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Plot: PDEA officers fight to survive a night-time bust in the slums.

It’s impossible to argue with nearly 40 years of cinematic tradition. BuyBust is Filipino through and through. Described on the regular as, “Die Hard in the slums” this adrenaline-pumping two-hour actionfest might very well be as incendiary Kinji Fukasaku’s legendary swansong Battle Royale (2000). BuyBust packs more than enough punch, a lot of bang, and some very bloody kills. With an amiable lead, a likeable supporting cast, and impressively brutal action direction and choreography this might very well be the Filipino answer to The Raid (2011). Whatever the case, BuyBust is a modern classic, ensuring that the spirit of Cirio H. Santiago lives on.

The star here is Anne Curtis who debuted in TGIS (1995), apparently a veritable phenomenon on Filipino television. Since then she has remained a pillar of Filipino television as well as dramas and romances of every stripe. One such dramas was No Other Woman (2011) where she starred alongside Cristine Reyes. It’s interesting that both would eventually get their own no-holds-barred action epic. Much blood has been shed in these pages how we loved Reyes as the sexy retired assassin in Maria (2019). In the interest of honesty Curtis isn’t too shabby of an actress – or at least she’s able to acquit herself admirably in what is a pretty physical but unthankful role. Reyes had the benefit of a more developed character in Maria (2019) and Veronica Ngo had some rather excellent action choreography in Furie (2019). That’s not even mentioning Fernanda Urrejola in Bring Me the Head of the Machine Gun Woman (2012). Not only had she to juggle wafer-thin writing with a fantasy-fuel fetish constume, but even before her recurring role in Narcos: México (2018-2020) it was clear she was destined for international superstardom. Reyes and Curtis have yet to break through globally.

If Maria (2019) was about well-financed criminal empires with far-reaching political connections in the wealthier neighborhoods of Manila then BuyBust is about drug cartels driving the destitute and the poor into crime, about the slums and the political systems that create them, the widespread corruption of the police force and their associated government officials. Maria (2019) was all about shiny cars, beautiful women, and palatial villas. BuyBust offers a dissenting voice towards the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte, the inherent futility of the Philippine Drug War and the promises of the restoration of social order through violence and superior firepower. BuyBust is about the lower classes, the forgotten, the ignored. More than anything it’s a polemic against poverty, of disenfranchisement, and a lack of upward social mobility. Maria (2019) looked and sounded impeccable, in BuyBust on the other hand you can smell the mud, the stale beer, the smog – the abject poverty in the slums is palatable, and so is the destitution of the people living there. BuyBust absolutely pulls no punches whatsoever and the picture it paints of the Philippines is not a pretty one, indeed.

The Philippine Drug War rages on. Detectives Rudy Dela Cruz (Lao Rodriguez) and Alvarez (Nonie Buencamino) have leaned on small-time drug dealer Teban (Alex Calleja) during interrogation convincing him that giving up the present whereabouts of elusive drug kingpin Biggie Chen (Arjo Atayde) is in his own best interest. Meanwhile disgraced police officer Nina Manigan (Anne Curtis) has survived bootcamp and is selected by aspirant team leader Bernie Lacson (Victor Neri) to join his elite PDEA anti-narcotics squad. After an operation to lure Biggie Chen out of hiding at Rajah Sulayman in Rizal Park fails to produce the desired results Teban ensures them that he can be found at the barangay Gracia ni Maria, supposedly drug-free by Dela Cruz’ own admission, in Tondo, Manila. The squad splits into a Alpha and Bravo teams led by Lacson and Rico Yatco (Brandon Vera), respectively. As Teban meets with Chongki (Levi Ignacio) to get an audience with Biggie Chen Manigan deduces that the entire thing is a set-up but her words fall on deaf ears. When their indecisiveness leads to the senseless killing of village elder Elmer (Eddie Ngo) their inaction provokes the community, always in the crossfire of the drug war, not just into disobedience but into a veritable violent civil uprising. Now in the midst of an all-out war with both the cartel members from Biggie Chen as well as Gracia ni Maria’s civilian militias the only question is: will Manigan survive the night long enough to find the corrupted one in her ranks?

