If you do the right thing, then things will turn out well; if you do wrong, then you get punished.
In an ideal world, things happen this way. Sadly, the real world is far from ideal. This is something that the character in BuyBust learn the hard way. BuyBust centers on Nina Manigan and her integration into a new team in the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA). Manigan is the sole survivor of a bust gone wrong, and you can tell from her demeanor that she is eager to bring the country’s drug lords down.
The team is assigned to do a drug bust in Barangay Gracia ni Maria, a slum area designed like a maze. The operation fails, and Manigan and her team must find a way out. This proves to be difficult because the team goes against both those involved in narcotics and those who reside in the barangay.
BuyBust is very straight to the point. It knows exactly what message it wants to send to the audience, and whose perspective it wants to show. Its reference to the Philippines’ war on drugs is glaring but goes so much deeper than what it shows.
The complexity of this film, then, lies not only in the story it tells, but also the discourse it creates on morality, corruption, and the world of drugs. The film gets gory, and this happens in small doses at first. Towards the halfway mark, so much death and gore has happened that the action sequences can feel draggy.
It may even feel lacking at some points.
I realized this creates an important example of desensitization. The film presents scenes of death and the audience gets used to it; we can compare this to how some people are getting desensitized to EJKs because of how frequent they happen. BuyBust is a reminder not to accept this as the norm.
Director Erik Matti demands the attention of the audience with each sequence. He makes the best out of the crowded spaces while still creating impressive imagery. For a film that tackles how ugly reality can be, it still manages to be appealing on screen. It knows when to pull back and sustain a certain softness when necessary as well.
One of the most powerful scenes in the film happens in the shabu lab of the supposedly elusive Biggie Chen. Biggie Chen is calm in the face of a bloodied Manigan. The confrontation that the two have serve as confirmation for a lot of things – that sometimes, things get dirty because of other people’s greed; sometimes, poverty breeds indifference and a sense of helplessness against those in power; and sometimes, the system fails because the people in charge decide for it to.
The last sequence of the film makes the audience question their own moral compasses. If faced with Manigan’s predicament, would they have done the same thing? Does it ever become right to wrong someone for the sake of the greater good?
“Hindi ‘ka batas,” Yatco, another PDEA officer, tells Manigan. A reminder that no one is above the law – not drug lords, not civilians, and certainly not police officers. Anyone who thinks otherwise contributes to the cycle of corruption that results in bloodshed.
BuyBust is as gripping as it is important. It shows a situation that isn’t too far from reality, and it does so boldly. This film will make you think about what the Drug War and Extra Judicial Killings bring to the country, as it should.
Written by Althea Kalalo