Photos courtesy TBA Productions

‘Goyo’ is Restrained, but Also Just as #Hugot as ‘Heneral Luna’

By hermz gacho

As a sequel to the commercially successful 2015 film, ‘Heneral Luna’, ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral’ explores similar themes with the former. Like ‘Luna’, ‘Goyo’ is also a tragic epic on the life of a young general from Philippine history caught in the middle of parochial politics, romantic partners, and responsibilities that seemed to be far beyond the title character’s responsibilities.

This time around, ‘Goyo’ tells the story of Gregorio del Pilar, another storied Filipino general played by Paulo Avelino from the Philippine–American war, and his life as it led up to the Battle of Tirad Pass, the famed “last stand” that he and sixty other soldiers took part in as they prevented a 500-strong American infantry pursuing Emilio Aguinaldo, the Philippines’ first president. The background for the battle lent itself well to several romanticized depictions in popular media, of which the more prominent might have been Carlo J. Caparas’s ‘Tirad Pass’. At the very least, anyone watching ‘Goyo’ could tell that its performances and production are leagues apart from the Romnick Sarmenta starrer.

Paulo Avelino as Gen. Gregorio 'Goyo' del Pilar - project iloilo
Paulo Avelino as Gen. Gregorio ‘Goyo’ del Pilar. Photo courtesy of TBA Productions.

‘Goyo’ is not as figuratively loud as its predecessor, ‘Heneral Luna’, which is probably for the best since the latter mirrored the boisterous nature of Gen. Antonio Luna as depicted in historical records. If anything, the movie could be a more introspective sibling to its older brother. There’s a lot of del Pilar’s internal struggle being depicted in the film through recurring flashbacks, nightmares, paranoia and guilt brought about by war. It’s admirable how the film presents a new way to how a person journeys towards heroism.

If there are similarities between ‘Goyo’ and ‘Heneral Luna’, it could be seen on its uses of subtle symbols and political undertones throughout their scenes and dialogues. For instance, while ‘Luna’ prominently featured the famed painting, ‘Spoliarium’, as it provided the perfect imagery for Gen. Luna’s tragic end (and not to mention that the fact that Juan, his brother, was the artist who created the masterpiece), ‘Goyo’ has the aguila, which was del Pilar’s alias as he was inducted into the Katipunan and, later on, symbolized his pursuit of glory and achievement.

emilio aguinaldo and gregorio del pilar in goyo: ang batang heneral - project iloilo
Mon Confiado (left) reprises his role as Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo. Photo courtesy of TBA Productions.

Even in the depiction of del Pilar’s eventual death in ‘Goyo’, I can’t help but draw parallels with the contemporary conservation issues facing the critically-endangered Philippine Eagle with regards to the encroachment of hunters in its territory. In that respect, the symbolism reminded me a lot of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem ‘The Eagle’, except that the film provides a strong intertext on how the colonial mindset endangers our identity and culture.

Pong Ignacio’s cinematography, on the other hand, is visually grand and fits perfectly with ‘Goyo’s dramatic scenes such as the Philippines revolutionary government’s exodus to the mountains during the latter stages of the Philippine-American War. In addition, director Jerrold Tarog’s musical score matches with the cinematography well, evoking the heroic efforts of the troops who stayed behind in the mountains to defend the leader of the Philippine republic.

ronnie lazaro in goyo: ang batang heneral - project iloilo
Ronnie Lazaro is one of the standout supporting actors in ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral’. Photo courtesy of TBA Productions.

Overall, the movie is perfectly organized, delivering a modern-day and intelligent retelling of history that was based on factual historic accounts, yet merged with the creative liberties and interpretation of the director and writers. Thankfully, ‘Goyo’ also contained lots of comedic exchanges despite the heavy subject matter. This was an element that was also present in ‘Luna’, and I appreciate that the filmmakers retained this element on the sequel.

Like ‘Luna’ before it, ‘Goyo’ encourages more questions than answers, for it challenges the audience to think beyond what is depicted on-screen. It presents a new facet on how a young person faces war and mortality, and forces us to acknowledge the flaws of our heroes. In addition, ‘Goyo’ reminds us that beyond all the medals, ranks and titles bestowed upon our heroes, there is always the question, “Who are we?”. Fictional Western heroes like Iron Man might be easier to define, but our concept of heroes are still fluid, owing to the fact that we’re still a nation in search of our identity.

Ultimately, ‘Goyo’ urges us to act according to our values by humbly summing it up as such in the film: “Tayo ay mga sundalong puno ng pag-ibig, hindi ng galit. [We are soldiers filled with love, not with anger.] We are the values that we keep, and ‘Goyo’ shows us that redemption is possible if we fight for love and not for personal glory.

Hermz Gacho is an environmental advocate, poet, spoken word artist, and teacher by profession. While taking up graduate studies at the University of the Philippines - Los Baños, he still indulges in his love of historical films and pop culture.