For the Die Hard (1988) comparison to work it BuyBust takes far, far, far too long to let Nina Manigan face off alone against hordes of enemies. Likewise, for the Battle Royale (2000) comparison to hold up none of the other PDEA officers (beyond Manigan and Rico Yatco, obviously) are defined and explored as characters enough. Instead of seperating them early on and having each “team” fight toward a common destination or objective, BuyBust is content to throw them into the meatgrinder and be done with it. It’s difficult to care about anybody when everybody looks, acts, and sounds the same. Had BuyBust focused on the Die Hard (1988) angle and left Manigan as the sole survivor of the raid about an hour in, then it could spent the next hour having her fighting the cartel. Apparently this what Matti was going for because towards the third act Manigan is finally taking on armed goons in her soaked dirt-covered, bloodstained tanktop. What an incredible opportunity was missed here. Chocolate (2008), Maria (2019), and Furie (2019) worked so well because we knew exactly who Zen, Maria, and Hai Phượng were, what drove them, and what the stakes were. In BuyBust it’s hard to care about anybody except Manigan and Ratco. Mostly because Manigan and Ratco are actual characters, and not cyphers or rough abstracts like the remainder of the PDEA team. For Manigan to have but 20 minutes of solo action borders on criminal. When, and if, there’s a sequel, it better focus on agent Nina Manigan, exclusively.

What really somewhat dampens BuyBust is its reliance on all the tricks of modern, realist filmmaking. That is to say, frequently action scenes are not only marred, but actively nigh on impossible to follow, thanks to the rapid-fire editing, needlessly shaky camerawork (it doesn’t make it realistic, it makes it hard to follow), and terrible framing. What good is an action scene when you can’t see where everybody is, and how persons and objects relate to each other in space? Other times the camerawork is smooth and fluent almost making BuyBust look a video game playthrough. This is especially the case when the PDEA officers are scaling roofs and/or jumping from one wave of goons into the next. Fights break out but since we’re not familiar with the surroudings it’s hard to care. Literally dozens upon dozens of armed assailants are slaughtered over the course of two hours, but none feel as satisfying and earned as John McClane killing Hans Gruber in Die Hard (1988) or Shuya finally gunning down Kitano in Battle Royale (2000). In both instances every kill feels earned and represents a milestone. Here the great majority feel just like flesh for the grinder, one that must constantly be fed. Neither are there any boss level fights or heavies that Manigan must defeat. Perhaps it could be sensory overload with so much happening at the same time. More likely it was just a case of wanting to do everything and cut nothing. Overkill, quite literally, in fact.

Anne Curtis is cast against type for once, and like Cristine Reyes and Fernanda Urrejola the beautiful girl makes a lean, mean killing machine. However she wouldn’t be nearly be as much of a blunt force weapon if it weren’t for the fluent action direction and stomping fight choreography from and by Sonny Sison. BuyBust was filmed in 56 days and prior to principal photography Curtis underwent rigorous training in knife fighting, close corner combat, and was instructed in the ways of Pekiti-Tirsia Kali at the Scout Ranger Training School. As a natural result of this, she elected to do most of her own stunts. BuyBust can pride itself on employing some 309 stuntmen and 1,278 extras during production. The special effects work by Guy and Pong Naelgas is deliciously old school and appear to be largely practical-based, which is always a plus. Obviously there are digital enhancements and post-production effects but they never are intrusive or distracting. Director of photography Neil Bion for the most part is able to hide the budgetary limitations and rarely does a shot look amateuristic or cheap. The music from Malek Lopez and Erwin Romulo is an exciting mix of indigenous Filipino music, pounding club music, and smoked out bluesy rock and metal.

Since BuyBust Matti has directed the supernatural horror Kuwaresma (2019) (released internationally as The Entity) and the comedy A Girl and A Guy (2021) and so far no BuyBust sequel seems imminent as of this writing. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. In times wherein any title must potentially launch a franchise BuyBust so far hasn’t been diluted by any sequel or the expectations of a potential franchise. For one thing it would be great to have Cristine Reyes, Anne Curtis, and Fernanda Urrejola heading up their own action blockbuster. Is there anything more Filipino than the female action hero? It's probably one of the country’s most enduring cinematic traditions alongside topless kickboxing – and completely insane martial arts movies. We’d love nothing more than for Anne Curtis than to take on these kinds of roles on a semi-regular basis and when the screenplay fits her. Maria (2019) and Furie (2019) were slick and brutally efficient in their minimalism BuyBust on the other hand goes big. A production like this is the perfect antidote against Hollywood tentpole action features. BuyBust is brooding, grim, and exciting – what more do you want?

