Jerrold Tarog’s ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral‘ works better as an ensemble piece than a character study. Still, its a marvelous technical achievement.
The 2015 sleeper hit Heneral Luna stupefied us with an image of a burning Philippine flag and General Antonio Luna’s impassioned voice, “Bayan o sarili? Pumili ka!” It’s a rhetoric posed to the modern Filipino: will his sacrifice to fight for our nation’s freedom be in vain? The Philippine-American war is just a distant memory from the past but this film calls to arms in making a positive impact for our country today. It’s truly a life-changing event in the local cinema.
Heneral Luna can take pride on this achievement as a stand-alone biopic film but Goyo has the daunting pressure to outperform its predecessor – to present another biopic of a more known and beloved hero, and act as a connective tissue to a planned trilogy. It stays true to its roots as Luna’s ghost looms over, his name and his ideals are referred to, especially when the film illustrates the Filipinos’ tendency to worship idols and personalities.
But Goyo is not exactly a torchbearer to Heneral Luna’s fiery nationalism and resilience. The first film ignites a spark and from there, we expect a full-blown fire. Instead, this sequel throws a curveball to viewer expectations and dampens the fire with doubt. It’s a step back to challenge one’s existing ideals.
Goyo picks up days after Luna’s (John Arcilla) gruesome assassination in the hands of his fellow countrymen. It’s an act of treason coyly implied to be orchestrated by President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado). With the fighting ceased, Aguinaldo and his constituents in uncolonized Philippine regions are experiencing prolonged months of false peace, clearly unsuspecting of the Americans’ next move.
Meanwhile, one of Aguinaldo’s favorite generals, Gregorio “Goyo” Del Pilar (Paulo Avelino) has his head stuck in the clouds. He spends his time relishing his fast promotion by enjoying fiestas thrown in his honor, fooling around with his friends and chasing the affections of a beautiful maiden Remedios (Gwen Zamora). Goyo rips the textbook glorification right away and presents the titular hero as a flawed being – a PTSD-stricken soldier who doubts his leadership and principles, a reckless young lad who is torn between love and duty.
Goyo is being pulled to different directions. His brother Julian (Rafa Siguion-Reyna) feeds his ego, “Tandaan mo kung sino ka. Ikaw ang agila. Bayaning Bulakenyo. Dugong Magiting.” But what do those titles really mean to him? It’s only until he interrogates Luna’s supporter, Manuel Bernal (Art Acuña) that he realizes that he might not be a protagonist in most people’s story after all, but a henchman to Aguinaldo instead. Bernal taunts him, “Ang kaibahan natin, ikaw, naniniwala sa idolo. Kaming mga namatay at papatayin, naniniwala sa prinsipyo. Hindi ka sundalo, Goyo, isa kang aso.” Apart from this existential crisis, he is also troubled by ominous visions of his death, making him more hesitant in embracing a doomed, heroic path.
The film is driven by internal turmoil rather than the first film’s brash, strongman rule. Hence, Goyo pales in comparison with Luna, a character whose vulgar attitude alone can be a source of humor in itself. Still, this film has its distinct tone and plenty of philosophical truths to chew on, making it worthy of a second viewing. Where Heneral Luna says, “Ang taong may damdamin ay hindi alipin,” Goyo counters it with a different philosophy: “Tayo’y alipin ng sarili nating mga damdamin.”
History can’t be contained in a single narrative so director Jerrold Tarog chooses to present this sequel as an ensemble piece – it’s actually more satisfying if viewed under such lenses. Apart from Goyo, the POV constantly shifts among the supporting cast. In General Jose Alejandrino (Alvin Anson), we take a peek on the status of the Philippine Republic’s diplomatic negotiations with the Americans. In Joven Hernando (Arron Villaflor), the viewer’s frustration of the socio-political climate is put into light. As the fictional character in the franchise, he is mostly used as a plot device to efficiently narrate the situation of Goyo and his troops. The character still lacks pay off but hopefully he will come full circle in the next chapter.
The film also thrives in its small moments like when Remedios and Goyo’s ex-lover, Felicidad (Empress Schuck) throw shades at each other during a mango picking contest. On a different note, even the short film Angelito (which can be watched for free online), gives us a perspective of a small player caught in the crossfire, how life is cheap in the service of a greater cause.
It is Apolinario Mabini (Epy Quizon) who forms the narrative’s spine. Known as the ‘brain of revolution,’ he’s the all-seeing eye that delivers the juiciest tirades against Aguinaldo’s administration and the Filipino leadership in general. (Here I am, lowkey wishing that a spin-off film will be dedicated to him as well.) What is lacking is Aguinaldo’s sentiments, as his actions are mostly told in someone else’s perspective so he’s presented as a one-dimensional villain who values unwavering loyalty over true leadership. I’m hoping his rationale will be explained in the next film.
As an epic historical war film, Goyo juggles with many characters and their respective threads that it’s marvelous how Tarog keeps them intact within his singular vision. Seamless editing, poignant musical scoring, poetic screenplay (co-written with Rody Vera) and meticulous direction – it’s a masterclass at work. His horror background even comes into play during Goyo’s nightmarish dream sequences. Apart from Tarog’s valiant efforts, the actors’ performances are all good and reliable, the crew’s splendid production design has perfect attention to detail and Pong Ignacio’s breathtaking cinematography deftly plays with light and shadow. This film clearly has the style to match up its substance.
It all culminates in the battle of Tirad Pass. There’s no typical Hollywood stamp to it. The sequence takes time in plotting its tactics and the gunfire is kept at a reasonable amount. As it takes an anticlimactic turn in the end, viewers are served with a disappointing revelation – what was regarded as one of the monumental fights in history falls short due to inexperienced soldiers and disorganized ruling.
I have to admit that there’s an initial dissatisfaction after my first viewing because I came into the film wanting to be roused like how the first film did. Goyo might disappoint because its short on giving its flawed hero a redemption. His emotional journey is mainly reliant on his relationship with Remedios, and despite spending a significant time in it, the resulting love connection never went beyond physical attraction. For a coming-of-age story, this will have more impact if his relationship with a parental/model figure like Aguinaldo is fleshed out even more.
Goyo plummets to hopelessness, exposing everything that went wrong in the revolution. Mabini caps it off with a powerful monologue on the immaturity of Filipinos, a musing that transcends to the present situation where leaders are driven by their self-interests and majority of the people are content at being complacent.
Where Heneral Luna takes away our freedom, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral strips away what’s left with our dignity and we are once again left to pick up the pieces. This sequel puts the franchise into a clearer direction. With the first two films both in the dark phase of history, I’m thrilled for the redemption that’s about to come.
4 out of 5 stars
Directed by Jerrold Tarog, screenplay by Jerrold Tarog and Rody Vera
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Mon Confiado, Epy Quizon, Benjamin Alves, Leo Martinez, Alvin Anson, Art Acuña, Carlo Aquino, Rafael Siguion-Reyna, Christopher Aronson, RK Bagatsing, Perla Bautista, Nonie Buencamino, Roeder Camañag, Carlo Cruz, Jason Dewey, Miguel Faustmann, Bret Jackson, Ethan Salvador, Ronnie Lazaro, Jojit Lorenzo, Lorenz Martinez, Karl Medina, Che Ramos, E. A. Rocha, Tomas Santos, Empress Schuck, Robert Seña, Stephanie Sol, Markki Stroem, Arron Villaflor, and Gwen Zamora.
Run time: 200 minutes