When during the end credits to Jerrold Tarog’s 2015 historical epic film “Heneral Luna”, the list of names is interrupted by a brief scene where 60 Filipino soldiers are tasked with fortifying the path of Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo’s retreat from American forces, the director was plain in admitting that he copied it from American films like in the MCU franchise. He did seriously broach the idea of making a sequel to the movie if it sold well in cinemas. Some three years later, that sequel has arrived, telling the story of the officer that asked for those 60 volunteers: Gregorio Del Pilar, main character of “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral”.
Visionary filmmaker Jerrold Tarog had introduced “Heneral Luna” with the text introduction saying that truths about the Filipino nation are more easily spotted and understood by a mix of history and fiction. He says much the same in his text intro to “Goyo” by stating the historical facts are blended with these fictional elements to create a narrative. There is nothing to spoil about the story for its primary audience in the Philippines: this is their history during the Philippine-American War, about a key battle and the famous figure who fought and died in it.
“Goyo” is a direct sequel to “Heneral Luna”; with its first scene happening a day after the latter movie’s climax. We are brought up to speed on the situation of the First Philippine Republic and the burgeoning American military presence on their country after “buying” the islands from Spain. This is again seen though the viewpoint of Joven the young reporter, played by Arron Villaflor.
From interviewing the firebrand Antonio Luna, he now finds himself the official photographer for the Revolutionary Army, particularly Gregorio “Goyo” Del Pilar, so-called “Aguinaldo’s favorite general”. Again Villaflor nails the hapless air of an everyman caught in the middle of history happening all around him. This is important as the character isn’t supposed to have aged much since “Heneral Luna” while the actor did. But he still manages to pull off the youthful awe of being around figures that have become larger than life while still being aware of their human shortcomings. There is also a greater level of historical in-joke in Villaflor’s Joven, who is posited to have taken historical photos of General Del Pilar, played by Paulo Avelino.
Avelino as the youngest general in Emilio Aguinaldo’s army is a one-man tour de force despite being far more “mortal” than John Arcilla’s Luna in 2015. He is a natural commander who can inspire devotion to his men; he follows his President’s orders without reservation, no matter how questionable they may be; he is a lady-killer said to leave a broken-hearted woman in every town he passes through (his nickname “Goyo” is now Pinoy slang for deception). And underneath his unflappable exterior is a breaking soul haunted by his dark deeds and crippled by a fear of dying. This dichotomy of soldier and mental wreck is deftly portrayed by Avelino.
The rest of the cast serve their roles well aside from the fact that they seem to revolve around the principal characters despite their historical prominence. Paolo Avelino’s Goyo has two love interests to Luna’s one: Aguinaldo’s sister (Empress Schuck) and a local mayor’s daughter (Gwen Zamora), though they also serve mainly to sound off Del Pilar’s ideals and aspirations with; and given history, nothing happens to them anyway.
A solid number of the “Heneral Luna” cast also reprise their roles, from Mon Confiado’s increasingly desperate Aguinaldo to Epy Quizon’s constantly insightful Apolinario Mabini. Here, Tarog’s writing for Mabini’s inner musings on the Philippine-American War nails some uncomfortable truths that seemingly justify why 1890s America treated Filipinos like ignorant children, and insisted we allow ourselves to be colonized by them.
Made on limited budget, the cinematography for “Goyo” was still remarkable with Jerrold Tarog’s eye for historical accuracy and the natural majesty of an unspoiled pre-industrialized Philippines. The final battlefield on the slopes of Mount Tirad in Ilocos Sur is an example of this sweeping epic scale that the director and his studio has going. Special effects for Goyo’s episodes of inner turmoil are done well that viewers may ask: This is an indie movie?
To close, despite the significant differences between their main characters, the franchise dynamic between “Heneral Luna” and “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral” is solid, with only few overlaps and still maintaining its own standalone storyline. This is a new treat for getting Filipino students, history buffs and everybody else actually, to take a fresh new look on the martyred hero of Tirad Pass, and the circumstances that led to that end.
Finally, we must make mention of Benjamin Alves in his role as Manuel Quezon, Revolutionary Captain who wondered at the inactivity of the Aguinaldo government until the Americans attacked in force and it was too late. Not for nothing that he is going to be the main character for the third film in Tarog’s historical trilogy, though when this will happen remains to be seen.
Image courtesy of Rappler