Care to guess where Judge Michael Nazarewycz got his training?
One cop. Two killers. No proof.
My foreign film passport is frequently stamped in the Asian Pacific area of the world, sailing a route that includes stops in Japan, across the Sea of Japan to South Korea, and down the East China Sea along the coast of China to Hong Kong (and back again). Not this time. This time it sailed southeast from Hong Kong, across the South China Sea to the Philippines, where a thriller of a much different Asian cinematic style awaited.
Facts of the Case
Tatang (Joel Torre, The Bourne Legacy) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson, 24/7 In Love) are professional hit men hired to assassinate a high-profile drug dealer. They do so in broad daylight, in the middle of a jam-packed parade. When police Sergeant Acosta (Joey Marquez, I Wanna Be Happy) is assigned the case, he gets nowhere fast. The reason? Tatang and Daniel have the perfect alibi: they are also prisoners. Thanks to rampant corruption at all levels of politics and law enforcement, the killing duo is snuck out of prison, they take care of business, then they are snuck back in.
Enter Francis (Piolo Pascual, Kimmy Dora and the Temple of Kiyeme), an honest agent with the National Bureau of Investigation. He has been assigned to the case by his congressman father-in-law at the urging of a shady high-ranking government official. As Tatang and Daniel take more work to get more cash, Acosta and Francis get closer to cracking the case, but the closer they get the more dangerous things become for them.
The deeper producer/writer/director Erik Matti (Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles) drew me into On the Job, the more the Asian thriller revealed how heavily it is influenced by American crime dramas of the 1970s. The mood is consistently bleak. The settings are depressed. Corruption is present. Moral ambiguity is present. Collateral damage affects the personal lives of peripheral characters. The heroes are human (not over-the-top, like they became in the 1980s and can sometimes be in traditional Asian fare). The action is always believable (but there is still some of that soaking bloodiness added for effect). Good intentions pave the road to hell.
The overall feel of the film is best described as gritty, although I hesitate to draw a connection to any particular gritty American film because this goes beyond a film-to-film comparison; this is a new entry into an old genre that crosses continents and eras. And it all works.
Yet for all of that grittiness and good-versus-evil theme, the film features a large amount of patriarchy: old hit man/young hit man; streetwise cop/up-and-coming agent; criminal father/daughter; political father/daughter; father-in-law/son-in-law; even one man living in the shadow of his late father. The relationships aren't deeply explored but the intent of the theme is clear, and it goes both ways—father figures teach and/or child figures try to please. And each of these relationships—every one—comes to a definitive and sometimes shocking conclusion. The film also features traditional male/female relationships and how those are impacted by the choices the characters make. Again, there isn't deep exploration, but there is certainly an attempt to provide something more than two dimensions.
The acting in the key roles is solid across the board, but Joel Torre is the standout—by a wide margin—as the grizzled hit man. Whether he is executing a hit, scolding his protege for errors made, or confronting his wife about their future; you cannot take your eyes off of him. I was quickly and consistently reminded of Min-sik Choi, he of Oldboy and I Saw the Devil fame, as an actor whose work I will stop to watch if given the chance. These two actors have never worked together, but they should.
And as is usually the case, yet another Asian filmmaker knows how to end a film. You will not get Hollywood wish-wash here. It took me by surprise by its sudden violence, and then it captivated me with its pathos. The last 20 minutes are the best part of the film.
Many of the Asian films that Well Go USA has released on Blu-ray feature superior visuals that capture the imagery of Asia's colorful history. On the Job is a different looking Asian film, though, trading lush palates for bleak, muted tones. That didn't stop Well Go from producing another superior 1.85:1/1080p transfer. Images are consistently sharp, from chaotic scenes with throngs of people to intimate moments between just two, and regardless of whatever levels of light exist in both interior and exterior settings. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track does an excellent job delivering the audio mix, particularly in the crowded and busy prison scenes.
On the Job (Blu-ray) offers up two extras. The first is a collection of 21 deleted scenes running about 37 minutes in total. It's interesting to note that the audio on these scenes is raw, picking up a lot of ambient noise that would normally be removed in post-production. This suggests the scenes are more "unused" than deleted, but they're still very much worth watching. The second extra is a fairly routine, 6-ish minute "Making Of" feature, with actors and the director offering soundbites in between film clips.
I normally try to avoid the "I wish the extras had…" game, but as an exception to this rule, I wish the On the Job extras had a feature on the inspiration behind the film. According to documentation from Well Go USA, "The film is based on the true scandal that rocked the Philippines…" I would love to know what those real-life circumstances were.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Yes, the last 20 minutes are the best, but there are times it feels like you won't get there. After a strong open, the first act is challenged with keeping clear the parallel stories of the good guys and bad guys, and the second act drags. The third act really pays off though, so it is worth sticking with it.
Two parts Gritty '70s American Crime Drama and one part Classic Asian Thriller Finale, On the Job is quality offering from a part of Asia with a lot more story left to tell.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go USA
• Deleted Scenes
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