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Review: Philippine action film ‘BuyBust’ takes on country's brutal drug wars

Review: Philippine action film ‘BuyBust’ takes on country's brutal drug wars
Tarek El Tayech and Anne Curtis in the movie "BuyBust." (Well Go USA Entertainment)

Filipino action director Eric Matti’s epic and insane “BuyBust” takes place over one night in a Manila slum, when a drug bust goes belly up, and turns into brutal, bloody chaos. Trapped in a labyrinthine maze of shacks, a police squad is set up by their higher-ups during a sting operation and have to fight their way out when the residents, fed up with the state-inflicted violence, transform into a vengeful, torch-wielding mob.

There are easy comparisons to be drawn to the Indonesian martial arts movie “The Raid,” and while “BuyBust” doesn’t boast that film’s sophisticated simplicity, it shares its unrelenting violence and a protagonist with good, albeit lethal, intentions. This hero is Nani Manigan (Anne Curtis), a wary cop who lost her previous squad in a similar fashion.

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Once the police have to fight their way out, the killing starts and doesn’t stop for two straight hours. A climatic long-take fight scene winds its way through the slum, like “Old Boy” by way of a western saloon brawl, with bodies raining from rooftops, then floating in monsoon waters. At times, the action is almost slapstick, if it weren’t so nihilistic.

After this raucous orgy of bloodshed, a radio report declares the incident as merely part of the “War on Drugs.” The film is a bleak commentary on Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal drug war. In the cynical worldview of “BuyBust,” there’s no escaping this crushing cycle of killing and corruption. That real-life message makes this wild action film more powerful, but the violence is a hard pill to swallow.

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‘BuyBust’

In Filipino with English subtitles

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 7 minutes

Playing: Starts Aug. 10 in limited release

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