On The Job expanded series, to stream on HBO Go from 12 Sept, will premiere in Venice

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John Arcilla as journalist Sisoy Salas in On The Job. (Still: HBO)
John Arcilla as journalist Sisoy Salas in On The Job. (Still: HBO)

Following the huge critical success of On The Job (OTJ) in 2013, the franchise is back to once again spotlight the artistry of Philippine cinema.

Breaking ground as the first Filipino series for release in Southeast Asia on HBO Go, both films from the OTJ franchise will stream exclusively on the platform as a six-part series beginning 12 September. The first two episodes are a director’s cut of the original film, while the next four episodes will focus on the sequel.

Stories of corruption never end.Director Erik Matti, On The Job: The Missing 8

The film’s sequel, On The Job: The Missing 8, a story revolving around a case of missing journalists, is set to premiere on 10 September at the 78th Venice Film Festival. The film, which is inspired by true events, will compete alongside 20 others as the only Asian contender for the prestigious Golden Lion award.

In a virtual press conference last week, director Erik Matti said that he loved working on the series since it allowed him to revisit plotlines that were cut from the original film.

"It gave me a chance to breathe more life to the franchise," he said.

After its premiere in Venice, the film will also be screened in Rome and Milan.

Matti expressed his gratitude for having been chosen in the screenings. "Venice Film Festival is bringing just a few, not the entire official selection, and we were chosen to be shown in Rome and Milan," he said.

Matti said that Filipino audiences would relate to the new film which tackled themes such as crime, corruption and press freedom. 

"Certain parts of the film become true...You don’t know if you're watching a make-believe story or if you're really watching real life," the filmmaker said.

(Read an in-depth interview with director Matti here.)

Gerald Anderson as Daniel in On The Job. (Still: HBO)
Gerald Anderson as Daniel in On The Job. (Still: HBO)

Chilling narratives

The unsettling parallels between the neo-noir action thriller franchise and Philippine society are hard to miss.

In what seemed to be a glimpse into President Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, Matti captured in the original film the country's prevalent culture of violence and impunity, as well as the rotten Philippine justice system. 

Also inspired by real life events, the first film followed the story of two inmates – Tatang (Joel Torre) and Daniel (Gerald Anderson) – who were released from prison on furlough to kill off the enemies of a political bigwig. Telling much of the gritty story from their viewpoint, Matti put a human perspective to his anti-hero protagonists.

In the next installation, Matti digs deeper into the underbelly of Philippine politics. This time, the renowned filmmaker also sheds light on the impact of media and “fake news,” social issues rife in the Duterte administration.

While it seems that some plotlines in the On The Job franchise mirror harsh realities in the country, Matti clarified in the presser that he doesn’t intend to push political advocacy with his filmmaking. Instead, he only wants to tell compelling stories that feature relatable characters.

“I am never judgmental. I am interested in understanding what makes them think, to see the human side of them, not to glorify them but to really see how they became who they are,” Matti said in a statement on the official site of the Venice Film Festival.

Powerhouse ensemble cast

The franchise boasts a talented ensemble cast. Some original cast members will make reappearances, but the sequel will also introduce a diverse mix of new characters, including Roman (Dennis Trillo) as another prisoner-turned-hitman, as well as journalists Arnel (Christopher De Leon) and Sisoy (John Arcilla). They will star alongside Lotlot De Leon as Weng, Dante Rivero as Mayor Eusebio, Isabelle De Leon as Joni, and Andrea Brillantes as Diane.

During the virtual presser, some cast members shared their thoughts on the film.

Lotlot De Leon praised journalists for their courage and urged them to continue their fight for the truth. “Never stop caring. Never stop fighting for what is right,” she said.

Never stop caring. Never stop fighting for what is right.Lotlot De Leon, actress, On The Job: The Missing 8

For his part, Trillo said that the film is testament to the caliber of films that Filipinos can make. “This is a wonderful venue to showcase the talent of Filipinos. It is also a reminder that Filipinos can raise the quality of their work in the film industry,” he said.

Meanwhile, Arcilla stressed that the film is "a commentary on what’s going on in our country." "It's going to open minds in our country and other parts of the world... that this is happening here and this is how severe the situation is," he said.

Asked whether there would be another installation to the franchise, Matti said that when they finished the original film, they didn't anticipate a sequel. But as he pointed out, “Stories of corruption never end.”

Ana Catalina Paje is a development journalist passionate about grassroots communication geared towards genuine social change. She also writes about showbiz, lifestyle, and all things Pinoy pride. The views expressed are her own.

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