Erik Matti on Philippine corruption: ‘The country is like one big Sopranos clan’

‘OTJ suddenly became very relevant with what’s happening right now’

‘OTJ suddenly became very relevant with what’s happening right now’

By Cristina DC Pastor

The political crime drama “On the Job” was about to hit movie theaters at a time when the Philippines is all up in the grill over the P10 billion pork barrel scandal.

The uncanny coincidence is not lost on film director Erik Matti.

“Yes, the showing of OTJ suddenly became very relevant with what’s happening right now,” he said when interviewed by The FilAm. “Corruption is like a bad habit here. The country is like one big Sopranos clan.”

The film tells the story of an aging jailhouse prisoner, who moonlights as an assassin for a politician. “Tatang” (played by Torre) is shown being spirited in and out of prison to carry out a hit while a younger inmate goes out with him and, like a theater understudy, gets his training. Stories about endemic corruption infesting all bureaucracies of the Philippine government are nothing new. What makes “On the Job” different is the nail-biter of a plot, the masterful acting from its cast, led by Joel Torre, and the fast-paced direction of Matti.

“We have always been a country whose politicians are like gangsters. We live in a country where everyone and anyone know each other and favors are the means of negotiations,” Matti said.

“On the Job” dramatizes the political underworld with so much understanding and courage. Whatever insight went into the making of the movie did not originate entirely from textbook research. Being born to a family that lived in the margins of the law may have helped.

“My mom, Julieta, came from a family considered to be gangsters,” said Matti. “Her family lived by the port side and used to smuggle goods like cigarettes and liquor through incoming boats from China and Japan. They managed a stevedoring company so that gave them access to the port.”

Matti’s father Enrique, a former Customs agent, was similarly on the fringe but on a philosophical level. He was an atheist and did not believe in working for a living. Matti characterized him as something of a Dicki Greenleaf in “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” the wealthy heir who loves jazz and owns an Hermes typewriter.

“He was an intellectual and never really saw work as something to devote himself into. He was a dreamer and a debater,” he said. “If he was born in Europe during the 1800s, my dad would have been a scholar, a poet or an artist. He devoured every book he came across with.”

It was his dad who brought him to watch James Bond flicks and paved the way for him to appreciate the widescreen spectacle that films offer. The elder Matti’s favorite movies defy neat categorization. There’s the science fiction “Forbidden Planet;” the biographical “The Song of Bernadette;” and the romance drama “Gone With the Wind.” It is this assorted array of cinematic treats that got imprinted in Matti’s mind that not all films have to be one-dimensional, action or drama or comedy.

With middle-class means, Matti went to private, Catholic schools in his Bacolod hometown: primary and secondary education at Colegio de San Agustin and University of Saint La Salle for college. He and actor Joel Torre went to the same university.

The youngest of six siblings, Matti was a biology student when he realized his heart wasn’t into becoming a doctor. He transferred to nursing on the urging of his mother, a government employee. But after a semester, he shifted to mass communications without telling his mother.

“I stayed in college for six years and never graduated,” he said. As a matter of fact, he stayed in La Salle for the sheer joy of being in the school’s theater company. Eventually, he found work by offering private acting classes. He also began making movies.

Matti met Regal Films scion Dondon Monteverde – son of the legendary Mother Lily – while working on a film for the family’s production company. The director and producer formed a friendship that later developed into a business partnership when they founded Reality Entertainment.

“Our vision for Reality Entertainment is to bring story-driven films that have a strong local box office appeal,” he said. “We do films that are within our core competence with cutting-edge technology and with diverse genres.”

“On the Job” is one of Reality Entertainment’s products. It premiered at Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight this year and will screen at U.S. theatres beginning September 27.
Matti and Monteverde conceptualized Reality as a company where they can both be independent and retain creative control.

“One time he (Dondon) asked me how I wanted to see myself later in the business. I said I want that someday I can put up my own film company so I don’t need to have approval for the kind of projects I want to make,” he shared. “He echoed my sentiments as well.”

What began as a “backyard company,” according to Matti, has grown into a multimedia enterprise comprising several companies, including a production house for making commercials, a camera and lights rental company, and a computer graphics and a talent agency.

“We even have our own catering company for shoots and private dinners,” he added.

Matti said it took the partners a lot of investment to get the major players in the country and in the film industry to recognize the value of the films they are doing.

“With OTJ,” he said, “I think we have managed to get them interested in the kind of films we do.

“On the Job,” distributed by Well Go USA Entertainment, screens in U.S. theaters starting September 27. Check out the movie schedules here.

The characters of Joel Torre (right) and Gerald Anderson are about to embark on a new ‘job.’

The characters of Joel Torre (right) and Gerald Anderson are about to embark on a new ‘job.’


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