- Advanced happy feast day of St. Jean Marie Vianney, patron saint of parish priests! I started writing this because I woke up at dawn and I couldn’t sleep again. If that happens, I usually write whatever comes to mind. But this time, it’s time to write an annual movie review.
- Spoiler Alert: If you haven’t watched the film yet, then you may stop reading now. But if you want spoilers before watching the film, then feel free to scroll.
- What is a Buy Bust? It is a term used for a drug entrapment operation of Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (thanks Google!). They would send an asset (undercover agent), and use marked moneys with the drug dealers to pretend buying their illegal drugs and bust them.
- It starts with (one thing!) police officers De la Cruz and Alvarez torturing and extracting details from Teban about a big-time drug dealer named Biggie Chen. Now, the policemen plan out a buy bust operation in Tondo, Manila. Threatening to hurt his wife, Teban volunteers as their asset though he does not know exactly where Biggie is but he guarantees he can fish out Biggie.
- Kapayapaan! I recognized Alex Calleja as Teban and waited for comical relief. I was not disappointed. When Alvarez showed Teban the map of Tondo shaded with a majority of blue and asked what does it mean, Teban’s answer was kapayapaan (peace)!
- Anne Curtis as a rebellious officer: Next scene is on a PDEA team training with high-powered guns. Nina Manigan (played by Anne Curtis) committed a mistake on the drill by leaving her team and acting on her own. She argues that sometimes, an officer must disobey orders for the mission to succeed. Irritated by this defiant behavior, team leader Lacson (played by Victor Neri) shot Manigan in the back with a rubber bullet. Lacson tells her that her attitude will let the whole team down and her to death.
- A back story: Nina Manigan was part of a botched PDEA entrapment team before and she is the only surviving member of that team. In the barracks, she scans through some old pictures and saw a handwritten name at the back of one of the photograph: Hudas.
- Hudas: Taken from the biblical character Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus for 30 silver coins. That’s the clue that PDEA is infiltrated with a higher-up who orchestrated their past entrapment scheme at their expense, the operation’s front liners.
- When freeloaders take the credit: In real life, we only hear of the victims of extra judicial killings but never about the lives of policemen and soldiers being fielded in the frontline and getting killed. Like the generals were playing chess and they are the real-life pawns. When I went to the infamous Ampatuan massacre site in Maguindanao last 2013, I heard of the stories of some soldiers’ sentiment of being left out and their leaders earning the credit and promotion from their hard work. If we have freeloaders in school group projects, we too have them in the corporate world, government offices, and even in national security.
- Going back to the film, Alvarez approaches Lacson to work on a mission in Tondo with De la Cruz leading their team. Their plan is to hold the entrapment on a park. With the PDEA officers in disguise and looking out for Teban, Biggie Chen then talks to Teban through the phone with their conversation wiretapped. Biggie asked Teban to change location as he suspects Teban selling him out and Biggie thinking the park is not a safe place to meet. Biggie instructs Teban to meet him in Gracia de Maria.
- Them going to Maria de Gracia reminds me of the book of Joshua with Israelites invading the walled city of Canaan or the King Solomon’s troop and the shepherd boy David going up against the Philistines and Goliath. Inside the van, the operation team prayed a psalm of deliverance in Filipino (I am interested where exactly in the Book of Psalms they got for prayer).
- True Story: When I was a young boy, (you saw this coming, right? Here’s Welcome to the Black Parade) I wanted to become a soldier. I played with self-made wooden guns and pellet guns with my cousins and get hit occasionally. Though I am taller than the average Filipinos, I know I wouldn’t last in the army. I remember that when I entered high school, Marist School just scrapped the CAT (Citizen Army Training). I don’t know why they did it but I was actually looking forward to join the CAT. I have yet to touch an actual gun.
- Before entering Gracia de Maria, they split into two groups: Alpha group lead by Lacson and Beta with De la Cruz and their asset Teban. Team Beta acts as Teban’s bodyguards and Team Alpha stays behind as lookouts. Since Gracia de Maria is quite populated, Team Alpha held some bystanders as hostages to silence them as they might blow the team’s cover. Teban meets with Biggie’s goons lead by Chongki, who even has a metal detector with him and got a little tense with De la Cruz’s team Beta as they refuse to hand over their guns to these goons.
- As they walk inside Biggie’s drug den, we see a glimpse of Gracia de Maria’s environment. We are now getting introduced with three different groups inside the slum: PDEA officers, Biggie’s goons, and the Gracia de Maria’s residents (which will play a vital role in the film later).
- Gracia de Maria: This place has a lots of stories to tell it can inspire another film. This slum area is like a labyrinth. We see a family grieving in a wake, adults dancing in a night club, a discreet meth lab, and abandoned buildings.
- Abandoned buildings are a thing in the past local action films and I am glad it got a reprisal (no, I’m kidding).
- Translated in English as the grace of Mary, Gracia de Maria is a slum area in the Tondo that shelters to poor and innocent bystanders constantly caught in the middle of the “drug wars” between the police and the drug dealers.
