Finally after three years since “Heneral Luna” first graced the big screen in the Philippines, its sequel, “Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (Goyo: The Young General)”, will finally be released. In order to get ready for it, I decided to revisit the first in director Jerrold Tarog’s planned historical epic trilogy, “Heneral Luna”, and watched the short film “Angelito”, which bridges the gap between the two movies. “Luna”, for me was a milestone in Philippine cinema, as it helped add to the action genre in Philippine cinema, and it restored the historical epic to the consciousness of mainstream moviegoers, while still being a wonderfully made film. “Angelito” nicely bridges the gap between the two films, is a must watch for those who loved “Luna” and are planning to watch “Goyo” , and gives us a little taste as to what to expect with regards to the main theme of the upcoming film.
“Heneral Luna” was released in Philippine theaters on September 9, 2015 and in limited theaters in the United States on October 30, 2015. It was directed by Jerrold Tarog, who also edited and wrote the score for the film. It was written by Tarog, Henry Francia and E.A. Rocha. In local cinemas, it had such a great response in its opening week that caused local moviegoers to petition for it to remain in cinemas for a longer run, instead of pulling out after a week as is the custom. The film was then returned to cinemas and enjoyed a longer run, to the point that it more than broke even, despite its big budget. It was also the first time in a while that a Philippine historical film made a big impression on the mainstream moviegoer, even though there have been many that have come before it. It was selected as the country’s entry for Best Foreign Language Film for that year’s Academy Awards, but wasn’t nominated. The film’s success, however, allowed Tarog to continue on with his planned trilogy, with the film’s sequel focusing on General Gregorio del Pilar, and the third being about Manuel L. Quezon.
“Angelito” the short film that links the events of the first film to “Goyo” was released on February 6,2017, and is available to be watched for free online. It talks about some of that fates of some of the characters in the first film, while giving us a little taste on the main theme of the upcoming film.
“Heneral Luna” follows the titular character, General Antonio Luna (John Arcilla), the commanding officer of the Philippine military, as he leads his men in battle during the Philippine American War. It shows how despite him being hot-tempered and temperamental, he loved his country dearly, and often spoke out against politicians who put politics and regionalism before the needs of the country. The film also features several key historical figures during the time, including President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado), Prime Minister Apolinario Mabini (Epy Quizon), Felipe Buencamino (Nonie Buencamino), Pedro Paterno (Leo Martinez), General Gregorio “Goyo” del Pilar (Paolo Avelino), and a very young Manuel L. Quezon (Benjamin Alves).
The entire film is framed by a young journalist who interviews Luna during the film, named Joven Hernandez (Arron Villaflor). It also features a lot of historical and cultural themes, including Juan Luna’s “Spolarium”, a sequence which featured known iillustrados such as one of the country’s heroes, Dr. Jose Rizal, and a Philippine flag that becomes even more ragged as the film goes along.
This film really brought back the Philippine historical epic back to mainstream local cinema, as it not only had great performances from everyone in the cast, but its message was and is as timely as it was in the past. It woke audiences up and reminded us that the problems of the past, which included the fact that Filipinos do have a tendency to put the welfare of our families and regions first ahead of our nation and the bigger picture, which becomes a detriment to our progress because of all the politics, personal agendas and petty quarrels that end up in the mix.
It also allowed younger audiences to enjoy a good Filipino film while introducing them to some of these historical figures, whom, it turns out, they didn’t know much about, like the fact that Mabini never stood up from his chair during the film because he had lost the ability to use his legs due to polio.
Technically speaking, this film achieved and delivered with its huge budget, which included great cinematography, and its use of visual effects.
The entire film had great pacing, and it only got bogged down due to clunky dialogue of the Americans. It was also balanced when it came to its tone, as it balanced out its serious and emotional moments, with some much needed levity at times to give the audience some breathing room before the intense moments came.
Of course, there were some moments that may not be as historically accurate as it should be, and many might have issues with Aguinaldo being made to look as a villain, but all in all, all these creative liberties were executed well and served the message that the narrative wanted to convey.