Plot: exchange student pulls prank on class playboy. Hilarity ensues!

The careers of commedia sexy all'Italiana starlets Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati were irrevocably intertwined but didn’t exactly run parallel. Whereas la Guida made her ass a thing of national pride through a series of breezy comedies, Carati wasn’t so fortunate. Lovely, luscious Lilli… She who shone so fiercely, so brightly, and who crashed so spectacularly, so miserably, so undeservedly. Forever the bad girl. There’s no disputing that To Be Twenty (1978) was a career peak for both la Guida and la Carati. Moreso for Carati as Guida was already was an established star by that point and even had a few genuine box office hits to her name prior to La Liceale (1975). Fernando Di Leo had not only upstaged the commedia sexy all'Italiana formula by turning the conventions on its head, and even more importantly, he used them as a vehicle some of the most scathing socio-political commentary aimed at church and state alike. Before Carati got there there was La compagna di banco (or The Seatmate, for those in the English-speaking world) from Mariano Laurenti, which hardly was the worst, or the most odious, thing that Lilli ever lend her name (and figure) to.

Mariano Laurenti was one of many specialized directors that ushered the commedia sexy all’Italiana into its various forms and through multiple decades. He’s mostly remembered around these parts for the indispensible Edwige Fenech-Malisa Longo decamerotico Beautiful Antonia, First a Nun Then a Demon (1972). Laurenti was instrumental in helping Edwige Fenech reinvent herself after her tenure as giallo queen. He worked with miss Fenech on many an occassion, but their association was by no means exclusive. He helped sire the comedic careers of just about every comedic Eurocult leading lady including, but not limited to, Nieves Navarro, Femi Benussi, and Orchidea De Santis to Nadia Cassini, Dagmar Lassander, Maria Rosaria Omaggio, and Anita Strindberg. He was the creative force behind My Father's Private Secretary (1976) plus La Guida’s post-La Liceale (1975) romp The Landlord (1976), as well as her post-To Be Twenty (1978) efforts The Highschool Girl Repeating Class (1978), The Night Nurse (1979), and How to Seduce Your Teacher (1979). Once Gloria divested of her famous schoolgirl character in search of greener pastures he directed The Repeater Winks at the Headmaster (1980), or that illicit sequel wherein Anna Maria Rizzoli superseded Sabrina Siani as the horny and mischievous schoolgirl. In his twilight years he assistant directed the breastacular Saint Tropez, Saint Tropez (1992) (with the delectable duo of former Tinto Brass goddesses Debora Caprioglio and Serena Grandi).

Simona Girardi (Lilli Carati) is a beautiful 18-year-old student who has newly moved from Milan to Trani in the region of Apulia. As a transfer student and newcomer at Mamiani Lyceum she immediately attracks the attention of philandering lothario of class 3B Mario D'Olivo (Antonio Melidoni). After hearing from her new friends the blonde Mirella (Brigitte Petronio) and fashionably crewcut Vera (Susanna Schemmari) that Mario has broken many hearts and that he will break hers if she’ll let him. With that in mind the girls decide that a suitable bit of revenge is in order. Simona will seduce him and give him a bit of his own medicine in retaliation. Mario’s best friends (and professional practical jokers) are ginger class clown Nicola Martocchia (Stefano Amato) and certified virgin-for-life Gennarino (Nando Paone, as Ferdinando Paone). The boys love nothing more than to come to Mario’s apartment and spy on nubile women undressing in the tailor shop of Mario’s father below.

Hijinks ensue when Mario’s father, Teo (Lino Banfi) hits on upperclass socialite Elena Mancuso (Nikki Gentile, as Niki Gentile) and he has to pretend to be gay to escape the wrath of her Mafia don husband signor Carmine Mancuso (Rosario Borelli). All of which amuses shop assistant Giuditta (Ermelinda De Felice) to no end. Back at home Mario barely has time to study as he has to ward off the unwanted advances of perennially horny maid Dominica (Paola Maiolini). At the faculty the teaching – and supporting staff are having their own problems. Professor of physics and gym Ilario Cacioppo (Gianfranco D'Angelo) and substitute Salvatore (Alvaro Vitali) are working on such a meager paycheck that they have to rely on fruit and vegetables the students bring to survive. Of course, all of them are booby-trapped.

