home. Ariel accepts the offer, though Jessie drives him to another home — where Ariel would have lived had the basketball team he used to coach won the championship game in an inter-company tournament. It was Ariel’s biggest wish since, as a ballplayer in high school, he also failed the last-minute shot that could have made his team victorious. He has spent his life regretting that failure.

The home that Jessie drives Ariel to houses another wife for him, and another daughter. And it is an upscale dwelling, not the nondescript house where he lives with a wife, played by Maui Taylor in decent, non-seductive outfits.

The film’s script is also by Lim, who reveals the witty, wacky person inside him in the film’s dialogue and situations. His take on how the Universe influences human lives is mostly delivered through the film’s comic scenes involving Ariel and Jessie. Gibbs’ and Paras’ comical delivery of their lines makes the film sound un-preachy. The viewers may take such messages seriously or dismiss them as a joke.

I trust, though, that they’ll take them seriously. God is dynamic in our day-to-day lives, though many of us ignore how God powers up and shapes circumstances in our lives for our own ultimate good.

When the Universe denies us our dreams or desires, it’s leading us elsewhere that’s better for us. That “elsewhere” may be unimpressive to others, but it will be essential to our spiritual evolution.
That’s what we took the film’s happy message to be.

Hello, Universe is a comeback team-up for Gibbs and Yllana, who plays Gibbs’ childhood friend and later officemate in a fertilizer marketing firm whose basketball team has Janno as its coach. The wacky tandem of Janno and Anjo started 25 years ago in GMA 7’s Ober da Bakod.

Lim attended the 17th scriptwriting workshop of Ricky Lee (yes, the newly minted National Artist for Literature and Broadcast Arts) to prepare himself for his dream of becoming a screenwriter of the very movies he dreams of directing.

Lim confided in a media huddle that the story of Hello, Universe is based on his experience playing basketball and trying to make it as a professional hoops player. “That was the dream for me, and it didn’t happen,” he said.

Hello, Universe is definitely worth watching, even if at least one of its long jokes is not original.

Lim made his directorial debut in the 2019 Cinemalaya movie Tabon. He also directed the series Pasabuy in 2021 for an online streaming platform, and helmed an adaptation of the play Ibong Adarna that was screened at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. He has also directed one episode of the GMA 7 drama anthology Wish Ko Lang.

Lim is dreaming of directing his girlfriend next, in a film that may or may not pair them up in a love story. He believes in Chiu’s depth and versatility as an actor.

Another Hello, Universe
By the way, Viva Films’ Hello, Universe has nothing to do with a forthcoming Netflix  live-action family movie also called Hello, Universe, whose production was announced in May 2019.

The Netflix film is based on the 2018 Newberry Award-winning and New York Times bestselling novel of the same title by Erin Entrada Kelly, a Fil-American whose mother is from Cebu.
Playwright and screenwriter Michael Golamco (Always Be My Maybe) adapted the book, and Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi (Fruitvale Station, Roxanne Roxanne) of Significant Productions will produce.

Its storyline is as follows: When a bully’s antics land a timid boy in the bottom of a well, his self-proclaimed psychic friend and unknowing crush team up to find him.

The 2019 publicity on Hello, Universe said the story is a funny and poignant neighborhood story about unexpected friendships. Told from four intertwining points of view — two boys and two girls — the novel celebrates bravery, being different, and finding your inner bayani (hero). It is published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books.

This Hello, Universe joins Netflix’s growing slate of live-action movies featuring kids and teens and made for families, which includes the upcoming comedy Tall Girl, directed by Nzingha Stewart (Grey’s Anatomy, A Million Little Things), written by Sam Wolfson (Andi Mack, Finding Carter), and produced by Wonderland’s McG, Mary Viola, and Corey Marsh.

There’s also A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, directed by Rachel Talalay (Netflix’s Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Riverdale) and based on author Joe Ballarini’s novel of the same name.

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