Everything Wrong With ‘Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral’
How Epic Was Goyo‘s Epic Fail?
TBA Productions and Jerrold Tarog reached a “new high” with Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral. It’s generally well recieved by both audience and critics. Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is longer, bigger, slower, crispier, brighter, lighter than its predecessor—the flag-burning, blood boiling, gushing, fist-pumping, hatemongering, frothing at the mouth Heneral Luna. Is it better?
- While decidedly different from Heneral Luna, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral is plagued by the same problems that bogged down its predecessor. Like Heneral Luna, Goyo still falls under what Teddy Locsin Jr. called “History as Regret,” mainly fixing blame (on Aguinaldo, etc.), highlighting our failures and flaws as people, while sidelining as much as acquitting the Americans as our biggest enemy. And since the movie Goyo tackles the months after Luna’s assassination until the Battle in Tirad, we see less of our real biggest enemy (i.e., the Americans) and again see more of our “biggest enemy,” ourselves—the Filipino people.
- Goyo is 155 minutes long, yet, even if we start from Heneral Luna, we still don’t get a clearer picture of the Philippine-American War, the revolution, much less of its titular character, Gen. Gregorio del Pilar. Production-wise, the movie expands on what they were able to do in Heneral Luna. The recreation of Aguinaldo’s difficult escape through the mountains and the historic battle in Tirad Pass, is something to behold. As a biopic and historical film though, the filmmakers mistakes length for scope and thin characterization as invitation for critical thinking. (Seriously, did they not watch Mike de Leon’s Bayaning Third World?) As if we, the audience, are invited to see the movie and fill in the gaps. While historical movies aren’t supposed to replace the books, a historical movie like Goyo should, in and of itself, be able to present a complete story, something Goyo, in all its epic ambitions, failed to achieve. How could it tell a complete story if Goyo himself is like a minor character in his own movie?
- Paulo Avelino’s Gregorio del Pilar fails to compel, much less convince. His Goyo lacks what Noel Vera, in his review of Heneral Luna, described as bridging “historical and psychological gaps,” praising John Arcilla’s turn as Antonio Luna. As a philandering heartthrob, as someone who was said to have girlfriend in every town, I was thinking of scenes where Goyo visits his lovers, riding his horse from town to town. Instead, the movie has Joven read thru the letters from Goyo’s many girlfriends which Goyo kept in his bag—without getting caught—while Goyo flirts with Remedios. Talk about suspension of disbelief. In Heneral Luna, Joven was there to interview Antonio Luna, got caught up in the war—that was believable. Here, Joven’s character is employed to give meta-commentary in the most obvious ways.
- When it comes to Goyo as a military officer, the movie only shows us the general we knew after Luna’s death, the general stationed in Dagupan who seemed to have neglected the on-going war. How did he figure in battle? Well, we can’t really tell based on the movie because the movie only showed us the del Pilar who’s seemingly disinterested in fighting the enemy and the del Pilar who died in Tirad Pass.
- All this boils down, not on Avelino as an actor, but on how his character was written by Tarog and Rody Vera. He wasn’t given much to do other than to “look good.” He has no backstory, no origin story. Outside of one flashback in Kakarong Sili, the movie doesn’t tell anything about del Pilar as a young katipunero, or his early exploits, debatable as they may be. Simply put, del Pilar is no Luna as Paulo Avelino is no John Arcilla and a little backstory and character development would have help a lot. We learn at the start of the movie that Goyo’s become so popular, a local hero and the towns are having mini-fiestas in his honor. But why? How did he became the Aguila of Bulacan? How did he became Aguinaldo’s favorite? Or more importantly: How did he became part of the revolution? What was it that made him join the Katipunan?
- Instead of historical details related to Goyo, the movie is filled with trivial things that though may be based on historical accounts, don’t add anything to the story. Whether it’s Goyo’s or Aguinaldo’s or the Philippine-American War, the story isn’t in any way enriched by Aguinaldo’s boy scout skills (i.e., cutting bamboo to get water) or his discomfort in watching tribes-men’s rituals in the mountains. While historical details such as the Americans’ plan to capture Aguinaldo by landing their armies in Lingayen, or how Goyo lost thousands of the Republic’s army, were either downplayed or totally omitted in the movie. Why del Pilar only had sixty men in Tirad? I think I need to go back to the books to figure that out.
