MANILA, Philippines — Notwithstanding the repeated lockdowns in this two-year pandemic, stars emerged and made names for themselves in many digital films that were streamed online. Thanks to Vivamax, the digital streaming platform that produced a number of titles and stars since it was launched in January last year.

Directors became daring enough to also tread the path and worked at the helm of sexy films, without the censors questioning them or breathing down their necks, much to their relief. Multi-awarded megman, Joel Lamangan, is one of them.

Sean de Guzman is one name that soared to stardom this pandemic. Undoubtedly. He started in male pageants then segued to his big break on virtual screen in director Joel Lamangan’s steamy drama, Anak ng Macho Dancer, shown last year. In only a year, Sean has done close to 10 films and he cannot be any prouder.

He has charted four titles with direk Joel already. After Anak ng Macho Dancer, he starred in Lockdown, Bekis On the Run and the forthcoming Island of Desire to start showing April 1.

Not to ignore are Sean’s other Vivamax Originals like Roman Perez, Jr.’s Taya and Hugas, Lawrence Fajardo’s Mahjong Nights and Nerisa — where he undoubtedly caught the audience’s attention, making him an in-demand actor. Sean plays Lelong, the good-looking and strong guy in Isla Bato in Island of Desire.

Among the names shining in the virtual limelight is Rash Flores, who’s making himself known in series and films that will make audiences fall for his charisma. Rash starred in Vivamax titles like director Darryl Yap’s Pornstar 2: Pangalawang Putok and director Brillante Mendoza’s Palitan. In Island of Desire, Rash plays the character of Carlo.

Jela Cuenca starred as Nona in Taya and many Vivamax hit original movies like Palitan, Mac Alejandre’s Silip sa Apoy, and Victor Villanueva’s Boy Bastos. She plays the midwife, Tess, of Isla Bato in Island of Desire.

Christine Bermas is another name that gained prominence in many daring films this pandemic. A former member of the all-female sing and dance group, Bella Donnas, she was cast in direk Joel’s films like Silab, Ang Huling Baklang Birhen sa Balat ng Lupa and starred as the main protagonist in Moonlight Butterfly and Perez’s Siklo.

Christine plays the alluring private nurse, Martha, in Island of Desire.

Christine cannot be thankful enough that this pandemic brought her recognition in many digital films. “’’Yung pinaka-the best na nangyari sa akin this pandemic, dito talaga nag-start ang acting career ko,” Christine admitted. “With direk Joel din at nagsunod-sunod na.”

Similarly, Jela is thankful to Viva for giving her the breaks and starting her acting career just this pandemic. “They’ve helped me a lot,” Jela granted.

Christine with co-star Jela Cuenca in between takes for the Vivamax film.

Sean is another star thankful to direk Joel for starting his acting venture on the digital screen. “He opened the door for me to do film,” Sean said of the veteran director. “Lumakas ang faith ko sa Diyos. Dati hindi naman ako madasalin. Ngayon, lahat ng gawin ko, sinasamahan ko ng dasal.”

Rash also agreed the best thing that happened to him this pandemic is joining showbiz. He said, “Bilang baguhang artista, ang mga humawak sa akin, mga de-kalibreng director like direk Joel Lamangan.”

Although the title is similar to Elwood Perez’s film in 1990 and the South Korean sexy drama shown in 2017, direk Joel clarified his Island of Desire is an original story with a very different plot.

He purposely shot the film using a different color grading in black and white to highlight the different realities in the story. “Dalawa ang realidad sa pelikula — isa ang totoo na nangyari sa kasalukuyan,” direk Joel explained. “At isa na maaring mangyari sa buhay niya kung sakali.

“I intentionally changed the color grading to help viewers understand the story of the film. With the help of our writer, Troy Espiritu, we were able to create and complete a story that we’d like to share with the audience.”

The last two years, direk Joel not only became brave amid the quarantine measures and protocols. “Hindi ko inalintana na baka magkasakit ako,” he allowed.

“I mustered up the courage because I knew many people needed a job, especially in the industry I belong to. Kami ay nag-usap-usap na tapangan lang namin ang aming mga sarili at mag-ingat.”

The first film he did was Lockdown in 2021. “Talagang naglakas-loob kami na gawin ang pelikula kahit na may COVID pa para hindi makaranas ng gutom ang maraming tao. Napatunayan naman namin na maaring mangyari. Nagpapasalamat ako wala naman nagkasakit sa amin.”

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