Erik Matti’s hit action thriller “BuyBust” has been a massive hit since its premiere, but critics are raving about it not just for the acting and directing, but also its take on the Philippines’ drug war.
A thriller with a message
After the film premiered at the New York Asian Film Festival in July 2018, positive reviews from prominent critics came in.
It has been praised by Variety’s Richard Kuipers, who described the film with an P80-million budget as “superbly executed.”
Kuipers praised Curtis’ performance and the cinematography of Neil Derrick Bion and the music choice of musical directors Erwin Romulo and Malek Lopez.
Jeanette Catsoulis of the New York Times meanwhile praised the film’s use of tongue-in-cheek humor despite the violence, which “significantly ease the tedium of the virtually nonstop slaughter.”
Reviewers observed how the film addresses its subject matter about an anti-narcotics squad’s operation in an urban slum tangled up in the drug trade goes wrong.
Kuipers argued that it was this element which helped set “BuyBust” apart from other action films in Asian cinema.
“The film’s final third is littered with sharp and savage observations about how the war on drugs and rampant corruption have pushed the Philippines’ poorest and most disadvantaged social class into a black hole of chaos and utter despair,” wrote Kuipers about the film’s stance
Hollywood reporter’s Clarence Tsui meanwhile observed how the film directly critiqued the drug war itself.
“BuyBust” is another strong Philippine entry seeking to debunk a strongman’s promises of retaining social order through violence, which actually breeds irreversible moral corruption, casting every social class asunder,” wrote Tsui in his review.
Filipinos who have seen the movie have also had similar observations.
Buy Bust is probably Erik Matti's best film since On The Job, but his thesis statement still hasn't changed since then: "The system is the enemy. I'm just one person. I can't do anything." The end
— anna #EndStateFascism (@bonannaza) August 6, 2018
Some however argue for a more nuanced reading of the film.
More than a film, Buy Bust was a narrative that was neither pro- nor anti- the war on drugs campaign. It was also not neutral. It stood between what was good or bad, right or wrong, moral or immoral. It fought for the truth. It fought for the reality.
— Komyuterong Mandirigma (@KomyuteroOfMNL) August 3, 2018
Matti himself has cautioned against those looking for verisimilitude, reminding them that his films are still works of fiction.
My #films are never realworld. My films are created in the world I want them to be in to service the story I want to do. I dont make docus. I make movies. To those who demand that #BuyBust should be like the realworld either dont know how to watch movies or just plain nitpicky.
— Erik Matti (@ErikMatti) August 8, 2018
The films features Anne Curtis as Nina Manigan, a weathered and battle-tested Philippine Drugs Enforcement Agency operative.
This is Curtis’ first venture in violent cinema since 2014’s vampire flick “Blood Ransom”, which received less warm reviews.
Mixed-martial artist Brandon Vera and veteran actors Victor Neri and Nonie Buencamino play members of the police force while up-and-coming actor Arjo Atayde plays a villainous role.
Atayde previously starred as one of the drug lord antagonists in the primetime series “Ang Probinsiyano.”
Matti was also behind two other gritty action thrillers released in recent years: “On the Job” in 2013 and “Honor Thy Father” in 2015. Like the two previous films, “BuyBust” tackles social realities and issues.