I once shared an elevator with Joey Marquez. “Your performance on the job was amazing!” I blurted out, hoping he’d catch the pun.
He didn’t. But he graciously thanked me after I awkwardly explained I was just trying to compliment him for his gritty portrayal of the good cop in the movie On The Job, the critically acclaimed 2013 crime thriller from visionary director Erik Matti, starring Piolo Pascual, Joel Torre, Gerald Anderson, Rayver Cruz, Angel Aquino, and of course, Marquez.
“Will there be a sequel?” I asked him.
“Soon,” he replied with a smile.
“Will you be in it?”
Years later, at a virtual press conference held earlier this week, Matti finally spilled the beans, “There are a few characters coming back.”
He revealed that the sequel took four years to make, “It’s hard to pin down all the schedules, and if one or two cannot make it, we cannot just push through with the scenes. Because we need to see them even if they don’t have lines.”
Premiering exclusively as an HBO Asia Original Series, the first three episodes will be available to stream or download on Sept. 12, Sunday, with the remaining three episodes dropping every Saturday thereafter.
The original On The Job movie has been re-edited (with deleted scenes reinstated) as episodes one and two, while its feature-length sequel On The Job: The Missing 8 was split into episodes three, four, five, and six.
“I was able to bring back all the deleted scenes (of the first film),” said Matti, suggesting that the first part of the series will have a “totally different flavor.”
On The Job: The Missing 8 is currently the sole official Filipino entry in competition at the 78th Venice International Film Festival, held this year from Sept. 1 to 11. It is also one of the few handpicked films to be shown later in Rome and Milan.
The On The Job series tells the story of a corrupt prison system which temporarily releases convicted criminals to work as part-time assassins for powerful crime syndicates. After they perform their respective hit jobs, they are returned to their cells, where they mix perfectly with the general prison population.
In addition to the original cast, the sequel stars John Arcilla as Sisoy Salas, a pro-government radio host and newspaper man; Dennis Trillo as Roman Rubio, an unwitting gun-for-hire trying to earn his freedom any way he can; Dante Rivero as the calculating provincial Mayor Pedring Eusebio of La Paz; Lotlot De Leon as Weng Pagsibigan, feisty editor of struggling local daily La Paz News; and Christopher De Leon as Arnel Pangan, the newspaper’s owner and publisher.
“The performances make the series come alive,” said Matti. He felt that Dennis Trillo was too handsome to be a convicted felon, so he had to break his nose. With prosthetics.
He later added, “I’m really interested in people, in characters, in film. If you watch my films, you’ll see I don’t have characters I disrespect.”
Matti deliberately sought Arcilla and De Leon to star in this sequel, especially for a pivotal scene that consists of four pages of script, suggesting that Boyet was the perfect foil for John.
“(Matti’s) style works with me very well,” said Arcilla, who notes that this marks his fourth involvement in a Matti-helmed feature film. “There’s always something new.”
Arcilla said that he didn’t want to preempt his performance, so he admitted that he watched the first On The Job film only after they had finished shooting the sequel. “I was so happy with what we did.”
Filming wrapped in August 2020, after the government announced the first general community quarantine.
“At the time, we didn’t know how to deal with the virus,” said Matti. “The last two days, we shot the entire ending of the series... It’s the finale of the movie. The finale was really challenging because it doesn’t happen in one place.” These scenes were all shot in Cavite to take advantage of the open space and social distancing requirements.
Matti wanted to make the sequel after the 2013 OTJ film, which he said became successful only a year after its initial release through word of mouth. At the time, he was debating which “three sectors of government” he should focus his sequel on: gambling (“because it operates using the entire government structure”), the medical industry (“including the black market for medicines”), and journalism.
“But then Trump won,” said Matti, hinting that the decision came to him in 2016. “Because of Cambridge Analytica. In that long report, there was one line that caught our attention that says: before Cambridge Analytica used that strategy (for) Trump—the use of social media and trolling, etc.—they first tested that in the Philippines for the Duterte administration. It caught our attention, and so there’s a machinery behind winning the election here. So, from there, we decided to follow journalism.”
They originally wanted to cover all sorts of media in earlier drafts, but that made the script too long.
“Eventually (screenwriter) Michiko Yamamoto had to trim down the script and focus on journalism in the countryside, in the provinces. We found that very interesting,” said Matti. “They don’t earn much money so they need a ‘sideline’—they become the mouthpiece of the mayor, they become a mouthpiece for the congressman. And so, it blurs the line between the work of the journalist to find the truth, balanced and fair, and the need to make money. There’s a really good conversation between Lotlot and John Arcilla about that.”
As Lotlot—who plays the idealistic journalist—said when asked what message audiences should take away after watching the film: “Never stop caring for the truth and for fighting for what is right.” Describing her character, Weng, as intelligent and full of heart, she dedicated her performance to “all the journalists who put their lives on the line.”
Or as Matti said it: “There are two types of Filipino we’ve seen in the last six years. One who fights to the death, and one who stays home.”
Thankfully, whichever type you are, everyone will have a chance to watch On The Job this Sunday, Sept. 12, on HBO GO, via Cignal, Globe, Skycable, or www.hbogoasia.ph. You can also download the HBO GO app to your mobile device from Apple’s App Store or Google’s Play Store. HBO GO is also available on Android TV, Apple TV, LG TV, and Samsung Smart TV, along with AirPlay and Google Cast functionality.
And in case you’re curious: Joey Marquez makes a cameo in the sequel. Matti wanted you all to know that.
(Images from HBO)