Three years ago, we were all stunned by the hot-headed heroics of "Heneral Luna." That historical film by Jerrold Tarog was a sleeper hit that woke up the nation's nationalistic passion during its long and successful commercial run in theaters.
That was also the film the Philippines chose to send to the Oscars for consideration for Best Foreign Language Film. Its anti-American sentiments probably did not help its chances to make the nomination short list.
Its sequel, the second of a trilogy, has finally been released. "Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral" is supposedly the most expensive Filipino movie ever made, which means it needs good box office performance to recoup its investments.
The red carpet premiere of "Goyo" last August 30 was a grand affair, with the movie shown in cinemas 7, 8 and 9 of Megamall. Cinema 11 was reportedly added later to accommodate the whole cast from the stars to the extras, crew, staff, media, and even guests from high society.
Following the death of Antonio Luna, the ragtag revolutionary army was divided into troops still supportive of the general's vision, and those on the side of President Emilio Aguinaldo. Gregorio del Pilar, or Goyo, was fiercely loyal to Aguinaldo. Together with his trusted men, Goyo sought to eliminate Aguinaldo's enemies (like the Bernal brothers).
In the other towns where Goyo stayed such as Dagupan, the townswomen fell in love with the handsome and dashing young general. But he was attracted to the beautiful but headstrong Remedios Nable Jose, who was wary of Goyo's reputation both as a womanizer and a hero.
The uneasy five-month period of peace suddenly ended when the Americans launched a simultaneous attack in several towns in Central Luzon. This forced Aguinaldo, Goyo, and their forces to go further north up to Ilocos Sur, where the young general planned and executed a mighty defensive stand on the pass on Mt. Tirad.
Goyo was already hailed as the Eagle and the big hero of Bulacan when we first meet him here, a general at the age of 22. The first half of the film depicted two extremes of Goyo's personality. On the lighter side, we see Goyo's flirty ways with the ladies, who all melt with his penetrating gaze. On the darker side is Goyo's fragility and post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his near-death war experiences, particularly in the defense of Kakarong de Sili in Bulacan.
The second half of the film showed the flight of Goyo and his troops (now including both his loyalists and Luna's loyalists) from Pangasinan to Ilocos Sur, building up to a detailed and heart-stopping recreation of the Battle of Tirad Pass. These immersive scenes brought us into the battle zone where we can feel the bullets whizzing around us, not knowing which of our men will get hit next. The barrage of American troops impressively looked endless, as if all Caucasian-looking actors in Manila were there.
Because of his movie star looks, Paulo Avelino did not exactly disappear into the role of Goyo. However, he imbued this character with a unique combination of charisma and contemplativeness. Of course, he has no problem charming the ladies. He wore the military gala uniform handsomely and looked elegant riding his horse.
Like many of Avelino's past roles, Goyo was also a flawed insecure character battling his internal devils. He was portrayed to be a fervid loyalist of Aguinaldo. Was he a heroic soldier or a blind servant? Was this his virtue or his fault?
Mon Confiado reprised his role as Aguinaldo, a celebrated personality who had been judged harshly by history. In the movie, Aguinaldo practically confessed to be behind the assassination of Antonio Luna. (I was expecting Andres Bonifacio to be mentioned as well, but he was not.) Aguinaldo said he will counter his critics when the right time came, so I guess we may hear his side in the next film.
Epy Quizon again played Apolinario Mabini. In his writings, Mabini was very critical of Aguinaldo. Mabini straight out accused him of causing the defeat of the Philippine Revolution by rewarding people based on loyalty to him, instead of talent or patriotism. One cannot help but transpose this same sentiment to the present day when political favors are being blatantly repaid left and right, even if these people were not fit for the job.
Arron Villena is back playing the 19-year old observer Joven Hernando, who wrote about these events. Fresh from playing a photographer in "Miss Granny," Jojit Lorenzo played Miguel Laureano, the photographer who took Goyo's classic portraits.
Art Acuna returns in a chilling cameo as Maj. Manuel Bernal, whose question "Are you a soldier or are you a dog?" would haunt Goyo no end. Alvin Anson again played Gen. Jose Alejandrino, Miong's secretary of war. Ronnie Lazaro was again seen as Lt. Pantaleon Garcia, a soldier loyal to Luna. We see more of Benjamin Alves as Manuel L. Quezon, to prime us for the next film.
Carlo Aquino and Rafa Siguion-Reyna played Goyo's two closest comrades, Col. Vicente Enriquez and Col. Julian del Pilar (Goyo's elder brother). Matt Evans played Spanish-speaking Lt. Telesforo Carrasco. Roeder Camanag played the English-speaking Maj. Evaristo Ortiz. RK Bagatsing and Karl Medina had fleeting cameos as medical officers.
Gwen Zamora played Remedios, the noted beauty of Dagupan, daughter of Don Mariano Nable Jose (Robert Seña). It was in a conversation with Remedios during a dance that del Pilar addressed the controversy about his nicknames, Goyo and Goyong. Empress Schuck played Felicidad, Miong's sister who was a former girlfriend of Goyo, while Che Ramos Cosio played Miong's wife Hilaria. Perla Bautista was seen in one scene as Miong's mother, Doña Trinidad.
E.A. Rocha (one of the TBA executive producers) and Miguel Faustmann played American Generals Elwell Otis and Arthur MacArthur, as they also did in the first film. There were several recognizable faces noted among the multitude of American soldiers attacking Tirad Pass, among them Hans Eckstein, Ethan Salvador, and Bret Jackson.
This film reportedly cost three times the P80-million budget of "Heneral Luna." TBA Studios co-produced this film with Globe Studios. It was obvious where the money went. The script by Jerrold Tarog and Rody Vera took half a year to finish. The production design and costumes were meticulous and spectacular. The Dagupan set was built from scratch on a vacant lot in Tarlac. Shooting the Tirad Pass scenes alone took three months. Cinematography (by Pong Ignacio), film editing, and musical score (which Tarog did himself for another half a year) were all top-notch. The song "Bato sa Buhangin" at the end was a pleasant, albeit anachronistic, surprise.
Compared to the fiery and bombastic "Heneral Luna," "Goyo" is a more subdued and reflective affair. The films reflect the personalities of their subject matter, hence audiences may find "Goyo" less exciting, less abrasive, or less funny than "Luna".
However, this relative restraint in treatment did not take away any power away from this film. Its political commentary is pointed and incisive, with lessons as timely now as they were back then. Like Goyo, we as a country need to be reminded to look back on who we are, so that we never lose sight of our greatness as a people. 9/10
This review was originally published in the author's blog, "Fred Said."