Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Jul 16, 2018 4:16 pm 
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World premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival as its Closing Night Film.



World premiere at the New York Asian Film Festival as its Closing Night Film.

The heroics of a female cop, Nina Manigan (Australian actress Anne Curtis) are the highlight of a prolonged, scruffy gun battle of the Manila police against rank and file members of the local drug mafia in ace Filipino genre director Erik Matti's new film BubBust. The cops plan a "buybust" in which two teams infiltrate a drug deal with a local they've "turned," then surround and arrest. But in the event, the dealers change the location to an even seedier part of the city slums. Out of their element, they keep the audience waiting nearly an hour before the hard core action begins. Then, after the shooting starts, the police find themselves trapped when one of their own seems to have betrayed them. Armed members of the local population, enraged at being caught in the crossfire, turn on them too, and Manigan is a leader of the fight when they must struggle for hours to pull out without necessary backup. This is the essence of a chaotic, violent, and hard to follow action film (much of it takes place in the dark, in heavy rain) that is nonetheless, typically, well choreographed by Matti and his team. The elaborate production reportedly includes 1,278 extras and 309 stuntmen. Curtin does most of her stunts herself.

A premise is that Manigan, a newcomer to the force and unhampered by old loyalties or corruption, has seen her entire squad shot out around her during a previous raid. Mixed Martial Arts star Brandon Vera co-stars. The project is billed as one of the most ambitious Philippine productions to date. Whhile not merely a series of hand-to-hand combats like Gareth Evans' ultra-violent, now cult status, [url=""]The Raid: Redemption[/url] (ND/NF 2012), BuyBust does consist largely of hand-to-hand and gun fighting.

Matti and his editor Jay Halili focus on moving rapidly around among the combatants. This makes the action sometimes confusing, but nice flashing light effects in the darkness photographed by dp Neil Derrick Bion and his team make the visuals often attractive and, however artificial, are necessary for the audience even to glimpse what's going on. The soundtrack includes the threatening broadcast voice of the drug gang leader, as well as loud, clangorous musical score by Erwin Romulo and Malek Lopez that often changes abruptly in mood and instrument, from guitar to strings to synthesizer to harpsichord to harmonica go drum. A harpsichord probably was never used to accompany a cops-and-robbers gun battle before.

There are some very, very violent moments, including a beheading - and, seconds later, we get to see the head sitting in a puddle of burning oil - one of dozens of elaborately-planned vignettes that punctuate the chaotic, exhausting action. At one point when Manigan and Yatco, aka Rico (Brandon Vera) are fighting off - to the death - a gang of angry locals in a claustrophobic space, a short circuit of crossed wires from above (in the heavy rain) causes a shower of sparks that electrocutes some of the combatants, including Rico, whom Madigan must fight to revive. They will continue, though, as a team of avengers.

There are moments of narrow escape for Manigan and Rico, but even three quarters of the way through this two-hour film, another crowd of angry, armed ghetto dwellers pours into a shabby square. There is more a sense of perpetual motion than of progress. One longs for the lean loneliness of a Western shootout. Finally there is a cool but deadly encounter between Madingan and the local drug kingpin, Biggie Chen (Arjo Alayde), and a final ironic voiceover that alludes to the current president's "war on drugs" to which perhaps this whole farrago of violence is an oblique allusion.

This is an exceptionally elaborate and demanding production that's as impressive as it is grueling to watch. But the action, however varied, ultimately becomes monotonous. In human terms this not ultimately as interesting a film as Matti's masterful 2013 actioner [url=""]On the Job[/url], also shown at the New York Asian Film Festival (and reviewed here), which has a more complex trajectory and an interesting relationship between two convicts of different generations who carry out targeted assassinations during releases from prison. Hopefully now that Matti has proven that he can do complex virtually non-stop action, he will go back to films that have more human nuance and variety.

The slum setting where the cops are trapped and must fight their way out of is a beehive of multi-storied makeshift cells, closed in, yet unprotected from the rain. This is a fascinatingly complex and picturesque feat of claustrophobic production design. But its basically uniform, indecipherable nature is one reason the action's logistics are hard to parse.

Other cast members include Joross Gamboa, Mara Lopez, Nonie Buencamino, AJ Muhlach and Victor Neri.

BuyBust, Phillippines 126 mins., debuted at the New York Asian Film Festival on Closing Night, 15 Jul. 2018 at the Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center, at 8:30 p.m. World Premiere. Q&A with director Erik Matti and actors Anne Curtis & Brandon Vera · Closing Night Party. It will show at Fantasia International Film Festival in Canada 18 July, on 19 July at Comicon as part of the 21st Annuel Superhero Kung Fu Extravaganza panel, and at Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival and Fantasia in Montreal as well as opening theatrically in the US in August.

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