Cacioppo is introduced to giant new teacher Professor Marimonti (Francesca Romana Coluzzi) who’s built like a linebacker and has the strength to match. Meanwhile the boys convince Salvatore that Elena Mancuso is a nymphomaniac lusting for him. Along the way Simona picks up an older suitor in Federico (Vittorio Stagni). Amidst all this chaos the principal (Marcello Martana) does everything within his power to avert crises at all costs. When Simona wants to introduce Mario to her parents (Gigi Ballista and Linda Sini) he gifts her a family heirloom which leads the D'Olivo clan accusing her of theft. When Commissioner Acavallo (Giacomo Furia) interrogates all the various parties involved, it’s Mario’s attorney mother (Cristina Grado, as Christina Grado) who comes to Simona’s rescue. Naturally, with all of this going on romance starts to grow between Simona and Mario.

Miss Cinema Campania Loredana Piazza (left), Miss Italia Mary Montefusco (middle), and Miss Eleganza Lilli Carati (right)

In 1974 Mary Montefusco was Miss Italia, Gloria Guida became Miss Teen Italia, Lilli Carati was crowned Miss Eleganza, and Loredana Piazza was Miss Cinema Campania. In the jury sat producer Franco Cristaldi who saw Lilli’s star potential and ensured she got her start in commedia sexy all’Italiana. Guida’s career was off to a flying start and she would, despite a few minor hiccups here and there, remain steadily in the mainstream.

Lilli had the good fortune to work with the greatest in domestic comedy including, but not limited to, Sergio and Bruno Corbucci, Michele Massimo Tarantini, Mariano Laurenti, and Pasquale Festa Campanile (with whom she allegedly had an affair) and shared the screen with Adriano Celentano, Enzo Cannavale, Renzo Montagnani, and Vittorio Caprioli. One thing was clear from the onset: lovely Lilli was never going to eclipse la Guida. Carati had co-starred alongside Tomas Milian in the second Nico Giraldi poliziottesco-comedy caper Hit Squad (1976) from Bruno Corbucci and played an l’insegnante in Michele Massimo Tarantini’s The Professor Of Natural Sciences (1976). It was only natural and logical that Lilli would play la liceale next. It was a rite of passage for every starlet. That happened with The Seatmate. While hardly mandatory Carati’s career was about to peak with A Night Full of Rain (1978) and To Be Twenty (1978) after which things went from bad to worse for her quite rapidly and dramatically.

Appearances in Escape from Women's Prison (1978) (with an ensemble cast including Zora Kerova, Dirce Funari, Ines Pellegrini, and Marina Daunia) and the sleazy Eurocrime actioner Vultures over The City (1981) signaled that Lilli’s days in the A-list were now very well behind her. By the the late 1970s Carati had developed addictions to alchohol, heroin and cocaine that would sideline her career. She kept in the limelight with covers on and nude spreads in Playboy (December, 1976 and September, 1978), Playmen (October, 1976), Penthouse (December, 1982) and Blitz (July and September, 1984; June, 1985 and 1986). Now blacklisted Carati was forced to look in the exploitation circuit to stay employed. It was Joe D’Amato who offered her a chance to rebuild her career. As fate would have it it was their mutual friend Jenny Tamburi who made the introductions in 1984. The rest, as they say, is history. D’Amato - a professional pornographer who frequently dabbled in exploitation and was in the habit of rescuing disgraced A-listers and employing wayward adult performers – had Lilli starring in 4 films, the first of which was The Alcove (1985). Convent Of Sinners (1986) was supposed to be a Carati vehicle too until D’Amato for reasons never made public bombarded Eva Grimaldi to lead. That it co-starred D’Amato’s other big star of the eighties Luciana Ottaviani from Eleven Days, Eleven Nights (1987) and Top Model (1988) probably didn’t hurt either. By 1987 and 1988 Carati did hardcore porn for Giorgio Grand with a young Rocco Siffredi.