- Biggie Chen and Teban then meets but we couldn’t see them. We hear them speak though and we get a feeling that these drug dealers might kill them all and just take all the marked money. Manok (played by Joross Gamboa) enters and whispers to the goons guarding outside Biggie’s den. Gunshots are heard, implying that all Team Beta members are now down and Team Alpha now abort their mission but it’s too late. The drug dealers now start for a hunt as we hear the improvised alarms and spotlights flashing to the main pathways. It was a trap all along. The PDEA officers now becomes the prey while the drug dealers “caged” them.
- While they were escaping, Chongki hostages one (I forgot the name) Chinese-looking man whose phone was loudly ringing and threatened the hiding PDEA to surrender or they’ll kill a hostage. There was no response from Team Alpha so Chongki kills the man. This provokes Solomon, the grieving man for his dead son Judiel, and brings out a gun and leads the people of Gracia de Maria to fight and kill both the PDEA and the drug dealers.
- All the interesting fight scenes are all here in the hunt for the PDEA team and I won’t spoil what exactly happens and see for yourselves how they end up falling down one by one and how they fought back. If you watch the film, you’ll know why they brought a mixed martial artist in the person of Brandon Vera. I got the shock of my life when I saw Anne Curtis’ fight scenes. She got moves!
- A comeback for Filipino action films? We are spoiled movie viewers. We just had Mission Impossible 6 and Skyscraper, both foreign action films, and now they are screening Buy Bust, a local action film. I can now dare to say that action films in the Philippines got a future with the top-notch fighting scenes choreography. I hope this film would start a trend in local cinemas.
- Hudas blown uncovered? Now some members are dead and some still alive and wounded, the escaping team Alpha encounters Teban and De la Cruz both unscathed. Manigan then declares De la Cruz as “Hudas” who betrayed their buy bust operation. Lacson would then handcuff De la Cruz with Teban escorting him even declaring to the bald officer that he is now the boss, “Ako na ngayon ang boss mo!“
- Team Alpha is clearly outnumbered but it seems that the goons have difficulty catching them. They accidentally goes to a roof of sleeping back-up of the drug dealers who open fired at them, practically annihilating Lacson and his wife and another team member.
- An order: Lacson orders Manigan to leave her behind as an order and since she promised beforehand that she would obey him, she complied. Remember that we had good government leaders before whose public service were cut short due to an illness or accident. I hope that our policemen have their own version of Lacsons and Manigans. Salute to these kind of noble men and women!
- Now stranded on an abandoned building, De la Cruz and Manigan got in a heated as she vents out how her former team were left out to die in an operation. De la Cruz provokes Manigan to shoot him but Yatco tells her not to but she kills Hudas anyway. Down with three people, they are now trapped in this building with a riding-in-tandem open firing at them and Manok threatening to set the building on fire. Yatco and Manigan split into two and manages to escape and even kill all the goons outside. Somewhere, Teban walks away but will meet Chongki later.
- On Talismans: Yatco, played by Brandon Vera, wears a bottle cap as an amulet. He even tries to use the cap to heal his open wound in the shoulder to no avail and Manigan ridiculed him. Anting-anting as we call it in Filipino is quite common in some parts of the Philippines and people believe it can keep them safe from death if not completely from any harm.
- It will be bloody: The remaining PDEA officers, Yatco and Manigan, gets trapped by an angry mob who had enough of the killings and operations inside their turf. Manigan signals Yatco to get ready as they are up for a blood bath.
- The fight reminds me of zombie apocalypse films and Metal Slug, the video game we used to play before in a playstation console.
- Brandon Vera as Antonio Luna! The bottle cap as an amulet seems working! No other character in the film got punched, shoved, stabbed, as Yatco (next to Manigan). It was like a replay of Antonio Luna’s murder scene in Heneral Luna.
- Last (wo)man standing: Now Yatco is dead, Manigan gets his “anting-anting” and wears it on her neck. She survives the wave of the angry mob and fainted. She had a quick nap which lets her recover and steps over pile of dead bodies over. Do not underestimate the power of taking a nap! She saw Yatco’s dead body floating. Manigan borrows his anting-anting and wears it.
- As she searches for the way out, Manigan saw Teban being shot by Chongki in the head and she follows Chongki and his henchmen. She now discovers the meth lab. She sneaks behind them and was able to finally kill all the homies of Biggie and see him finally. Biggie Chen, played by Arjo Atayde, raises up his arms in the air.
- Who is Hudas? Manigan asks him who is Hudas. Which one? There’s more than one, Biggie replies.
- We now hear one of the most memorable dialogues we will ever hear about the so-called “drug war”. With a gun pointed at him, Biggie casually tells Manigan what is the drug war all about in a nutshell.
- A henchman arrives and distracts Manigan so Biggie was able to maim her (I’m not really sure here, I was looking at my phone!). Now, Biggie gets the gun but decides not to kill Manigan. He rings the other Hudas (aside from De la Cruz) and we now know that Alvarez was a Hudas too! So the interrogation in the opening of the film was all lies and pretension!
