Let’s begin with this: Anne Curtis, in the lead role of Nani Manigan, is no tweetums in this movie. BuyBust is gritty and it is violent and liberally laced with crude slang and cussing akin to a speech by President Duterte, but more in context than anything that drops out of El Presidente’s mouth during his long-winded tirades.
I enjoyed the way Brandon Vera played his role as the tank, AKA Rico Yatco. Damn, but that big guy knows his arnis-craft, and played his superstitious cop with a flattened tansan talisman role quite well.
Alex Calleja was brilliant as Teban, the drug dealer-turned police asset. His sharp delivery of some of the wittiest lines in the movie provided some much-needed levity to a very dark and very intense script.
Levi Ignacio, who played the charismatic but obviously sociopathic Chongki, also distinguished himself well. His presence ratcheted the tension to the breaking point—and, yes, Ignacio’s acting was so realistic it is scary to think there might actually be a real-life Chongki out there.
Arjo Atayde makes his character, the drug lord Biggie Chan, come to life in three huge dimensions. He’s the drug lord you want to hate but can’t. He’s the bad guy you don’t expect honesty from when you get it and, yes, he is extremely charming in the role, switching so easily between the lure of deep dimples plus wit and breath-taking savagery that simply shocks the system. He delivers some thoughts in his dialogue that are truly worth chewing on.
It is refreshing to see Curtis take on the role of a straight arrow Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agent who is fighting PTSD as she integrates into a new team after her old one was killed in similar circumstances to the buy bust operation at hand. Her martial arts training in preparation for the role was very visible in the close quarters combat (CQB) scenes, too. She was flawless in her handling of an assault rifle and various handguns. Oh, and I only heard a slight tweetums accent from her once throughout the whole movie. Strong female characters are good to see in a movie like this.
The acting of the main characters was so good they dragged me into the story with ease, even with the plotholes I found. I did get booted out of the suspension of my disbelief here and there—especially with some overdone dialogues when the speaking characters were supposed to be badly injured—c’mon, people who are bleeding to death can’t walk more than a few painful steps or talk much. There was also an OA extra with a cameo screaming part who made me cringe—but, then again, I have real live neighbors who are just like that.
The gun-battle scenes were executed with the same precision I’ve seen actual police officers use in buy-bust situations (including some members of the Southern Police District Special Weapons and Tactics personnel who served as backup units on some drug busts many moons ago). Those scenes felt so real they did manage to make me uncomfortable. But this is not a movie to watch if you want to be comfy.
The hand-to-hand fight scenes felt a bit slow. I understand they aren’t Jacky Chan, but if you’re fighting for your life, you can bet dollars to donuts that you will not take more than 10 seconds to execute a single move, even if you are conserving what little energy you have left.
The mass melee scenes had me in awe of the fight choreographer’s skills, especially since the set was a slum and it was extremely cramped. I sincerely hope no one was hurt during the filming of those scenes—because they were that stark and violent. If you haven’t seen a Pinoy-style lynch mob yet, you’ll see it here, complete with some violent bading elements to it, to boot.
The set of the slum area was built specifically for this movie—it is not a good idea to film such scenes on location, after all. I appreciated the attention to detail that went into creating that intricate 800-square meter set. It sort of reminded me of the warrens and narrow alleyways of the various Metro Manila slums I’d been a visitor to—way too closely. If they were gunning for authenticity, they achieved it here in spades.
The script, while true to type, was actually engaging. It opens with an interrogation scene complete with bad cop, good cop and a snarky street dealer for an interrogation subject. While the story of corruption among law enforcement personnel, drug dealers and unseen authority figures is a trope that never grows old, BuyBust took this trope and totally owned it.
They say the devil is in the details, and BuyBust delivers on that with pure gold. The plot twists weren’t easy to intuit and the violence was intense, but gratifying. Let’s just say the movie liberates the mind’s dark and oft-untouched id when one thinks of government officials and law enforcers who take your taxpayer pesos and waste them.
More than anything, the social commentary in BuyBust is incisive, driving the point home like a honed balisong just slips effortlessly between the ribs.
You see how slum dwellers rage at being caught between the drug dealers who use them as human shields and the police who have been ordered to be relentless in the war on drugs. There is no apology here, just pure rage.
Pulling the trigger, sinking blades and sharp shards of mirror and broken bottles into people has never been so cathartic. Don’t bring kids under 16 to watch this movie—unless you want to scar them for life or teach them all the wrong things too early.
In the end, you come away with a sense of what the Filipino is when put in a situation of utter desperation where the only way out is to fight for one’s life: Irreverent to the last breath, determined, committed to coming out on the other side alive if not unscathed. The dialogue got heavy and overly long in some places, but where it struck gold, it did so without doubt.
BuyBust is a movie where the best parts are the plausibility of the script, the subtlety and skillfulness of the acting, and the utter believability of the characters. Quibbles aside, BuyBust was a darn good effort for a local action movie—something you don’t see every day.
For all that a friend of mine groused that there was no resolution at the close of BuyBust, I found the open ending refreshingly unexpected and, yes, I believe that ending offers sequel potential. Yes, I’d watch the sequel if there is one on the horizon.
Director Erik Matti’s first foray into live action is, overall, pretty good. Yet I’d love to see what Matti can do when he isn’t channeling Quentin Tarantino. I’d love to see more Filipino martial arts in the mix on his next outing. I won’t lie: It could be better, but, for a first action movie, it was pretty damn good. Yeah, I’d watch it again for the catharsis. G