by Junelie Anthony Velonta | Feature Writer
There is nothing as entertaining as the slaughter of the innocent. It is an age-old and proven formula. From the gladiators of classical antiquity to the endless amount of bullet fodder in the modern action genre, history constantly reminds man who lives are cheap – especially of those below him.
When the lead star of an action movie decimate dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of the opposing force, the crowd cheers. The same goes with Erik Matti’s latest film, BuyBust. With Sonny Sison’s choreography and action direction, the action scenes were exhilarating with flares of realism. The action and rampage, from the realistic usage and portrayal of firearms to the gory and bone-crushing implementation of bladed or improvised weapons, seemed like eye-candy. With every well-placed shot, every exchange of blows, the audience grows more attached to Manigan (Anne Curtis), Yatco (Brandon Vera) and their trapped team.
Where BuyBust truly shines, however, is not in its action sequences. Almost every ounce of it is a social and moral commentary. There is no absolute good or bad in the movie. Two of the factions in the story, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) Agents and the Civilians, are unwilling villains in each other’s story. To fully understand the message of BuyBust, its many comments must first be analyzed.
Contrary to what is widely presented, BuyBust is not only attacking the actions of the current administration but also revealing the misdeeds of the past presidential terms. Despite putting the War on Drugs in the spotlight, the movie maintains to be non-partisan – in a way that encourages skepticism and re-evaluation of the audience’s beliefs.
Some of the revelations are obvious, even going as far as being direct references. The corrupt agents Detective Rudy (Lao Rodriguez) and Detective Alvarez (Nonie Buencamino) are direct namesakes, maybe even challenges.
The concept of Judas as the traitor was also repeated throughout the movie. There was the obvious and direct, in the form of Det. Rudy’s cash bribes. As the movie progressed, however, different forms of Judas are revealed. The PDEA agents have became the Judas for the citizens since instead of protecting them, the citizens become “acceptable casualties” in the grand scheme of things. For the trapped agents, their greedy superior officers became their Judas. These said officers offer the lives of those under their command for political schemes and subliminal social maneuvering. Further into the sinkhole are the said social and political figures, whose traitorous acts are irredeemable.
Some, however, are very subtle. Preceding the action sequences, the PDEA agents’ first contact with the main antagonist Biggie Chen’s (Arjo Atayde) grunts was in an alley with a tarpaulin alluding to the “Daang Matuwid.” This alone could pose many questions. Did the past administrations allow, or maybe even enable, the current administration’s problems? Are the programs of the past presidents the source of PRRD’s radical solutions? Will the policies of PRRD produce, or enable, more complex problems in the future?
BuyBust aims to infuse a sense of skepticism through subtle references and reveal the atrocities that many seem to be numb. The obvious is readily available in the narrative. Many of the minute but important references, however, are barely noticeable – blink and they’ll never be seen again.
One of the best things about action movies is the insane body count. Very few events in real history show this. Even fewer are the carnages caused by one man. Throughout different cultures, this love for the skyrocketing bloodbath is imminent. In terms of kills, BuyBust doesn’t disappoint.
In its own way, BuyBust celebrates the diversity of the Philippine tapestry. Regardless of the character’s ethnicity, religion, social status, profession, age and even sexuality, everyone stood on the same level in the grand scheme of the movie. All were equal in the massacre that ensued. From the innocent child who was shot by a stray bullet to the trapped parent desperately trying to go home to her son, all – regardless of their affiliation – became cold and unfeeling numbers in the casualty list.
It must be realized that while the unwilling civilian is the primary victim in the crossfire, the honest officers doing their duty become the guinea pigs of the Judases who are deeply ingrained in our hierarchical society. These officers are also human. They have families to go home to, and loved ones to live for. Double crossed, they will claw their way out regardless of what is lawful or ethically sound. To quote Abner Pasa, morality comes before and after the fight.
In a sense, this desperate clawing towards relative safety was portrayed by BuyBust. The calm before and after the operation provided time for both the characters and the audience to reflect. As the mission became a shit-show, the characters, both PDEA and civilian, devolve into being animal-like monsters acting out of violent impulse. There is, however, a third monster. Not found in the movie nor the end credits, this monster watches – unaware of what it has become.
It may be because of the excellent action choreography or the varied and interesting characters, but the action sequences provide a sense of bloody satisfaction and entertainment. As the body count reaches hyperbolical levels, the audience becomes more and more ecstatic and attached to the violence. The theater clamors for blood. It is in this ecstatic trance that the third monster is revealed – the audience.
Violence became the drug that fueled the audience. Regardless if the casualty is an unwilling sinner or a reluctant saint, there was entertainment in each life wasted. The individual’s belief and reason to fight became irrelevant. Each kill was just that – a kill.
It is the desensitized and distant view on the killings that BuyBust tries to correct. News of the killings has become so commonplace that it has become a twisted norm. This was reflected by the characters of Manigan and Yatco throughout the film. At first, they kill because of self-defense. However, when the civilians caught in between began to revolt, they had to reconsider if what they were doing was right or wrong. After all, regardless of circumstance, no one man is law, and no single law could justify the loss of innocent life.
Empowering the Downtrodden
While the action genre could not be removed from BuyBust, it did not prevent the movie from giving a tangible and lasting message to the audience. Despite the majority of the movie was action, it always managed to hit the spot where and when it was effective.
Having a strong and badass female lead, Matti and BuyBust not only proves that female actresses have the ability to compete in a male dominated field, but also reinforces the fact that, with the proper dedication and preparation, an original and Uniquely-Filipino action movie is a possibility. Anne Curtis was cast perfectly. Throwing away her kikay personality, she becomes one with the character of Manigan almost flawlessly. With the help of the Philippine Army’s best and real-life PDEA agents, BuyBust not only becomes a film respectful of the Filipino servicemen but also eye-opening for the common tao.
Ultimately, BuyBust is only a medium and not a mean. In the final moments of the movie, there was a resolution between the civilians and Manigan. The violence may not stop immediately. The killings may go on for a time. However, the only long-term solution is to empower those that are in the lowest part of society. The people must learn not to be apathetic. The people must learn to wake up and solve society’s problems one-by-one. Turn one’s cheek on society and society will continue to rot under one’s feet.