Princess and I has two things going for it; the talented Kathryn Bernardo as the lead and one of the title characters and the beautiful location shots of seldom-seen on TV Bhutan. Otherwise, ABS-CBN’s newest drama is something we’ve all seen before.
Princess and I begins in the fictional Asian kingdom of Yangdon where King Anand (Albert Martinez) has married Filipina doctor Isabel (guest star Precious Lara Quigaman), who eventually gives birth to their daughter Ariya. But Ashi Behati (Gretchen Barretto), also of royal blood and wife of Yangdon’s 2nd highest ranking official, covets the crown for her own son Jao and plots to get rid of both Isabel and Ariya. She is able to make Isabel disappear and send Ariya to the Philippines where she gets taken in by a poor family and given the name Mikay.
Unknowing of her royal lineage, Mikay grows up a street and school smart young girl as her father is left a lonely king with Ashi Behati steps closer to having her son take over as ruler of the kingdom. And of course, Mikay is ready to fall in love and soon embark on what should be a roller coaster of a journey to finding out her true identity.
Aside from the royal aspect, this is all something we’ve seen before. A privileged child separated from her family only to grow up in a poor family until she learns of the riches that await her. It’s foreign setting of Yangdon by way of Bhutan gives it that one thing that makes it not another retread. And if anything, this is the closest the Philippines will get to their own royal soap opera the likes of which are so prevalent in the neighboring Korea, Japan and China (many of which have become popular in the archipelago as well).
Now one hopes this will be a much better star vehicle and much less of a clusterfrak as Mara Clara was for Kathryn, who truly broke through with short, but impactful roles in ABS-CBN’s Magkaribal and GMA’s Endless Love.
But Princess and I has the makings of a standard Filipino soap. Standards and formula the Filipino audience eats up.
The first week was quick-paced, bogged down only by the unnecessary Filipino/Tagalog “dubbing” of whatever language the characters of Yangdon speak. Instead of making up nonsense words for an entirely new language with subtitles translating the dialogue, having the Yangdon people speaking in Tagalog would probably be more accepted and less laughed at than the faux-dubbing that makes the series look almost like one of those parodies of Japanese films. At least try to make the “dubbing” appear more natural. It can be done with real Japanese and Korean dramas which are oh so popular in the Philippines, why not at least sync the dubbing with the mumbo jumbo the actors are actually speaking in scenes.
While the first week setup was solid, yet far from groundbreaking, the faux-dubbing being the biggest and most memorable takeaway from the series is not a good thing.
This first week did, however, reinforce the notion that Filipino dramas with children as the main characters and center of the action (in non-violent situations, mind you) are many times much more interesting and enjoyable than when the characters eventually grow up. Led by Casey Bacayo and 100 Days‘ Louise Abuel as the young Mikay and Jao, respectively, the scenes of the kids juggling being kids with responsibility (whether royal or not) were great. And are especially enjoyable when the young talent are naturals at what they do.
Like Agua Bendita which collapsed as soon as its title characters grew up or like Iglot and Biritera which slow down and become less interesting when taking focus away from the kids and instead on stereotypical “grown-up” soapiness, Princess and I may run the risk of turning a fairy tale into a standard Filipino teen angst drama
With a solid cast, Princess and I isn’t reinventing the wheel, but great foreign visuals and the opportunity for a young talent like Kathryn Bernardo to shine make up for any hilariously bad dubbing and run-of-the-mill writing the show may have.