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‘In the Philippines, the Gangsters Are the Politicians,’ Says Team Behind Golden Lion Hopeful ‘On the Job: The Missing 8’

The Gangsters Are the Politicians, ‘The
Courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia/ASAC/G Zucchiatti

Director Erik Matti takes a closer look at the gritty reality of the Philippines in “On the Job: The Missing 8.” Inspired by true events and presented in Venice’s main competition, it shows a corrupt journalist seeking justice for his missing colleagues, as well as crime syndicates that temporarily release prison inmates to carry out political assassinations.

Originally intended for the big screen, this film and Matti’s 2013 thriller “On the Job” – shown at Cannes Directors’ Fortnight – have been reworked as a six-part HBO Asia Original series, which bows on Sept. 12 on HBO GO in Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam.

“We are happy about this partnership. Now, people will get to see it on a global scale,” said producer Ronald Monteverde during the press conference at the Italian festival, calling it a “stepping stone” for the franchise. With Quark Henares of Globe Studios adding that the story – clocking in at a whooping 208 minutes – actually translated very well into a series.

“I remember when Erik told us how long the cut was, sweating buckets,” he laughed. “Thankfully, it all worked out, we are with HBO and it fits the DNA of the channel, with the likes of ‘True Detective’ and ‘The Wire.’ I really think [‘On the Job’] belongs to that pantheon of work.”

“I am the last person to endorse a 3 hour and 28 minute film,” said Matti, admitting he usually prefers to keep his stories short and straightforward. “In this case, it just didn’t work. The fact that we are showing it now at a major film festival and that it found its way to HBO proved that we shouldn’t have doubted ourselves. There were people telling us it’s too local, too layered and too difficult to follow. Now, we are here with the international audience.”

Admitting a third part is not out of the question just yet (“This time, we end things just like in real life – there is a lot of unfinished business,” he said) Matti also discussed his love for gangster movies and political dramas, from “All the President’s Men” to Michael Mann’s “Insider”.

Where the first instalment of “On the Job” was his ode to the cinema of Johnnie To and Jean-Pierre Melville, the second is all about Brian De Palma, he said, which helped him tell the story based on disturbing events and still keep it entertaining, with Dennis Trillo playing a hired gun and undergoing a spectacular physical transformation.

“In most of my movies, I am the leading man,” he said. “I need to be cool, but Erik wanted me to look dumb and stupid instead.”

“I am just glad to take something so serious and political, even to the point of it being dangerous, and turn it into something cinematic. Maybe that’s why we are not in danger,” added Matti when asked about possible ramifications that could await the cast and crew upon their return to the country.

“Erik likes gangster and political thrillers, but in the Philippines, the gangsters are the politicians. That’s something very unique about our country,” joked Henares, with the rest of the team joining in.

“They will watch it and be entertained by the film, without focusing on who is who in the story. But we will find out when we get to the airport,” added Matti.

“This might be my last laugh.”

Produced by Reality MM Studios and Globe Studios, “On the Job: The Missing 8” was executive produced by Monteverde, Matti, Joe Caliro and Henares.