Some action films are remembered for the broad number of thrills they offer viewers, while others are remembered for a colossal set piece that blows audiences out of the water, with the Filipino actioner “BuyBust” falling into the latter category. Over the course of its two-hour running time, the film serves up moderate to solid action sequences at regular intervals, leading up to a bombastic, savage, and absolutely unforgettable finale that, by itself is worthy of comparison with the likes of “Oldboy” and “The Raid”, and one that by itself makes the film a must-see for action aficionados.
Anne Curtis steps into the lead of rookie cop Nina Manigan, whose first drug bust turns into the most nightmarish scenario imaginable for an officer new to the beat. MMA-fighter Brandon Vera portrays her fellow officer on the force, Rico Yatco, bringing his towering frame and powerful combat skills to the fore of the film’s most brutal action sequences. Victor Neri also portrays Bernie Lacson, leader of our hero’s unit on the Manila police force. Nonie Buencamino and Lao Rodriguez appear as their superiors on the force, Detective Alvarez and Detective Dela Cruz, while Arjo Atayde assumes the role of the villainous drug kingpin of Manila, “Biggie Chen”.
Nina Manigan is new to the Manila police force, but she finds herself stepping into a baptism of fire right out of training when her unit is called upon to lead a drug raid in one of Manila’s most violent slums. Through some connections, tip-offs, and roughing up of the right underlings in the city’s criminal underworld, the unit track their target, the vicious crime boss Biggie Chen, to a designated drop point in the slum. The operation quickly goes south, with the unit’s cover being blown and most of the officers quickly killed off, with Nina, her fellow officer, Rico Yatco, and a few others remaining the last ones standing. Surrounded at every turn by gangsters, killers, and simple angry tenants of the slum, the surviving officers are forced into a fight for their lives in their efforts to escape.
Director Erik Matti takes plenty of influence from “The Raid” and “Oldboy”, and yet crafts “BuyBust” in such a way as to avoid it feeling derivative. Even the basic premise of cops conducting a raid on a criminal is kept fresh with the setting shifting from an apartment complex to a shanty town, and one where the characters are often knee deep in stagnant water. “Die Hard” famously spawned an entire subgenre of action movies transplanting its premise into everything from a battleship (“Under Siege”) and a hockey arena (“Sudden Death”) along with various presidential locations (“White House Down”, “Air Force One”). With “BuyBust”, Erik Matti seemingly makes the first effort to do the same with the premise of “The Raid” (just the latest way in which it proves it’s the fight movie game changer!) but as previously mentioned, to call it a rip-off is misguided. Matti gives the idea his own distinct flair, with the cops effectively caught in a riot more than just an impoverished community or a turf war among crime bosses and low-level criminals. On top of that, Anne Curtis anchors the film with a lead performance in the same vein as Sarah Connor or Ellen Ripley, as a young woman thrown into the deep end and forced to learn to swim while battling off sharks. Not unlike the way the film itself unfolds, she gradually progress into a more of a calloused and hardened warrior woman, to the point that by the end, her survival instincts have well kicked in to the extent that she puts herself through things most of us would cringe at.
While the action sequences maintain a grimy, savage, and barbaric style throughout, it’s almost beside the point to discuss anything before the film’s completely out-of-control last twenty minutes. Matti builds the film up gradually over the course of its two hours with shoot outs and gun fights that steadily grow in both duration and intensity. It’s not quite the same effect as watching the slow-but-steady progression of observing the hero evolve from a raw brawler into a well-oiled combat machine in “Headshot”, but Matti stages the action sequences in such a way that they build on each other, enough to where the beginning of the film feels like child’s play compared to the finale. And yes, the finale of “BuyBust” is as crazy a cacophony of combative chaos as you’ll see all year long. Up to their knees in water in a semi-flooded shanty town, Nina and Rico battle their way through a vengeful mob of angry tenants, gloriously captured in sweeping tracking shots, some lasting for minutes at a time, that allows the viewer to bask in the chaotic beauty unfolding before them, an influence from “Oldboy” that pays off most satisfyingly. “BuyBust” might well have been better titled as “The Riot” – as that’s what it builds up to, and Matti might well be the first action filmmaker to turn a riot into something this stylish.
Homaging “The Raid” and “Oldboy” without ripping them off, “BuyBust” is a down-and-dirty urban survival thriller that will blow you away by the end. Anne Curtis gives a convincing and applaudable performance as a woman forced to dig into the deepest recesses of her survival instinct, whilst the film steadily raises the viewer’s expectations with action sequences that gradually build in their ferocity, before hitting them with a finale that throws everything and the kitchen sink at them. Erik Matti may prove himself a master of action with the film overall, but with the unforgettable finale of “BuyBust”, he also ranks himself as a master of chaos!
- In preparation for the film, Anne Curtis underwent training at the Scout Ranger Training School, and also trained in Pekiti-Tirsia Kali. She also performed the majority of her own stunts in the film.
- The film has been widely interpreted as a socio-political commentary on the controversial Philippine Drug War launched under President Rodrigo Duterte.
- Erik Matti has described “BuyBust” as his “first full on action film” and his most ambitious project.
- “Get ready. This will get ugly.” – Nina (as she and Rico prepare to fight off an angry mob.)
Film Rating: 7.5/10
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