Ricky Lee, Contributions to Society

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The following information is based on our interview done with Ricky Lee. It was for our Spotlight on the Filipino Author (SOFA), a major requirement in our English subject, under our teacher, Ms. Diane Frances L. Sales. -- Ryan Madrid and Farud Alonto, 4K Ateneo De Manila High School Batch 2009


Background on the author

Ricardo Lee grew up with his relatives in Daet, Camarines Norte, Bicol. Recalling his youth, Lee regards his being an adopted and introverted child as an avenue for the development of his writing. Much of his interest then was devoted to reading books, watching movies, and, of course, crafting his own stories. It was in his fourth year of high school when he realized his calling for writing. He composed a short story and sent it to the Philippine Free Press. During that time, the magazine’s editor, Bienvenido Medina, Jr., was the one who accepted the story and published it in one of their issues. Lee received accordingly an amount of money for his short story, and he used this money to leave Daet and pursue greener pastures in Manila.

In Manila, Lee continued his studies in the University of the Philippines under the course of BA English. To keep his finances stable, Lee entered various jobs such as being a waiter, salesman, accounting clerk, and English and Math tutor just to survive in the metro. Of course, he maintained his fire for the literary arts as he kept close contact with the Philippine Free Press and sent his stories to the magazine, which eventually awarded him 1st and 3rd places in two of their writing contests. During his graduating year in U.P., the martial law was implemented and Lee dropped out of college and became active in rallying against the Marcos regime. Ironically, he eventually became a professor in that university.


How the writer contributes to society

Growing up in Bicol through financial difficulty, and also having been involved in activist movements during his college years, Ricky Lee says that most of his writings have always had a social dimension. He cites as an example the scripts he wrote during the 80’s that tackled women’s issues and gender/gay issues. He created progressive characters in order to destroy society’s degrading stereotype of these kinds of people. Looking back, Lee likens himself to a camera lens: one who gives focus and sheds light onto the people whom are rarely given a voice, space, and attention in society, and creates for them a better and more dignified image.

Aside from his body of works, Lee is also proud of the various classes and workshops that he has given, which, for most of it, were done for free. His workshops, Lee says, were able to introduce the mass media to his students who are scattered today throughout studios, film companies, and TV and radio stations. He says that it was very hard to do all this, but it was nevertheless also a source of pride and fulfillment for him. He believes that his students who are also able to contribute to society increase his own contributions ten-fold.

Of course, being an author of his own language and culture, Lee is an advocate of Philippine literature as well as the Filipino writers who create it. During his involvement in activist movements, Lee vowed to always write in Filipino, despite the fact that he was studying under an English course. He dreams that libraries and bookstores will have more shelves for locally published books rather than just having one section for it as opposed to the wide selection of foreign literature. He hopes that one day, a book may become just as popular as a blockbuster movie, that people will always have a locally written book on hand, that students will read local authors not just because it is required of them in school.

Lastly, being part of the entertainment industry, Lee believes that his field of work is not far from education. In fact, for him, education and entertainment are two inseparable things because with education, he, just like his fellow writers, is able to affect his audience’s consciousness. And being a highly-exposed author, he has to always be careful of the words he writes and the ideas he imparts. Thus, Lee believes that every author’s job is to first set their consciousness in the proper direction before influencing others with their writings.


Commentary on authors' works

      Para Kay B
     comment by Ryan Madrid

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Patrons of literature may admit either with disgust or a calm resignation that our culture is just a toilet bowl mix of foreign cultures, whether from historical colonization or influence of modern media. And countering this hybrid culture, most schools have been employing communication arts programs that focus on literature that is able to give identity to its nation – American literature for America, Filipino literature for the Philippines. But for script writer-novelist Ricky Lee, the issue of our mixed culture is viewed with more optimism.

Fallaciously, the book tries to prove a theory on love: four out of every five lovers are unsuccessful at finding the right one. To illustrate this theory, five outright love stories involving five highly contrasting and highly comical main characters who, by Lee’s twisted imagination, are thrown towards their love’s devastation. The personality of the major and minor characters, the description of the various settings, and the language used all highlight modern culture-mixed Philippines as we know it today. And as the book is presenting all these, the readers will also be baffled with a very uncanny style of writing. Most writers try to strike the elegance and beauty of words, but Lee doesn’t mind dismissing all these conventions and smashing the very mold of modern Filipino writing (which may have been influenced by American literature). He also mixes the use of English and Filipino codes that are common in today’s colloquial language, which Lee considers with great importance in order to achieve his vision, which is not only in order to cater to a wider market, but to invite all kinds of people to have a book on hand.

Para Kay B is a very good read. It’s potential to intrigue the average Filipino reader is so immense that the book and its stories are definite to make a mark in the heart of any reader. The book takes its readers to different places, to different emotions, and even through the eyes of people who could either be a reflection or a perfect contrast of oneself. Making its readers giggle on every other page, the very witty humor of the author is also reflected as it works in tandem with his characteristic writing style.

Ricky Lee is also very nationalistic, especially when it comes to his writing. He envisions Para Kay B to be patronized by all kinds of people throughout the economic strata. He dreams that his book will occupy the hands of people waiting in jeeps and MRT trains, the employed and the unemployed, and students of all levels. And this is exactly what the Lee is able to do: give the people something nice to read; something that can make the culture-cynic proud and the happy-go-lucky elevated.


      Himala
      comment by Faruddin Alonto

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Ricky Lee has always been a great writer. He has done scripts, editorials, and a novel. One of his famous works is the film Himala (1982). The film is about a woman who sees visions about the Virgin Mary and changes her life forever. I believe that the film is one of the best because it has made a great impact on Filipinos during the 80’s, and has garnered a lot of awards both local and abroad.

Himala (1982) revolves around Elsa, a woman who started seeing visions of the Virgin Mary. With the vision of the Virgin Mary, she began healing the people in their small barrio. The news spreading around so fast, tourist started to visit the miraculous healer, Elsa. Things were starting to be sound and peaceful. Then, one night, Elsa and her friend Chayong were raped in the hill. Bad things started to occur. There was a cholera epidemic. With the cholera and confusions, may people died. Then one afternoon, Elsa called all the townspeople for an assembly. She said that there is no miracle, the people were the only ones that are making such things and that there is no miracle. After proclaiming that there is no miracle, Elsa was shot by a man. The film ended with people running and dying because of the stampede.

During the early 70’s to 80’s when the Martial Law was in effect under the Marcos regime, people don’t have the voice to tell the government what violent actions the government has been doing. After the Martial Law has been abolished last 1981, people regained their rights of speech except for women. The film was to show the people and shed light on the women to regain their rights in the society.

The film, because of its excessive message and great impact on the Filipino viewers it has won various awards both local and abroad. It has won the 1982 Metro Manila Film Fest Awards. It is the first Filipino Film to be included in the “Competition Section” of the prestigious Berlin International Film Festival (Wikipedia). It recently won the 2008 CNN Asia Pacific Screen Awards Viewers Choice Award for Best Asia-Pacific Film of all Time.

Because of the great impact that has struck most of its viewers with its enticing message and awards it has received from 1982 to present, Himala (1982) has been hailed one of the best Filipino Films of all time. Up to now, it can still be viewed in local channels and stage play versions.