- A fitting ending: After a final scuffle with Biggie, Manigan decides not to kill Biggie and places him in an arrest with a glass shard pointed at his neck. As viewers, we know that Alvarez is a Hudas too as pointed out by Biggie. When Manigan hands over Biggie and gets a hug from Alvarez, I like how the camera focuses on Manigan with her back turned on the audience as she constraints herself to express how angry she really is with Alvarez, the real culprit why her former and current squad all died. Lacking an ambulance, Alvarez now leads Manigan to a utility van for her to be rushed to a hospital. But instead of only her and an accompanying police on the utility van, she was joined by Biggie and Alvarez himself. Alvarez shoots Biggie inside the van and the weak Manigan still has energy to steal the gun from Alvarez! What stamina Anne Curtis has! Then she avenges her team by shooting Alvarez to death and the accompanying officer.
- “What happened?” The police officers asked. Like the usual answer Filipinos hear on the local television, Manigan blurted out, “Nanlaban ang suspect.” (The suspect fought back). When the Philippines started the “drug war”, the line nanlaban would be the buzz word heard about alleged drug pushers and users getting killed. The last time I blurted out nanlaban while watching a film was when I was watching Seklusyon two years ago.
- Casualties: only thirteen! While the media is reporting, an aerial shot of dead bodies inside Gracia de Maria can be seen while a song by Asin plays on the background. It was like 1,300 people or more died there. This scene is like a diss to the inaccurate and unverified reporting of media and of the policemen covering up or overlooking crime details. Omission of any detail of news, be it good or bad, is disservice as it takes away our access to the truth. Besides, the number of casualties are not just about numbers but about persons!
- I like how films by Erik Matti serve as social commentaries particularly the “real talk” of Biggie.
- Are we going to see more quality action films after this? Well, the next action movie that I want to watch is about Trese. It would be interesting for me (at least for me) to see Anne Curtis play the role of Alexandra Trese.
- One of the best local action movies of all time. This is the Filipino action movie I’ve been waiting for since On The Job (I don’t know if Goyo or Heneral Luna counts as actions films though). It took five years for a follow-up. I’m not complaining though as Erik Matti gave us Seklusyon two years ago. Hands up to all people who made Buy Bust movie possible. I don’t know if this would start a trend but I hope local movies would lessen the romantic comedy films produced at present. We need more films who will let us not only be amazed and be entertained but also to think, and even care for our country. Or maybe it’s just me asking Erik Matti to direct and produce more films in the future.
- I am now heading to Japan in two weeks time and Buy Bust might be the last Filipino film I would ever watch before I fly to Kobe and stay there for three years. It feels like I am on a death row and being asked for what I want before I get executed. If that’s the case, I would tell the warden that I want to watch Buy Bust as my final wish. The anxiety is real. Please pray for me.
- That’s all and peace be with you all!
Unfortunately, I’m not into gritty movies. There’s a Filipino TV series that was shown on Netflix ( it didn’t last … it was taken out after a few weeks ) … it was about drugs too, and the location was a squatters’ area all throughout. Too gritty for my sensibilities and I hope not many non-Filipinos got to watch this Filipino TV series on Netflix….. I know I’m being unrealistic, but the whole atmosphere of the show would give the impression that Filipinos are like that, and the country itself is a place people should not go to.
Hello Ren, I might have seen the trailer of that TV series while scanning through the television which is rare for me. It is in Tagalog with English subtitles if I’m not mistaken. Though I haven’t watched it, I just hope that it will tackle the misunderstanding about drug addiction (in general, it’s actually only about meth or shabu) and its causes too. Yes, I agree with you that the danger of showing it in Netflix as it might give a sweeping generalization about Filipinos and the country. It’s good for the general Filipino public viewing but not for non-Filipinos as it assumes the audience to know already the context behind the “drug war” in the Philippines.
That’s exactly the impression non -Filipinos will get when they watch this series. Take me for instance…. I I do tend to notice things that ordinary Filipinos will never notice…. like, there are so many people in the streets… shabby -looking children laying in the streets, men without shirts hanging out in the open, looking like thugs, so many smoking cigarettes, etc….. surprisingly I don’t see that in the ‘ poor ” districts of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, … heck, not even in Africa..
Except the smokers and some people who might be out there to snatch, I don’t even notice it when I walk past by them. It might be because I was raised in a settlement site. Though I taught kids living on this kind of area before, It looks normal to me that I take these details for granted.
Also, what you mentioned reminds me of the oppressive anti-tambay law that was passed last month.
The anti-tambay law is totally fascistic.
Exactly! You know, WordPress is the only safe place I could say things like these right now. It’s easy to get mobbed on Facebook and Twitter.
Troll farms are alive and kicking in the Philippines. It’s big business. All they do is bash everyone who are anti- Duterte. They even have an office that was established by an American, paid for by the administration. We heard this on NPR here in the US, specifically about the Philippines.
They really don’t have to do it. I have met people who actually love Duterte, both poor and rich alike, it’s sickening. It’s like a litmus test for me of whom I can trust and be friends with. But then again, propaganda making is like a throwback to the ML times though I haven’t lived enough that long to experience the 80s.
It is going to test your patience to be friends with people you don’t agree with, especially when they condone immoral behavior. It’s the same here in the US.