The specialist of cinematographic genres Erik Matti and his screenwriter wife, Michiko Yamamoto, return to the world of the years 2013 At work with this ambitious three-hour and twenty-eight minute sequel, which will soon be reissued, along with its predecessor, as a limited six-episode mini-series for HBO Asia. Even close toIrish length, it works great as a feature film, expanding the scope of the cops-‘n’-crooks in Manila’s debut film to focus on journalism’s role in empowering politicians.
The setting this time is the Municipality of La Paz, led by Mayor Pedring Eusebio (Dante Rivero), the seemingly beloved leader of a diplomatic dynasty that presents itself as tough on crime and corruption. In reality, Eusebio is wallowing up to his neck in the mud, although he has enough control over the media apparatus to systematically hijack the public narrative to his advantage.
At work: the 8 missing
The bottom line
A thorn in his side is Arnel Pangan (Christopher De Leon), the owner of a struggling newspaper who frequently publishes articles calling Eusebio and his pals. It cannot stand, and so Eusebio, like the corrupt politicians of the first At work, enlisted the services of temporarily released local prison inmates to carry out assassinations. One of them, the Roman Rubio (Dennis Trillo), with a striking broken nose, will prove to be less than faithful to the criminal code of dishonor.
Pangan is the target of the hitmen. But by a cruel twist of fate, seven other people (including a child) are with him when he crosses the path of the killers. Missing victims become another statistic (“The Missing 8”) in the long history of unresolved disappearances in the Philippines, as well as the catalyst for friend Pangan radio host, Sisoy Salas (John Arcilla), to rethink her views pro-government and help bring the hard truth to light.
It’s no surprise that the ink-stained lives of Salas and his colleagues, especially in today’s virtual age, aren’t easy. And there’s a sublime tension in the way Matti and Yamamoto pay homage to the power of print while stylistically going for the whole thing. A meeting extended to all hands is visualized through several panels, 24 style, while social media posts and other ephemeral Internet material are often overlaid on the screen to represent the glut of information (real and false) vying for the reader’s attention.
There isn’t a time when Matti doesn’t try to excite the cattle in at least one of the five senses, although the downside to this rambling dynamism is that it makes most of the horrors depicted more palatable than maybe they shouldn’t be. At work: the 8 missing sometimes leans too much towards the cheek, as in a pre-credits teaser in which a witness to Eusebio’s corruption is chased down while Tom Jones’ “Delilah” screams on the soundtrack. A much better combination of needle drop and suspense piece is a riot in a prison that was very well marked by ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’, in which the Roman, who has the moralizer, s ‘finally asserts violently.
Salas is the main focus, however, and Arcilla plays it with an initial carefree energy that slowly turns into hunched-shoulder grief. The systemic venality which initially sustains it becomes the atlas globe which weighs it down. His eventual transformation into a reluctantly armed live Facebook survival revolutionary is pure fantasy. But he is still imbued with an invigorating and just anger against a degraded form of governance (“Meet the new boss / Same as the old boss”) that transcends borders.