Erik Matti is one of the most recognizable and most crucial figures of the Filipino film industry, with films like “On the Job”, “Honor Thy Father” and “The Aswang Chronicles” among others, along with his work on production. “BuyBust” is a film that comes to establish his prowess on creating genre films through a humongous production that included 309 stuntmen and 1,278 extras, and relentless action.
Nina Manigan is the new recruit of an elite anti-narcotic squad. However, she is definitely not a rookie, since a few months back, she was a member of another team which was completely eradicated (apart from her, obviously) after their leader gave them the wrong orders. This time, Nina and a group of the best men and women of the squad have to accomplish a buybust, with the help of a captured “asset”, Teban, who used to be a member of one of the most notorious gang of Manila, headed by Biggie Chen. The operation is headed by an “outsider”, agent Rudy Dela Cruz, to the frustration of both the team’s leader, Lacson, and the rest of the members. The operation however, does not go according to plan, and the group find themselves fighting for their lives in the slums, against both Chen’s henchmen and scores of local residents who hold a grudge against the police from previous raids. As the policemen realize that someone has betrayed them, all hell breaks loose, and Nina and Rico, a true force of nature for the elite squad, have to face scores of enemies in order to survive.
The film starts a bit slowly, building the tension and introducing the characters, but as soon as the story moves to the slums, the action picks up and never actually stops, taking over the whole narrative. Hand-to-hand combat, guns, knives and any kind of weapon one could imagine are used in an unending series of brutal battles, against both experts and simple people (including housewives). The death toll presented on screen is unprecedented, as cops, criminals and slum residents fall like flies with no-mercy whatsoever. Erik Matti also included a message about the War on Drugs raging in Manila and the corruption of the police but his comment is somewhat buried inside all the mayhem, although the last song heard in the movie definitely gets the message through.
One of the best aspects of the film is Neil Derrick Bion’s cinematography, which creates an intensely claustrophobic setting, taking full advantage of the slum environment. Occasionally, the images are filled with different colors, blue, red, orange, that compliment the dark atmosphere that permeates the film, intensifying the sense of agony the dominates the whole narrative. Among these, the scenes in the rain that include a three-minute, one cut action scene where Nina is fighting scores of enemies are the most impressive, while the panoramic shots in the outro highlight the area the story takes place in quite nicely. Jay Halili’s editing is equally accomplished, with the film implementing a rather rapid pace that suits the aesthetics perfectly. The music, which comprises mostly of heavy metal-hard rock and dub tracks also suits the aesthetics, and in combination with the editing, allows the film to function as an intense music video a number of times.
All of the above make it quite clear that “BuyBust” presents a combination of “The Raid” and “The Villainess”, but I also thought that it shares some similarities with “Mad Max” particularly in the way the villains and the setting are presented. Nevertheless, in terms of presentation, the movie is a masterpiece of the genre, with even the fact that the protagonists appear to be superheroes and the script is a bit hyperbolic at times, adding at the overall flavor.
Anne Curtis as Nina Manigan is on her way to become an action superstar, with her presenting the character with gusto and total resonance with the film’s aesthetics. Brandon Vera as Rico is a true brute, with both his physique and performance suiting the part, while Arjo Atayde as Rico is a great villain, with his monologue during the end being one of the highlights of the movie. Lao Rodriguez as the obnoxious Rudy Dela Cruz and Alex Calleja as Teban perform their parts convincingly.
“BuyBust” is one of the best action films of the year and a must-see for all fans of the genre.