Prompting roars of applause from the 2013 Cannes’ Directors Fortnight audience, Erik Matti’s smash-hit On The Job has been notable for placing Filipino storytellers on a global pedestal. As such, a sequel to build upon Matti’s complex and gritty world was necessary. With a tough act to follow, On The Job: The Missing 8 managed to win over critics and audiences alike through its fresh take on the themes of its predecessor.
The On The Job sequel dominated Filipino film discourse thanks to its participation in this year’s Venice International Film Festival (VIFF). This, consequently, created hype for its HBO Go release. Heavily leaning into the original’s political undertones, On the Job: The Missing 8 revels in its brave commentary on fake news and the deteriorating state of press freedom.
‘Utakan na ang laro dito’
While the original film focuses on the violent exploitation of the poor, the sequel chooses to mirror the country’s ongoing war against misinformation. While HBO GO packages the two films as a limited series, Matti brilliantly links the two installments’ thematic ideologies to present a country that often sidelines the well-being of the masses in favor of pleasing the upper class.
Gone is the action thriller genre depicted in its predecessor. Instead, the sequel repositions itself into a political detective story, focusing more on the struggles of journalism during the current administration. Arcilla’s Sisoy Salas, a propagandist radio host, tours us through the crime-free city of La Paz—an eerily familiar version of Davao City under Rodrigo Duterte’s mayorship. Any semblance of subtlety is thrown out the window to efficiently highlight its jarring yet timely themes.
The unyielding power in Matti’s direction can be found in his clever use of imagery, reflecting major events that endangered press freedom in the Philippines. From the Maguindanao Massacre to the recent ABS-CBN Shutdown, Matti and writer Michiko Yamamoto expertly deliver fast-paced storytelling techniques for maximum emotional impact. Thus, On The Job: The Missing 8 has brilliant pacing, with minutes breezily passing by.
Perhaps the unexpected star in the sequel is its numerous needle drops, ranging from kundiman songs to early Pinoy disco hits. While numerous, these do not take away the immersive experience and instead work hand-in-hand with the dread, chaos, and melancholy found in Matti and Yamamoto’s masterpiece.
‘Balat-kayo lahat ang buhay sa mundo’
The moment Sisoy is introduced, Arcilla’s Volpi Cup for Best Actor win at VIFF immediately becomes understandable. He sings, shouts, and performs kilometric monologues in distinct vocal affectations. But similar to Gary Oldman’s Winston Churchill in Darkest Hour and Meryl Streep’s Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, Arcilla intelligently provides nuance to a standard award-baity role.
Through the course of the film, we get to see Sisoy gradually transform to a more grounded character as he realizes the flaws in his ideologies. While this slow yet steady evolution is difficult for most actors to portray, somehow, Arcilla manages to play Sisoy’s character progression convincingly.
The success in Arcilla’s performance can be largely attributed to his chemistry with his supporting cast. While Christopher de Leon’s Arnel was only present in a handful of scenes, his appearances compellingly establish his cynical political ideologies, and brash relationship with the other characters. Lotlot de Leon effectively portrays an otherwise uninteresting character—Weng. Despite virtually having no character arcs, her interpretation effectively sets her apart from other hyperemotional portrayals of female characters in professional spaces.
Dennis Trillo has also made waves at VIFF, to the extent where he was a candidate for the Volpi Cup alongside Arcilla. At first glance, Trillo’s Roman is just the token hitman-for-hire character. However, this archetype deconstructs itself as Roman is at a constant battle with his morals, making him unique from the ones portrayed by Gerald Anderson and Joel Torre in the first film.
Unfortunately, the cast’s weakest point may be Dante Rivero’s Pedring Eusebio, a stand-in for Duterte. Rivero cruises past a lot of the strongman traits the President has exhibited over the years; thus, there was nothing really interesting or new to add to the series’ political commentary.
‘Sa lupang ipinangako’
In this excessively tumultuous world, the stories of Sisoy, Roman, and those living in the On The Job universe are bound to happen in real life. The film sets the ball rolling for a conversation on how information is consumed in the age of fake news and social media. Matti and Yamamoto, by virtue of how the sequel ends, seem to know nothing about resolving this matter. To be fair, none of us really do.
On The Job: The Missing 8 doubles as a fervent appeal to use our knowledge and individual experiences to spark concrete changes in dismantling the oppressive systems we’re living in. Like Sisoy’s invitation to Roman, the film encourages audiences, “Sumama ka sa akin. Ayusin natin ito.”
(Join us and we will fix this.)