Before anything else, I‘d like to point out that the movie surpassed my expectations, and sparked my hope in Philippine cinema. It was fast, the acting was good, the characters were mostly believable. And it actually made me care about what happens next while watching it.
To anyone wondering if the movie is worth watch, I say YES.
I heard this same comment in polite circles. The movie is a beautiful surprise. A refreshing take at the crime genre. The biggest distribution deal in our history. Bouyed by the soundtrack. Envied.
In itself, I have high praises for the movie, which in Cannes received with two-minute applause. I guess what worries me is the fact that great Filipino flicks celebrating the darkness, grime and scum of the country, seems now a tradition that we can't get away from. Brocka's Maynila, Insiang, Jaguar, Mendoza's Kinatay... I would wish for a brighter and nicer way to depict the country besides this.
When a movie that shows the dirtiest and most decayed parts of our society is what gets the most awards and celebrations, one can pause and claim that there's got to be something wrong with the world.
And yet this is what happened with On the Job, a crime drama about the existential struggles of a soon-to-retire killer-for-hire, Mario (played by Joel Torre) as he contemplates his next job. Training a recruit, Daniel, played by Gerald Anderson, happens to be just that next payday, and it's not an easy task.
Paul Sarossy's 2001 film, Mr. In-Between (released as The Killing Kind outside of Britain) captures it well: murder wasn't a problem, until now.
See, when Erik Matti (Gagamboy, Tiktik, Exodus, Pedro Penduko) pans his camera to weave an intricate tale of murder in the city, perpetuated by a network of shady characters under the baton of powerful patrons - we know that the next scene is a trite and formulaic plot where the heroes will eventually become pawns in a more sinister game.
But of course, guided by the beautiful screenplay of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros's Michiko Yamamoto, the audience celebrates with sighs of "Ahh, Kaya naman pala". Translate that to, "So, apparently, it goes to show that we can do it" Or, in altering emphasis, “So that’s why!”
Either way is not worth celebrating.
It’s sad to praise quality filmmaking as a mere accident of collaboration.
So do not get me wrong, I have high praises for the movie. It was in fact the trigger that leads to the insight: that there's a right way of making a killing.
But we must defer any celebration until we can be sure that the indie film scene in the Philippines that brings all the international awards is not in itself a monopolized set of rules on creativity, and a mishmash of fixed formulas and whittled-down standards.