Producer Quark Henares on ‘On The Job’, Chatting with Bong Joon-ho, and the Venice Film Fest
“I thought no one would watch [On The Job: The Missing 8],” Quark Henares said with a wry laugh over a phone call. “It was a three-hour and 20-minute movie! Even I, as a film practitioner, would have a hard time sitting through something that long.”
His worries were quickly quelled at the sight of a standing ovation when the movie premiered at the 78th Venice International Film Festival held earlier this month. It was the only Asian film in the festival’s 2021 roster, so to be in the line-up at all was an honour beyond their imagination—especially for a project that was so daring.
“Director Bong Joon-ho [was curious] if our President had seen the film,” Henares said, “to which I replied, 'I hope he does'". The famed South Korean director of Oscar Best Picture, Parasite, was ‘very gracious’ as Henares would disclose. “We were all starstruck, of course. But he really took the time to speak to us about the film, saying how much he enjoyed it.”
Directed by Erik Matti, the highly-acclaimed 2013 movie was finally followed by a sequel this year (On The Job: The Missing 8); the creation of which had its own unique challenges. “It was a project that had many permutations. We had to find out how we were going to release it in cinemas. . . and during a pandemic, no less,” Henares mentioned.
The OTJ team eventually decided to release it as a series on HBO Go Asia. On the platform, it is being released in parts (episodes 1-2 covering the director’s cut version of the 2013 movie, whilst episodes 3 to 6 encompass OTJ: The Missing 8 in parcels).
Before my call with Henares, I had binged-watched all three episodes (releases available as of writing)—which, to be honest, I didn’t intend on doing. Wanting to refresh my mind of the 2013 movie, I mindlessly clicked on its poster spewed across the app homepage—little did I know I would be forfeiting precious hours of sleep that night. By the end of episode three, I felt a lump in my throat and thought to myself that the first 45 minutes of The Missing 8 alone was already worthy of a standing ovation—as well as John Arcilla’s enigmatic performance as the chipper journalist, Sisoy.
The point was to show that corruption is a web and not one person is running the show. . .— Quark Henares
“You’ve only seen till episode 3, but I tell you, he gets even better,” Henares was quick to tell me. “The poor guy. . . he really transforms before your eyes. In the beginning, he’s [energetic] and full of life but all that changes.”
“Dennis [Trillo] as well. . . [at Venice], Chloe Zhao even approached him and said she had to Google him, shocked to find out that he was actually a matinee idol in the Philippines,” he added. Trillo’s performance and transformation on-screen were palpable despite the character’s short screen time in the first fragment of the film. “Chloe Zhao (who was on the jury together with Bong Joon-ho) said they wanted to give John [Arcilla] and Dennis [Trillo] a tie for the Volpi Cup for Best Actor but it wasn’t allowed,” the producer revealed.
But beyond the buzz and excitement of premieres and awards night, Henares kept repeating that attending the festival was a treat in and of itself. He hadn’t watched a movie in an actual theatre since lockdown ensued in the Philippines (March 2020).
Top of his list was to catch Denis Villeneuve’s Dune, which was much more difficult than he initially thought. “My wife and I were awake till around 3am just trying to book these tickets.” Thankfully, by sheer will and diligence, the couple was victorious. Although it was taxing, Henares made a point to say that it was an excitement he dearly missed.
Simmering down from his fond recollection of his Venice adventure, Henares would share an elevator pitch for the film that was at the centre of it all. “I’m hoping [OTJ], is a step forward [for Philippine Cinema],” he states. “Look, we can tell crime stories. . . multi-layered stories—we just need to believe in ourselves more.”
When asked about any message he’d hope viewers would take away from the film, Henares related that it’s not about any singular idea. “The point was to show that corruption is a web and not one person is running the show. . . we need to remind ourselves that these things happen in real-life. . . prisoners-for-hire, the Maguindanao massacre, all these happen.”
As we said our farewells over the phone, the producer’s excitement and passion left an impression on me. I was once more reminded of the immense artistry and rich culture to be explored in our country. “The talent is there. We just need to give [them] a chance to tell the kind of stories they want to tell.” Henares’s words struck a chord.
Here’s to hoping for more honest stories on the horizon and the courage to keep speaking truth to power.
The talent is there. We just need to give [them] a chance to tell the kind of stories they want to tell.— Quark Henares