‘BuyBust’ is a drug war-themed horror-fantasy movie

It is also a solid and enjoyable action-thriller that works less effectively as social commentary.

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BuyBust, Erik Matti’s new film, may be about the horrors of the drug war, but it is crafted with an almost-festive sense of theatricality. There is no other way by which this story, about a tough-as-nails squad of law enforcers fighting their way out of a botched operation, could have derived entertainment from familiar and dark realities.

The tropes begin with the contrast between the two main protagonists. Anne Curtis, popular romantic leading lady, plays Nina Manigan, the hardened latest member of the squad, who joins them coming from a traumatic experience—she is the lone survivor of a previous operation also gone terribly wrong. The guilt haunts her, and it shows in her rogue tendencies. She is paired with Rico Yatco, played by mixed martial artist Brandon Vera, the big, bad brawler with a gentle heart, who likes telling Nina that his bottle-cap lucky charm is the key to their salvation.

Nina and Rico, with their tactical commander Bernie Lacson (Victor Neri) and an assortment of bearded and braided teammates, are sent on a buy-bust mission to capture a drug lord ostentatiously nicknamed Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde). The operation that sends them to the dark heart of Manila’s slums becomes a literal trap, as the angry locals turn against them, blocking their way out of the colorful but hellish and maze-like settlement. This is more than the typical Hollywood action flick that pits cops against drug cartels in favelas; as Matti himself describes it, BuyBust is ‘a zombie movie without zombies’. The operatives try to make their way to safety by shooting, stabbing, and smashing their way through wave upon wave of bloodthirsty bodies.

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Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival: hoping against reason

It wants to “change the conversation,” but, at worst, it showcases unhelpful ‘inspiration porn’.

On a rainy Independence Day evening, Leni Robredo, the vice president of the republic, delivered a speech in the theaters of the posh Glorietta mall in Makati City. It was the premiere night for her latest project, the Istorya ng Pag-asa Film Festival. Ten hours earlier she had led the ceremonies at Luneta Park, saluting the national flag under the rain; now, she appeared before a crowd that included a senator, celebrities, filmmakers, the press, and her countrymen from the fringes of society, that sector she had always pledged loyalty and service to. Her twenty-minute message, albeit ceremonial, was a consistent restatement of her commendable advocacy. Towards the end, she weaved together the themes of the day:

Independence is not just freedom from a foreign invader or colonizers from another nation. It is freedom to choose the meals we want to eat, the places we want to go, the schools where we want to study, the careers where we want to prove our mettle, the things we want to say—and where to say them. This is the kind of freedom I wish for every man, woman, and child in our country today.

As the second highest official of the country, she has much stature but little power, and she has turned to this, embodying moral leadership, turning her office into a beacon of positivity. With the film festival, she issues a call to “spread hope in these dark and difficult times.”

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‘Instalado’: knowledge is power, and power corrupts

Despite its problematic attitude to science, and its shortcomings as a work of cinema, ‘Instalado’ is full of ideas demanding discussion.

The release of every new Filipino science fiction film is cause for excitement, because sci-fi is such a rarity in Philippine cinema. It does not help that the mainstream attempts are often trashy—figuratively as well as literally, in the case of 2007’s Resiklo. Science fiction, or speculative fiction in general, is an engaging medium for discussing important ideas about society. The genre holds great potential for our country, where the people are addicted to escapist entertainment.

We cannot blame a lack of talent and imagination. There is in fact a wealth of excellent speculative fiction in Philippine literature, but these stories remain obscure in a nation with no particular love of reading. (We have great authors like Dean Francis Alfar, who have published stories and books in fantasy, sci-fi, magic realism and every conceivable speculative genre, not just in the Philippines but internationally.) Films, with all their pomp and celebrity, are more effective at penetrating the Filipino consciousness, and thereby is a more powerful channel for disseminating meaningful stories.

Enter Instalado, an entry to the 2017 ToFarm Film Festival. (This festival is itself a fascinating and unique project, with its dedication to the upliftment of Philippine agriculture.) The genius of Instalado is in the premise: it was a brilliant stroke of creativity for its filmmakers to have come up with a science-fiction approach on its way to joining a film festival about farming. Agriculture immediately evokes the pastoral, the rural, and indeed many entries in ToFarm are traditional dramas set in the countryside. Instalado instead recognizes that the struggles of farmers can spill down the road to the city.

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The painter is dead: Barthes, and Nick Joaquin’s ‘A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino’

How does the ‘greatest Filipino play’ illustrate our nation?

The reputation of Nick Joaquin’s 1951 play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino, towers over the landscape of Philippine literature. Its achievements demand nothing but superlatives; on the theatrical poster of its 1965 film adaptation is this call to attention:

The film, the stars, the setting, the theme, the story, the director—all the things that make this the motion picture to see if a Filipino can go to the theaters only once in his lifetime!

This year (Nick Joaquin’s birth centennial) will see the release of another cinematic adaptation entitled Ang Larawan. At the end of the teaser trailer for the film is a less self-important, but nevertheless equally grand, assessment of the source material: “The greatest Filipino play, now on film.”

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On Lualhati Bautista’s ‘Dekada ’70’

Not merely a ‘Martial Law novel’.

I’ve been seeing the novel Dekada ’70, by Lualhati Bautista, on National Bookstore’s Filipino shelves for as long as I can remember. That is the certain mark of a work’s membership in the literary canon, as far as the economics of required readings are concerned. But somehow, in all my years of schooling, I had evaded all the panitikan teachers who would include this novel in their syllabi. Either that, or I’m suffering a combination of faulty memory and a past fear of classic literature.

It happens that I’m currently atoning for my past disinterest in classics, and a friend lent me a copy of the progressive pocket-sized novel. (I imagined—framed—my friend as a concerned citizen discreetly sharing subversive readings to a fellow citizen, for enlightenment in these dark times.) I have no idea when, or if at all, I would ever have read this novel if not for this friend. Dekada ’70’s cover has intimidated me all these years, after all. Every time I would see its stark red, overtly political cover illustration, my mind’s interest-switch flips off. I am all for appreciating realist, social-political narratives on a medium like film, but I’m a slow reader, and I only have so much reading capacity to spare when it comes to grim literature.

I’m glad that I proved my own expectations wrong. Everyone mutters, don’t judge a book by its cover, but the reality is that for the majority of books we lay our eyes upon at the bookstore, we pre-screen them by sight. By their covers, that is. Certainly, we could read the synopsis, cross-check with reviews or recommendations, but before any of this can be accomplished, we would already have instinctively formed prejudices on a book by its face. The book design for Dekada ’70 belies the novel’s domestic tone: there are grim moments in this story, true, and the anxious climate of the titular era is the omnipresent spirit of the narrative, but the entire tale is depicted in such a welcoming, informal manner that the political becomes personal—what would otherwise have caused distant despair becomes a matter of intimate concern.

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