“Angelito” was a nice way to get the viewers interested in the trilogy again, and whetted our appetites for what was to come in “Goyo”.
“Heneral Luna” is definitely a must watch for fans of Philippine cinema and of Philippine history, as it not only brought back the historical action epic back to the consciousness of the Philippine moviegoer, but it also allowed audiences to become interested again in Philippine history, while taking home a message that is still timely and relevant until today. Fans of this trilogy however, should definitely watch “Angelito” as it gives some answers as to the fates of some of the characters in “Luna” that do end up growing on you.
From here on out, you know the drill, there will be spoilers!
Aside from the strength of the narrative itself as a whole, a big part of the film hinged on the performance of veteran actor John Arcilla, who portrayed the temperamental, hot-tempered, passionate and patriotic Luna perfectly. He was perfect in the role, and was able to show us and embody this larger than life legend on the big screen, and humanized him as well. It was great to see him all sides of Luna, from his sense of humor, to the way he holds on to his ideals, to being a hot-tempered yet strict general who knew what he was doing, to a passionate patriot and dutiful son and brother.
Luna was not perfect, but he excelled it what he knew he could do, and he was the right kind of strict for the fledgling Philippine Army who had just come out of Spanish rule to be faced with the Americans.
It was also interesting that the writers came up with the idea of Colonel Paco Roman (Joem Basco) and Captain Eduardo Rusca (Archie Alemana), who were always with Luna, and who also symbolized and brought out particular aspects of Luna. Roman was his more poetic, logical and controlled side; while Rusca was more of his passionate side that was more quick to anger.
Using Joven, whose name literally means “young man” in Spanish, was a great idea as he became the audiences’ point of view, and allowed us to learn about Luna and sympathize his his ideals as much as Joven did.
Quizon was great as Mabini, and so was Confiado, and I am very glad that we are getting more of these two in the upcoming films. For those who didn’t like the way that Auginaldo was portrayed here, I’m hoping that the director remains true to his word in rounding out Aguinaldo’s character in these three films.
The narrative and dialogue were striking and definitely hit home, as it showed us how the problems of the past, putting our families and a misplaced sense of regionalism, can lead to our own downfall. Luna was right in saying that our worst enemies are ourselves and not the foreign invaders, and it rings true, sadly, until today.
As mentioned earlier, there were moments in which the cinematography was just beautiful, and I especially loved the theatrical montage where Luna was remembering his brother and his times in Europe, and the death of Dr. Jose Rizal.
I also loved the build up and tension that happened when they juxtaposed Luna passionately playing a guitar with his enemies convincing Auginaldo that he is a threat that needs to be removed. Another beautiful and haunting scene is when Roman’s and Luna’s bodies are moved after they are killed, as they deliberately made sure to make the scene look like the “Spolarium” painting.
While “Luna” showed us the problems that are still plaguing the Philippines today, “Angelito” gives us the main theme of “Goyo” , while allowing us to discover what happened to Joven and the Bernal brothers, who were all close to Luna, after Luna’s assassination.
We do know that the brothers escaped, met up with their younger brother, Angel (Tomas Santos), and later on, both older brothers ended up getting killed. According to the short, Angel was captured by one of del Pilar’s men, and maybe was used as bait to lure the two older brothers out of hiding. As for Joven, he ended up going with his uncle, who was tasked to document via photographs the military campaigns of General Gregorio del Pilar, which is probably why Joven also shows up in the upcoming film.
While not amazing, it still gave us some much needed answers as to the fates of the Bernals and Joven, and allowed us to realize that the next film will have the central theme of why idolizing your leaders is never a good thing.
All in all, “Henral Luna” is a wonderful piece of Philippine cinema whose messages will be timeless in the eyes and hearts of the Filipino people, and allowed the historical action epic film to return to mainstream local cinema. While this is a must watch for fans of Philippine cinema, fans of the film and the upcoming two films should definitely watch “Angelito” as it gives us some answers and allows us to expect what is coming up next for the film franchise.
Have you seen “Heneral Luna”? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below!
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