Resistance in Filipino Cinema: Our Review of ‘On The Job’

Posted in Movies, Retrospective, Theatrical by - October 11, 2017
Resistance in Filipino Cinema: Our Review of ‘On The Job’

I kind of understand both the sides of the On The Job debate. There’s my aunt and the Filipino movie going public whose imaginations sparked more brightly. That’s because of this genre film. So much so that they show the movie to each other years after its release in 2013. There’s the festival crowds and international critics who have mostly given the film praise. Then there’s my dad who finds these plaudits baffling. Me, I’m in the middle. I’m not the biggest fan of the soundtrack. Yes, the Juan de la Cruz Band is great, but this context makes them sound Stones-y. The Scorsese comparison because of the tunes are just around the corner.

Which has drawn people into the film. But makes me wish that it created its own language instead of copying the West. The tracking shots that follow Daniel (Gerald Anderson) have the same effect. In a way, Daniel spirit takes the film over. He’s the rambunctious big man in prison. He’s the kind of person who can inadvertently reveal his secrets. That’s a detriment to his job as a hired gun. And while Most Filipinos curse in Tagalog naturally, he does so like nails on a chalkboard. Which is the only one of Anderson’s interesting acting decisions that’s disagreeable. Otherwise his boyishness fits the role.

Daniel’s the protege of Tatang (Joel Torre), both of whom get time out of prison to do their work.  Tatang doesn’t think Daniel is ready for the full time. I don’t understand why Tatang can’t find a better replacement, but I suppose the film needs more training montages. It also needs the same techniques to depict the men who are investigating one of their hits. That’s where Francis Coronel, Jr. (Piolo Pascual) comes in. While Daniel’s training is more physical, Francis’ has more to do with his older patrician peers. Francis, a second generation cop, has the more interesting arc. Francis’ father in law, Congressman Manrique (Michael de Mesa) plants him in the National Bureau of Investigation.

Manrique hopes that Francis becomes the youngest chief of that force. The latter doesn’t mind playing that game, despite his lack of ambition. But the influence of a bitter sergeant Joaquin Acosta (Joey Marquez) ends up making him a more honest cop. Both Daniel and Francis get wise words from their respective sages. The latter can lead their horses to water, etc. All of these happening in Manila, which director Erik Matti portrays through labyrinth-like eskinitas. The film mostly shows Daniel’s Manila, its mucky surfaces waiting for blood for him to spill. Daniel and Francis are on the forefront of Matti’s diptych, which is typical in a shoot-em-up genre. The women, however get enough screen time to have their say.

Tatang comes home to his suspiciously young wife Lulette (Angel Aquino) and daughter, law student Tina (Empress Schuck). Both go along with his lie that he has a contract job in Cebu. Another example is Francis’ wife Nicky (Shaina Magdayao), a willing player of the patriarchy. She succeeds to influence Francis with every decision he thinks he’s making on his own. The actresses show their bad sides to their men without making it like a wig reveal. It’s difficult to learn something about characters and feel like they’re the same person they were in the beginning. But Matti and his co-screenwriter Michiko Yamamoto accomplish just that. The story they write is one that shows a disturbing equilibrium. And as much as others might disagree with me on this, their message doesn’t come off as a downer.


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While Paolo Kagaoan is not taking long walks in shrubbed areas, he occasionally watch movies and write about them. His credentials are as follows: he has a double major in English and Art History. This means that, for example, he will gush at the art direction in the Amityville house and will want to live there, which is a terrible idea because that house has ghosts. Follow him @paolokagaoan on Instagram but not while you’re working.