This is part of FRINGE MAGAZINE’s coverage of Cinemalaya 2018. Themed “Wings of Vision”, the 14th iteration of the annual indie film fest is said to continue to “discover, encourage and support the cinematic works of upcoming and veteran Filipino filmmakers who boldly articulate and freely interpret the Philippine experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity.” So here’s a closer look at whether the films do exactly that.
The flick already received good to really good reviews (e.g. Variety) before it was released in the Philippines, so expectations were high. I’m talking of Erik Matti’s latest offering BuyBust, of course, which opened Cinemalaya 2018.
A tidbit: The flick, according to the commercially viable Matti, is a “full circle” moment for him since he’s been part of Cinemalaya twice – first in 2015 with Honor Thy Father, and then again in 2016 with Seklusyon. And if Cinemalaya can “prove” that indie filmmakers can also “conquer” the mainstream, then – yes – Matti’s BuyBust may be a good “proof” of this.
But it’s a yes and a no for me.
On the one hand, if “making it” means mimicking Hollywood (or what works in Hollywood), then BuyBust attains this.
On the other hand, however, if you’re looking for non-formulaic flick, then BuyBust will only partially satisfy you.
And I suppose I fall into the latter category.
Okay, in a gist, BuyBust is a Hollywood-ized FPJ flick, this time using a female Bourne-type actress in Anne Curtis. Really, it is but one long overly-choreographed fight scene.
Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) is a new member of a Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) team. She’s the only one with a background (at least a little). That is, the team she used to belonged to was completely wiped out during an operation. Many around her (and even Manigan herself) see her as “malas (jinxed).”
Manigan’s superiors Dela Cruz (Lao Rodriguez) and Alvarez (Nonie Buencamino) roughed up a drug gang member named Teban (Alex Calleja) for him to squeal on his big boss, Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). When Teban agreed, Manigan’s team was sent.
Manigan’s team was, eventually, led to a part of Tondo. And here, everything goes… WILD.
- That Curtis managed to appear like a PDEA agent tops this list. At least until you hear her screechy voice, she actually sold the part – complete with the de-glammed look, that she didn’t look silly carrying a weapon thicker than her skinny frame, or that her action scenes weren’t awkward.
- With the aforementioned, fight director Sonny Sison’s staging needs to be recognized. If you’re big on choreography – no matter how stage-y – then this will be a plus point for you.
- Cinematographer Neil Derrick Bion’s work needs to be cited. While not perfect (he likes to “tell” not “show”), it’s more than sufficient.
- Matti got good people here – from Brandon Vera to Victor Neri to Arjo Atayde to Levi Ignacio to… even the extras). Some characters aren’t useful to the story (e.g. Joross Gamboa’s caricature of a character comes to mind), but generally speaking, who’s onscreen work okay.
- If you really, REALLY consider the truths tackled by the flick, that we’re still in a fucked place/country; and no amount of glamorizing ought to make us forget this.
- Curtis’ voice. I almost believe her in the role… until she squeaks.
- The storyline’s thin. And – for that matter – this is NOT a new story particularly for Filipinos.
The Variety reviewer stated that “it looks certain to spark controversy”.
Me as a Filipino: Not really.
Because we already know there are scalawags in uniform; and that there are uniformed men and women who benefit from drugs (and the eventual “war on drugs”). FPJ films told us these ages ago. Just as we also already know Tondo is a “dangerous place”; the place has been typecast as such since forever. And just as we know that poverty porn works well with international audience.
- There were continuity issues – e.g. a bloodied guy drinks water and spits blood in a glass; then the water clears in the next shot.
- Check the “improbable” – e.g. they were on a roof riddled with holes, and, even if it’s raining, the two people they saw in the house under them were sound asleep and were dry. There was also a war happening around them, and the same two people were still sound asleep (!). And yes, EVERY SINGLE SOUL in Tondo are trained fighters (LOL).
- Some people say this shows the futility and stupidity of the “war on drugs” (check #2). But this can actually also be taken to justify why this is needed. After all, the film showed that poor people are coddlers of drug manufacturers; and if you disturb them, they’d kill you. With this reasoning, Matti is saying that killing them all – drug pushers and coddlers – is justifiable. Manigan sure did…
- The FPJ treatment. You know the stories they tell about FPJ, right; that in some cinemas, people identify with his character so much, and the difficulties he goes through, so that by the time he fights back and actually wins, people cheer out loud. That’s the same here. Manigan just won’t die; and so – knowing that – you have to put up with around two hours of her being abused, so that every time she fights back and wins, you breathe a sigh of relief and even cheer for her. It’s manipulative that way. It worked for FPJ; for many people in the audience, it works for Curtis here, too, apparently.
IN THE END
Don’t get me wrong; This is NOT a bad film.
Perhaps particularly since – for the longest time – we’ve only been bombarded by woman-chasing-man or woman-fighting-another-woman-for-a-man or the-other-woman-fighting-with-the-wife flicks.
As one moviegoer told me right after the film showing: “Salamat naman di na naghahabol ng lalaki si girl (Thank God the story didn’t revolve around a woman running after a man)!” That Curtis was “going after” a man in BuyBust NOT for romance was, indeed, refreshing.
But I’ll stand by my summation of this flick – i.e. that it’s Hollywood-ized FPJ flick, this time using a female Bourne-type actress in Anne Curtis; it’s one long overly choreographed fight scene.
If this is what tickles your fancy, you’d like this. If not, you’ve been warned.
Running time: 127 MIN.
STARRING: Anne Curtis, Brandon Vera, Victor Neri, Arjo Atayde, Levi Ignacio, Alex Calleja, Lao Rodriguez, Nonie Buencamino, Ricky Pascua, Joross Gamboa, Sheenly Gener, Mara Lopez, Tarek El Tayech, Maddie Martinez
PRODUCTION: (The Philippines) A Well Go USA Entertainment (in U.S.), Reality Entertainment (in Philippines) release of a Reality Entertainment, Viva Films production. (International sales: XYZ Films, Los Angeles.) Producers: Vincent Del Rosario, Veronique Del Rosario-Corpus, Erik Matti. Executive producers: Vic Del Rosario, Jr., Ronald “Dondon” Monteverde
CREW: Director: Erik Matti. Screenplay: Anton Santamaria, Matti. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Neil Derrick Bion. Editor: Jay Halili. Music: Erwin Romulo, Malek Lopez