Erik Matti’s technical expertise rivals, if not surpasses, those of Hollywood filmmakers. It comes as no surprise that many Filipino moviegoers have hailed Matti as a modern master of Filipino Cinema.  

Matti delivered teeth-grinding action in On The Job, well-paced emotional drama in Honor Thy Father, and intellectual atmospheric horror in Seklusyon. This time, Matti amps up the visceral action in Buy Bust with carefully choreographed stunts, dynamic camera work, and violence that only gets more gruesome once the first drop of blood is shed.

Buy Bust also carries heavy commentary on the war on drugs… which is portrayed on screen more problematically than what the film hails in preaching. But more on that dissection in a bit after gauging the film from a formalist perspective.

A casual moviegoer familiar with Matti’s filmography and his films’ quality, may get more than his money’s worth. Even an unexpectant patron seeking no less than an amazing action flick would witness a film carefully crafted to evoke a dreading sense of claustrophobia and high-paced tension. Because Buy Bust is exactly that: a stylish, gimmicky movie that borders on grindhouse and exploitation cinema.

A common issue has to be addressed though: No, Buy Bust didn’t make me think of The Raid in any way, but a scene did make me shout, “Oldboy!”

Some aspects of the film are, without a doubt, benchmarks of moviemaking. The slums area where most of the film was shot is actually a massive constructed set from the ruins of an old high school built in around two months. Having been able to tour the site personally, it was mind-boggling to see how much care was given to address every detail in dressing the set. The movie also features a three-minute long one-shot action sequence staged on varying platforms, something I’ve honestly never seen done in cinema before.

Everything is truly a spectacular technical blast. Cinematography and lighting are well-used to complement the action scene in the frames. The cast’s acting is comical – fitting to the movie’s gimmick. A performance that stood out is of one actor who only graced the screen for mere minutes before the movie’s closing.

Then the film’s social commentary comes in, and everything goes south.

Buy Bust hails a grand narrative that preaches to criticize the flaws of the war on drugs operations. The movie’s main viewpoints are on the PDEA and the cartel’s sides blurring the borders between their lines of work. Great. But here’s the thing: upon watching the trailer, Buy Bust seems to be a story of citizens, victims of injustice, who’ve taken matters into their own hands by taking vengeance on the police that have done them and their loved ones harm. Nonetheless, this movie only further dehumanizes these commonfolk, reducing them to meat waiting to be butchered – and this is done so because ‘nanlaban sila’. It’s a twisted implication that justifies the injustices done to common folk by the police force, relegating them as collateral damage to a grander narrative.

Buy Bust celebrates the butchery that it is supposedly claiming to condemn. You see, grindhouse commentary only works if you’re sure and clear about your message – or if you are going for the absurd.

However, the Q&A portion at the end of the screening did shed light on this contradiction of message. Matti pointed out that the screenplay was indeed conceptualized during the Aquino administration before the drug war. It has been redrafted multiple times since then. Matti then shared alternative plot structures, including a narrative focusing more on an ensemble which I personally preferred more as it could flesh out multiple shallow perspectives from the story.

Ultimately, I fished out the main reason why the contradictory commentary is so: the crew in all of their production period were assisted by the PDEA itself.

Buy Bust is an amazing action movie, with its technicalities being superior than most of the bunch. Just don’t think much of its counter-intuitive social commentary after watching. But then again, what’s the point if we don’t hold movies like these into account?

Buy Bust opens nationwide tomorrow, August 1.

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