As a film enthusiast and Asian American (I’m part Filipino), I’m ashamed to admit that BuyBust is the first film I’ve seen from the Philippines. But there’s a first for everything, and this unrelenting and gritty action thriller exceeded all of my expectations.
Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) is part of a top flight narcotics outfit tasked with taking down drug cartels in Manila. Haunted and understandably embittered over the loss of her own squad from a botched drug raid, Nina questions authority at every turn. Her rogue attitude is immediately questioned by the unit’s unproven leader Bernie (Victor Neri), as he believes her off the cuff behavior will endanger the unit.
That theory is put to the test when the squad attempts to catch an elusive drug kingpin (Arjo Atayde) on a deal that takes place in a Manila slum. When the deal goes south, the crew must use their employ their smarts, fighting skills, and remaining bullets to leave the area in one piece. Due to its labyrinthine structure, the slum is a maze that can only be solved by its denizens. With the residents exasperated with the continuous bloodshed and a bloodthirsty group of cutthroats waiting to kill the operatives, Nina and the rest of her mates have a slim to none chance of seeing another day.
Director/co-writer Erik Matti could have fashioned BuyBust as a tightfisted action flick that would let the bullets and fists fly for 90 minutes and call it a day. Running at a surprisingly muscular 127 minutes, Matti has gone the more operatic approach, deciding to give his movie much more narrative depth (the picture may remind viewers of Infernal Affairs and its eventual remake The Departed). Thus, Buybust is more than just a hail of bullets and a string of corpses, and the feature’s slam bang final act cohesively ties things together. On a cinematic level, Matti definitely knows how to choreograph an action scene that, while having its share of beautiful compositions and camera work, doesn’t lose any of the film’s bone crunching grit in the process.
Whether it’s Brandon Vera as Nina’s superstitious and brave colleague or Lao Rodriguez as the agent who may actually be a mole, the feature is also blessed with solid acting all across the board. Anne Curtis, who describes herself as an actress and host on her Instagram profile, does an excellent job anchoring the film as the narrative’s de facto protagonist. With 9.5 million followers on IG, Curtis is obviously an international star (I have absolutely zero knowledge about her previous work), and with BuyBack she proves that action heroine may be one of her calling cards.
Even with its lengthy running time, BuyBust doesn’t drag, as Matti finds ingenious ways of using the location. One sequence, which has Nina taking on what seems to be an insurmountable number of people, is a total tour de force moment that I’ll watch over and over again (once I nab the Blu-ray version). Most importantly, this movie, with its string of eye catching action moments, is worth a second and even third viewing.
I’ve been to the Philippines several times throughout my life, and one of the most shattering “tourist” moments for me came during a rainy day trip to Smokey Mountain. A part of the closed in, claustrophobic feeling of that slum is evoked amidst the chaotic and tragic battles that rage in BuyBust, and though this movie thankfully doesn’t get into preachy mode regarding the war on drugs, it still gives us a slight peek into that world.
Like previous foreign films (Oldboy, El Secreto de Sus Ojos, the aforementioned Infernal Affairs), BuyBust has a ton of crossover potential, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this project isn’t given the Hollywood treatment. So if you’re hesitant about seeing a subtitle laden film, no need to worry, since most of the dialogue is rooted in the action!
My knowledge of Filipino cinema has gone from zero to one with BuyBust, but since this flick is a near classic maybe this film should count as several. I suppose I’ll start with watching more of Matti’s movies and see if Anne Curtis has a few more excellent flicks under her belt. Heck, I’ve got to start somewhere, and I’m just glad BuyBust is pointing me in the right direction.
***BuyBust is now playing in select theaters.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
To listen to this month’s episode of CinemAddicts, a movie review/preview podcast I co-host with Anderson Cowan, take a listen below: