BuyBust (Philippines 2018)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 1/5/19
Director: Erik Matti
Cast: Anne Curtis, Brandon Vera, Victor Neri, Alex Calleja, Lao Rodriguez, Sheenly Gener, Mara Lopez

Filipino action cinema died out in the late 80's, which makes "BuyBust" a rare and unique film. Clearly and admittedly inspired by "The Raid" (2011), it's an overly ambitious actioner that attempts to compete on the international stage, while maintaining a strong Filipino flavor. Haunted by the deaths of her former squad, PDEA agent Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) joins Bernie Lacson's (Victor Neri) special forces team to help bring justice to the men responsible. Her first mission starts out as a simple drug bust sting operation that quickly devolves into a night of murder and mayhem as her team is betrayed, ambushed, and trapped inside a labyrinthine slum, while the bad guys hunt down the survivors like rats. Dozens of innocents are caught in the crossfire, but no one dares lend a hand to the doomed agents.

First of all, Anne Curtis is FANTASTIC. She's sexy and fierce, and you never once question her unwavering integrity and intensity. She effortlessly carries the entire film and is a pure joy to watch. She also handles her action scenes with unflinching conviction and authority, even if the fight choreography looks a little soft. What's nice is that most of the bad guys are small and skinny, which makes things more believable since Curtis is not at a huge size disadvantage like most female action characters are. MMA champion Brandon Vera provides the muscle in his first film outing and manages to be both charming and vulnerable. He's sort of a mix between Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel. His fight scenes are good, but they similarly suffer from soft looking choreography. However, this may be the direct result of filming in long continuous shots, rather than cutting away from every hit and reassembling the fights in the editing room. I certainly appreciate director Erik Matti's old-school approach in that regard. Victor Neri makes an excellent no-nonsense squad commander and Mara Lopez adds some extra sex appeal as one of the squad's several female members.

The film is definitely ambitious, and after a slow start, the carnage comes fast and furious. To make things even more challenging, it takes place at night and is raining most of the time, so the characters are constantly wet and sliding around on slippery rooftops and muddy alleys. The handheld camerawork tends to look a bit sloppy and the cinematography is mostly unremarkable, but there are numerous moments of jaw-dropping brilliance. The film's most technically impressive shot is an exhausting three-minute long continuous take where Manigan fights off dozens of attackers while scaling walls, running across rooftops, getting flung off a building, and climbing back up to the roof. It's an amazing shot that took 57 takes and required Anne Curtis to run 1.5 km each time. As a Filipino action film, the fight scenes are distinctly Filipino and don't feature the flashy aspects of kung fu, wushu, karate, or other Asian fighting styles. The fights are all ground based and very dirty, focusing on close quarters combat with sticks, knives, and whatever sharp objects happen to be lying about. These guys don't mess around, and there's even a decapitation using garden shears, which totally took me by surprise. Manigan is a merciless force of rage and fury who only falters at the very end when the head villain finally shows his hand and attempts to manipulate her by making her question her beliefs. It's an overly long and preachy exposition that derails the climax, but Manigan finally gets the upper hand and the final word. Or bullet. While it definitely has some shortcomings, it's an intense and enjoyable action outing that's a must-see for female action fans.

In the amusing song lyrics department, the cheery closing credits song goes something like "meth is dangerous, drugs are bad, and you'll end up dead."