The inevitable criminal charges followed as in May 1988 she was arrested for heroin possession landing her in jail for a few days. Having finally hit rockbottom Lilli attempted suicide on May 10, 1988 shortly after her arrest. A year later on May 1989 a severely depressed Lilli tried a second time by throwing herself from the bedroom window in her parents' house after unsuccessfully trying to get sober. Carati survived the attempt sustaining only three broken vertebrae and three months of immobility. Lilli underwent therapy for three years in the Saman community of anti-authoritarian sociologist, journalist, political activist, and sometime guru Mauro Rostagno – famously murdered by the Costa Nostra - where she was the subject of the documentary Lilli, una vita da eroina (or Lilli, A Life of Heroin) by Rony Daopoulos. It aired as part of the Storie vere program on Rai 3 on February 25, 1994. Carati recalled her suicide attempts and subsequent recovery on Ricominciare on Rai 2 on 9 July, 2008. 2011 was supposed to be the year of Lilli’s big comeback as she was slated to appear in Luigi Pastore’s La fiaba di Dorian, a project that was shelved after Lilli was diagnosed with a brain tumour. In 2014, at age 58, disgraced and neglected, she passed away in Besano and was interred at Induno Olona cemetery in Varese, Lombardia. Pastore used the Lilli footage in what was to become Violent Shit: The Movie (2015), an ill-conceived remake that tried turning the 1989 Andreas Schnaas gore micro-epic into a giallo, of all things.

Being produced by veteran Luciano Martino (the former husband of Wandisa Guida, Edwige Fenech, and Olga Bisera) ensured that The Seatmate came bursting out of the gates with some big or semi-famous people working behind the cameras. Martino was a versatile producer who did anything from The Demon (1963) to Hands Of Steel (1986), and everything in between. Composer Gianni Ferrio was a frequent Mariano Laurenti collaborator and especially prolific in commedia sexy all'Italiana around this time. His score, while adequate and freewheeling, is nothing special. Director of photography Pasquale Rachini was something of a newcomer in 1977 still but on average he’s more hit than miss. Writing are Francesco Milizia, and Franco Mercuri who both were experienced in comedy at this point. Their screenplay is hardly the worst but it leaves a lot of plot threads unresolved: what’s the purpose of Federico and how does he enhance Simona as a character in any way? Why don’t any of Mario’s friends end up romantically entangled with Simona’s? Why introduce the Mafia don subplot when it serves no function to the mainplot? Do Mario and Simona even like each other? To its everlasting credit, The Seatmate never diverges too much from the established La Liceale (1975) formula, the comic relief from Lino Banfi and Alvaro Vitali isn’t as odious as it usually tends to be, and it even contains that classic Gloria Guida scene but here it’s Lilli Carati running about in the nude in a meadow causing all sorts of trouble. The supporting cast might not contain any name-stars but Francesca Romana Coluzzi, Ermelinda De Felice, Brigitte Petronio, and Linda Sini all were reliable second-stringers who cut their teeth in exploitation on both ends of the budget spectrum.

Ultimately The Seatmate is to the Lilli Carati repertoire what The Doctor… The Student (1976) was to the infinitely superior Gloria Guida canon: an efficient but hardly remarkable iteration of a well-trodden comedy formula. Thankfully there’s enough naked Lilli shenanigans for everyone, and she doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. What’s curious is that only after Lilli had tested the waters a spate of official La Liceale (1975) sequels were suddenly produced within a record time of just two years. As for Lilli herself – while hardly a terrible actress she was no Gloria Guida (who herself was no Edwige Fenech, Agostina Belli, Laura Antonelli, Ornella Muti, or Orchidea De Santis) but it’s not like she was ever given scripts that played up to her limited strengths. In many ways The Seatmate was a prototype for the La Liceale (1975) sequels (official and otherwise) in that it works like a well-oiled machine but never has any higher aspirations. And that’s the problem with The Seatmate. It never tries hard enough. It has all the right ingredients but it never quite knows what to do with them. A few genuine chuckles notwithstanding the humour is puerile and too often reduced to slapstick. At least Lino Banfi and Alvaro Vitali aren’t as odious as they usually are – and Lilli Carati was always one of the more exotic looking comedy vixens. It’s truly unfortunate that To Be Twenty (1978) would always remain an anomaly of sorts in her repertoire.