An Honest Review Of 'BuyBust'

Get ready for a kickass heroine, neon lights, and leopard-print pants.
PHOTO: Facebook/Buy Bust Movie

The Long Plot, Sans Spoilers

Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) is a new member of Captain Bernie Lacson’s (Victor Neri) police squad. Nina may be a highly skilled combatant, but she is a woman haunted by her past and struggles to become a team player. Shortly after recruitment, Director Alvarez (Nonie Buencamino) assigned their team to undergo an anti-drug “buy bust” (title drop!) operation to capture the elusive Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). Detective Dela Cruz (Lao Rodriguez) leads the mission and they decide to use the druglord’s associate named Teban (Alex Calleja), who’s currently in their custody, as bait.

Later that night, the whole team travels to a settlement called Gracia ni Maria in order to execute the exchange. Unfortunately, things don’t go exactly as planned. The police squad ends up trapped inside the slums while being hunted down by the druglord’s many minions. The time is ticking so Nina and her squad must find a way to escape before it’s too late.

The Short, Honest Plot

A badass female police officer has one hell of a rough night as she parkours her way across shanties and sloshes from extreme flooding (the dire effects of a faulty drainage system) while fending off almost everyone else trying to kill her. And as the night wears on, she gets progressively more beaten-up and even more done with everyone’s B.S. while the bystander effect is in full swing.

The Actors And Where You Last Saw Them

Anne Curtis as Nina Manigan 

You’ve seen her as a regular host of Showtime and you've probably used her lippies from BLK Cosmetics. Earlier this year, Anne starred alongside Dingdong Dantes in Sid & Aya: Not a Love Story.

 

Brandon Vera as Rico Yatco 

Buy Bust is Brandon Vera’s first starring role in a major motion picture in the Philippines. The MMA fighter’s first local acting role was in the GMA series Kamandag starring Richard Gutierrez (trained by Brandon himself).

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Victor Neri as Bernie Lacson

Victor starred in a lot of action films in the past but he was recently in Citizen Jake. He’s also an official Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) diver.

Nonie Buencamino as Director Alvarez

You may remember the veteran actor for his portrayal of Father Gus Saenz, one of the protagonists in the film adaptation of the mystery thriller Smaller and Smaller Circles.

Lao Rodriguez as Detective Dela Cruz

The actor also worked on Honor Thy Father—another film directed by Erik Matti.

Alex Calleja as Teban 

If you’re a fan of the local stand-up comic scene then you might be familiar with Alex’s work with the group Comedy Manila.

Joross Gamboa as Manok

Joross was nominated as Best Actor for his role as John in the Metro Manila Film Festival entry, Deadma Walking. 

Arjo Atayde as Biggie Chen

Arjo played Atty. Paco Alipio in the ABS-CBN drama series Hanggang Saan.

Sheenly Gener as Alda Lacson

The actress was in last year’s entry to the QCinema International Film Festival, the indie film Dormitoryo (Mga Walang Katapusang Kwarto).

Mara Lopez as Loren Santos

This actress and avid surfer played Maria in the ABS-CBN drama series The Blood Sisters.

Tarek El Tayech as Iggy Hizon

You can also see him as the senior analyst in Manila Wrestling Federation.

AJ Muhlach as Gelo Elia

AJ played one of Erich Gonzales’ leading men, Rainier Lacuesta, in The Blood Sisters.

Did You Know?

  1. Anne Curtis spent an entire day undergoing combat training alongside Philippine Scout Rangers, which included sniping, Pekiti-Tirsia Kali, and running while carrying 20 pounds of sand inside their backpacks.
  2. The PDEA training scenes were filmed on location at the Fort Ramon Magsaysay Military Reservation and utilized the actual facilities in the area such as the close-quarter combat room.
  3. Barangay Gracia ni Maria, where majority of the action takes place, was built from scratch on an 8,000-square meter lot. Production designers Maria Roma Regala and Michael Español spearheaded the process.
  4. According to BuyBust’s behind-the-scenes clips, a major action sequence featuring a three-minute continuous shot of Anne with a whole bunch of actors and stuntmen/stuntwomen took 57 takes before they got the right one that made the final cut. Phew!
  5. The film had more than a thousand extras and over 300 stuntmen involved in the production.

What I Think:

I have seen my fair share of ’90s Pinoy action flicks growing up and  enjoyed rooting for the do-gooder cop busting crime. And while it was entertaining to watch back then, it doesn’t accurately reflect the current state of our society. BuyBust is the updated take providing more gray areas in the usual clear-cut, good-versus-evil setup that was prevalent in the genre. It’s not the first local film to attempt such a feat, but it’s probably going to be the most successful mainstream one to date. 

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One of my gripes about old Pinoy action films is the utter lack of female characters with depth. Back then, women in action films were either the pure and innocent love interest who solely existed to be rescued, or the femme fatale trying to seduce the protagonist away from his lady love (because it’s not like the man has the EQ to control himself, right?). In BuyBust, you don’t get just one token female for diversity but two other women in the squad, each with different personalities. And that’s not taking into consideration the women who participated in the action sequences.

