The odyssey of ‘OTJ’

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Erik Matti film helps revive long dormant action genre in Philippine cinema

SOCIAL-REALIST ACTION. Gerald Anderson in 'OTJ.' Photo courtesy of Star Cinema

MANILA, Philippines – For film director Erik Matti, his latest film, “OTJ” (“On the Job”), was the result of a 4-year journey that began, of course, as an inspired moment in his head.

Direk Erik co-wrote this action-thriller with Filipina scriptwriter-producer Michiko Yamamoto (not the Japanese fictionist-poet), based on the real-life story of an ex-con.

Early on, the acclaimed filmmaker approached ABS-CBN’s sister enterprise in film, Star Cinema, if it might be interested to bring to life his concept.

But Star Cinema didn’t feel it was ready at the time for the bold vision that became “OTJ.”

And so, in the good old-fashioned spirit of independent cinema, Direk Erik decided to do the film on his own — as a small film, with no lead stars in the caliber of Piolo Pascual and Gerald Anderson.

READ: Piolo, Gerald and Joel on the job

But soon enough, Star Cinema contacted him again about the script he presented to them — “OTJ.”

The studio was now interested to do the film, in partnership with Matti’s production company, Reality Entertainment.

“OTJ” stars Piolo and Gerald, together with, among others, Angel Aquino, Rayver Cruz, Michael de Mesa, JM de Guzman, Dawn Jimenez, Shaina Magdayao, Joey Marquez, Leo Martinez, William Martinez, Rosanna Roces, Empress Schuck, Joel Torre, and Vivian Velez.

Joel won Best Actor at the 17th Puchon International Fantastic Film Festival in South Korea, where the film also won the Jury’s Choice Award.

Another collective triumph for the cast and crew of “OTJ” was its reception last May in Cannes, where the film, presented in the Directors Fortnight section, drew a standing ovation.

“OTJ” was immediately sold for distribution abroad by Well Go USA Entertainment, with the rights costing a hefty $350,000.

An American version of the movie will soon be produced.

‘Intense film’

“I am proud of what we did,” Direk Erik said.

“We just wanted to make a simple story about a situation that many people don’t know about.

“Nandiyan lang siya pero walang gustong pag-usapan ang tulad ng mga ganitong kuwento.”

(The story was just lying there [because] nobody wanted to talk about this kind of story.)

“So we dared ourselves and we came up with a very good yet intense film.

“Nakakatuwa lang because it’s the first time, I think, that a local film will have an American version. That news excites me more.”

Social-realist action

From the trailer alone, “OTJ” seems like an action-thriller that is still along the lines of social-realist cinema.

The lead characters, portrayed by Piolo and Gerald, are caught in a web of political exploit, deceit, and murder.

But Direk Erik “never made films to be political or relevant,” he said.

“I just pick characters that I want to explore. In this film, I am interested in the story of the two hit men [Joel Torre and Gerald Anderson].

“How can it be that criminals inside prison are taken out and hired as hitmen?

“So when the police start looking for suspects, they can’t find any because they have been returned to jail.

“When they go out of prison to kill somebody, do they have the time to visit their families? Do they tell their families they’re hired killers?”

There’s also the story of the two law enforcers, cop Joey Marquez and NBI agent Piolo Pascual.

In a sense, the dynamics in this narrative recall the lofty, elegantly structured crime dramas of Akira Kurosawa, Wong Kar-wai, and even FPJ.

“What if the NBI agent has a problem with his father-in-law and this affects the case he is handling,” Direk Erik wondered aloud, as if this story were still in the production stage.

His thoughts provide a glimpse into this film’s creative process. 

No statement

“I believe in having an interesting story,” Matti said. “I did not do this film as an expose. There is no political or social statement.

“I think everyone who will see it will recognize the characters na parang may kakilala silang ganito pero [as if they recognize somebody in them, but] there is no specific person na pinapatungkulan ko [who I allude to].”

“Feeling ko naman pag napanood nila, sasabihin ng audience, ‘Ay hindi totoo iyan.’”

(My feeling is when they see the film, the audience will say, ‘Ay, that’s not true.’)

Direk Erik isn’t being coy as to deny that he wants “OTJ” to make money at the box office.

With his mainstream orientation, even as an indie director, he regards “OTJ” as a mainstream movie.

He said he was born in that time in Philippine cinema when a movie that didn’t make money drove its filmmaker to depression.

“It’s only now, in the advent of [another] new wave in cinema, that [filmmakers] say it’s okay if only 3 people watch their movie so long as the movie has been made.

“I want my movie to make money. If I do a movie, I want people to watch it and I expect that people will enjoy the movie I made.”


Direk Erik believes he has a winner in “OTJ.”

It happens that Philippine cinema hasn’t produced an action film in quite a while, such as the complex action-drama of Chito Roño’s “La Vida Rosa (2001),” which also starred “Osang” (Rosanna Roces) and Angel Aquino.

Matti thinks the all-star cast of “OTJ” will entice moviegoers to watch the film.

“We want them to have the feel and excitement of an action film,” the director said.

“They will really see great performances here.

“Also we are banking on the idea that this action film [will appeal beyond] male audiences.

“This movie is an action thriller. We have a really good story.

We are counting on word of mouth because we believe we have a very creative and memorable story.” – with reports by B. Allie Tah/

‘OTJ’ will be shown in cinemas nationwide on August 28.

Here’s the trailer:

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