August is the month in which the entire Philippines celebrates our national language, Filipino, and at the same time, the rich cultural heritage of the country is also celebrated. So, it is no wonder that I’ve been trying to put more emphasis on Filipino films this month, especially as two big local film festivals- Cinemalaya and Pista ng Pelikulang Pinoy (Festival of Filipino Films), also happened this month. However, for this post, as I previously reviewed Erik Matti’s “Buy Bust”, I decided to finally watch the film that brought his name into the limelight in the world of crime and action films, his 2013 film, “On the Job”.
The film was directed by Erik Matti, with a story by him, and a screenplay which he co-wrote with Michiko Yamamoto (“Magnifico”, “Ang Pagdadala ni Maximo Oliveros/The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros”). Matti and Yamamoto also wrote the screenplays for “Buy Bust”, and 2015 film “Honor thy Father” (a movie which I also really wanted to watch). Interestingly enough, this film is inspired by the claim of a crew member of a Filipino film production company, who was a former prisoner and who claimed to have performed contract killings for powerful people during his stay there. The film was scored by Erwin Romulo, edited by Jay Halili, and cinematography by Fracis Ricardo Buhay III.
The principal photography was done in thirty three days, with a budget of Php. 47 million or $1.1 million. It premiered on May 24, 2013 at the Canne Film Festival, and was highly praised and garnered a standing ovation. It premiered on August 28, 2013 in the Philippines, and September 27, 2013 in the United States. As of late 2017, a sequel directed by Matti is supposedly in the works.
Video Source: Deadline Hollywood YouTube
The film tells the story of Mario Maghari (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson), two prisoners who are constantly hired to do contract killings for a generous sum of money; and what happens after a contract killing of theirs catches the attention of upright cop Sgt. Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez) and conflicted NBI (National Bureau of Investigation) agent Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual).
Just like this year’s “Buy Bust”, this film changed the game for the action, crime/thriller genre in local cinema, with its compelling and intriguing story, great performances, and heart-pounding chase sequences. Aside from proving that there is so much potential when it comes to Philippine cinema in this genre, it brought about a new wave of gritty, politically conscious action thrillers where all the characters are painted in shades of gray.
The performances in the film were all powerful, and even those that appeared for less than five minutes on screen left a lasting impression. The entire cast delivered and they were cast perfectly, from Michael de Mesa’s shady congressman, all the way to Joel Torre’s world weary contract killer and Piolo Pascual’s conflicted NBI agent. This film also gave Anderson a chance to show off his acting skills, which he wonderfully did, in his outstanding performance of newbie contract killer Daniel, who wears his new job with pride and swagger.
The writing itself wasn’t phenomenal, but the performances and the chase sequences allowed it to shine.
It also shed light on how people with power here can get away with almost anything, while the upright are humiliated and shamed, what desperate people are capable of doing when push comes to shove just to earn a couple of bucks, and how the mentality of gratitude and family ties help protect and reinforce the already corrupt system that is in place.
There are moments where it does drag a little, and there is a very gratuitous bed scene somewhere in the middle, but all in all, this film is highly recommended for fans of the neo-noir thriller genre and fans of Philippine cinema as well.
Now, you know the drill, from here on out, there will be spoilers!
Out of all of the wonderful performances in the film, Anderson stood out as he was able to shed his teenybopper leading man image, and was able to portray a newbie contract killer full of bravado and swagger down to a tee. This film definitely proved that he was an actor capable of so much more than the usual romantic or romantic-comedy fare that most Filipinos tend to enjoy more often than not.
Pascual was also able to portray his conflicted NBI agent character, Francis Coronel, Jr., well. He was able to show, in his performance, the inner conflict his character was going through, all the way until he made that fateful decision of doing the right thing, even though it meant that his father-in-law and wife would get hurt in the process.
Torre is a veteran of Philippine cinema, which is plain to see. His performance in portraying Mario’s journey throughout the film was powerful and nuanced. We see him go from an experienced contract killer and experienced when it comes to prison life, to the build up of desperation he felt as the film went along after realizing that he can’t continue this line of work when he gets out in a few days. That, plus the fact that his family doesn’t really need him anymore as much as he though he would be needed, were what made him snap in the end, and made him decide that staying in prison and continuing to be a contract killer would be better in the end.
I actually haven’t seen Marquez in any Filipino film yet, although he a staple in the local film industry, and I appreciated his performance here as the upright police officer who keeps on pursuing the truth, even though it gets him demoted and fired in the end. In this country, there are probably a lot of officers and officials who would love to do what is right, but the sad truth of the matter is that they cannot afford to lose their jobs, especially with a family to feed, care, and provide for.
That, plus the the fact that Filipinos have a culture of gratitude, and the concept of doing everything for family, unfortunately help machine of corruption to continue on.
It was also interesting to see the dichotomy in the mentee and mentor relationships that are present in the film. On one hand, we have Daniel, whose mentor, Mario, taught him everything he needs to know to be a good contract killer; and we have Coronel, who, was interestingly given a choice of two mentors. He was lucky enough to be given the choice of choosing between family, his corrupt father-in-law, and the upright cop Acosta. Thankfully, he chose the latter.
My favorite parts in the film were when the NBI and the two contract killers were closing in on the house of Acosta’s friend while he was there as well; the chase sequence that happened afterwards, which saw them weave in and out of the dark and rainy streets of Manila and the train system; and the build up and chase sequence that happened after Acosta’s friend was shot by Mario in the hospital.
“On the Job” is a great action crime thriller that definitely changed the game in the genre in the local film scene, and gave us great action sequences and wonderful performances from everyone involved in the film. Out of the two Matti films, this one is the one I prefer, as this is a genre I’m more comfortable with than all out action, but I wholly respect everything that “Buy Bust” has given the genre as well.
Have you seen “On the Job” ? Which did you prefer, “Buy Bust” or “On the Job”? Let me know what you think in the comments below!