The film takes a page from the Alien handbook and gives us a heroine whose characterization is not defined by her femininity. Manigan’s trauma from working with her former squadmates, her questionable choices in the name of justice (she’s not exactly a nice person), and motivation to prove herself are identifiers commonly associated with male protagonists.

Which isn’t to say that touting womanhood is a bad thing because there’s also the other Lacson (Sheenly Gener), acting as second-in-command in the team, who is unapologetically maternal. Fellow rookie Santos (Mara Lopez) is your straight-up action chick who is serving Rosa vibes from Brooklyn 99 and the type that’s looking for a good fight. I just wish there were more opportunities for these powerful independent women to interact with each other. While I find the buddy cop banter between the cynical Manigan and the talisman-touting Yatco (Brandon Vera) to be enjoyable amidst the stressful environment, the odd couple trope is not a new concept.

Adding Teban into the mix was a good move because his side comments were a much-needed break to ease the tension. Rounding out the anti-drug squad are the wisecracking Hizon (Tarek El Tayech) and Elia (AJ Muhlach), a newbie who’s clearly on his first mission. 

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What replaced the goons of yore that uniformly sported leather/denim jackets are quirkier characters such as a baton-wielding elderly man rocking leopard-print pants called Chongki (Levi Ignacio) and a stoner in post-apocalyptic shabby chic attire named Manok (Joross Gamboa). The film doesn’t completely do away with the classic Pinoy action genre and incorporates elements such as drama, an all-out brawl, and having at least one smartmouthed comedic actor.

It’s evident that director Erik Matti paid homage to past action films but there are strong elements of the horror/slasher film genre. There’s nothing scarier than the gritty horrors of real life. The Manila poverty depicted in the film is obscured in darkness and storm with Manigan as the “final girl.” She acts as the audience surrogate as she navigates the labyrinthine walls of the slum area and fends off criminals and settlers who come at her like a horde of fast-paced zombies. While it can be difficult to view the dimly lit setting, this deliberate stylistic choice helps in emphasizing key scenes. The saturation from neon lights or the harsh illumination by an explosive Molotov cocktail indicate that there’s about to be a throwdown of epic proportions.

The shaky camera effect during the action sequences can get dizzying and confusing, which is not helped by the rainfall obstructing most of the view. On the other hand, when the shots are steady enough, the camera properly captures the claustro-, hydro-, acro-, and agoraphobic sensations onscreen. I also have to commend Neil Derrick Bion’s cinematography for providing one of my favorite non-spoilery scenes in the film: a wide-angled shot of the PDEA squad walking in a row with the camera slowly revealing an overhead view of Gracia ni Maria backed by a cowboy Western-style theme.

More than an attempt at social commentary about the drug war, BuyBust also showcases the hardwork and determination of the Filipino stuntmen and stuntwomen in the movie industry. It’s thanks to fight director Sonny Sison that the movie has adrenaline-pumping action waiting around every street corner of Gracia ni Maria. There are no fancy martial arts moves in the movie but it showcases Pinoy ingenuity with a practical approach such as utilizing makeshift melee weapons (plastic wash tub for the win) and knife-fighting. 

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Throughout the film’s 130-minute running time, we only see the actual commentary about the corrupt system and the horrors of the drug war at the tail-end of the movie. But if you take into account direk Erik Matti’s previous films On The Job and Honor Thy Father, it seems as if he’s setting up a depressing version of the MCU. Considering the state of our country, all three films could have easily taken place in the same cinematic universe.

BuyBust isn’t a perfect action movie and stopped short of delivering an important message, but it’s a step in the right direction and would get the conversation going. Hopefully, we’ll see more women (and add LGBTQ members next time) taking over this modernized version of a male-dominated local genre.

What My Friend Thinks:

“I wouldn’t say Erik Matti films are enjoyable (in the sense that you want to rewatch them over and over like you would a rom-com), but they’re always necessary, must-watch films. They’re hard to watch because they contain painful truths about Philippine society (corruption within the police force and government, the death toll of the drug war, etc.), which a lot of us turn a blind eye to. We need to start talking about Erik Matti in the same breath as Lino Brocka.” - Tala Wong 

I’d Recommend It To:

Women who are sick and tired of seeing cardboard cutout female characters portrayed as sex objects in mainstream action films. Those who want to see a heroine be treated with the same respect as a male protagonist. Fans of combat sports who want to see fight choreography that’s borderline gratuitous but well-executed. P.S. That’s also why this action flick is not recommended for the squeamish. There’s a reason it’s rated for 16 years old and above, after all!

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This movie is for an audience that wants, no, needs a sobering dose of realism and self-awareness. It can be an unpleasant watch and the graphic violence might be off-putting to some. But we’ve been so desensitized to violence in the news that it’s important to watch a film that can still make you feel something about the horrors of the drug war. You'll be shaken awake from your self-absorbed stupor and be reminded that while the events are fictitious, this is the sort of killing and corruption that takes place in our country on a regular basis.

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