- Frustrated by their exhausting trek through the mountains, Goyo, after reading Remedios’ letter suddenly had a burst of inspiration and realized the strategic advantage of Paso de Tirad in facilitating Aguinaldo’s escape and in delaying the American army. Then, on the mountains Lt. Pantaleon Garcia (Ronnie Lazaro) told Goyo about the difference between fighting for the country and fighting for the President. Then, he had another realization. That he should be doing it for love of his country. Then the movie tries to equate that with his love for Remedios, which just doesn’t—stick. And since Remedios wants him to be just a man, not a “hero,” Goyo demoted himself from being “the hero” to a soldier—-a soldier full of love—fighting for his country and the woman he loves. And this is in the final 20 minutes or so of the movie. Some considers this “character development,” I was like “yeah, that’s really how people normally have change of heart.” I mean, out of the blue Goyo learned about amor patriae and self-sacrifice?
- Isn’t Goyo’s “character development” a little forced? Just like the movie’s heavy handed message coming from the mouths of Mabini and Joven? Was it not possible that the young del Pilar already knew about love of country before he joined the Katipunan? That it was the very reason he joined the revolution at a young age? Was it not possible he also read and was inspired by the works of Plaridel or Rizal? And that he only lost his way when he joined the Cavite troops and became close to Aguinaldo? That he wasn’t an unthinking hatchet-man who just follow orders out of loyalty (in the movie, Manuel Bernal taunts him as the President’s lap dog)? He probably felt contempt for Luna as well. Probably, threatened. And just like Aguinaldo, maybe he also believed that in killing Luna, they’re preserving the unity of the army.
- That is, Goyo—as well as Heneral Luna—presents very little when it comes to how our forefathers fought in the Philippine-American War. What we get is fixing blame on Aguinaldo, fixing blame on Goyo (wait, Mabini was left unscathed?), when what we needed to see, at the very least, is the Philippine-American War dramatized on screen. Where were our lines of defenses? Where were the trenches located? A simple map would have sufficed: here’s where Gen. Alejandrino, here’s where Gen. Mascardo, here’s where the Tinio Brigage.
- As with Heneral Luna, nameless Filipino soldiers, in general, are portrayed as either stupid, bigots, or cowards. And in this version of history, the infamous Januario Galot initially served as guide for the revolutionary army. But since he was mistreated by some of the Filipino soldiers (they called him unggoy), he defected to the Americans. And the filmmakers were 100% sure that the Americans didn’t capture, torture, or threaten him, or promise him of a hefty reward—all of which are possible. In Jerrold Tarog’s version of history, it must always be the fault of the Filipino people. And in this case, it’s the fault of those undisciplined nameless Filipino soldiers, that Galot turned on his own people.
- In Heneral Luna, it was us who killed the general. In Goyo, we created a traitor in Januario Galot.
- The thing with Goyo is, Jerrold Tarog equated Goyo’s loyalty to Aguinaldo to the loyalty of people to Duterte. And the 19th century Filipinos’ unquestioning admiration for Goyo to present Filipinos’ admiration for Duterte. It’s a reverse action, a corrective to how he made Antonio Luna a likeable figure of authoritarian rule three years ago, before the election. And it’s fishy from start to end. I wanted a biopic, a period film, not a lecture on how not to idolize the President.
- There are only three good things in the movie. One is how the movie went with Goyo’s death. A brutal retelling of the “minority report” to the American’s sugar coated legend. The American press printed the legend, Goyo, the movie tells the story: A deadly shot to the head that shatters the young general’s jaw and all his vanities.
- The second good thing: Gwen Zamora as Remedios Nable Jose, who’s convincing as War-era dalagang Filipina. (Also, worth mentioning is Empress Schuck, who goes all-sweaty-beauty-in-the-middle-of-the-night in one pivotal scene.)
- And then, there’s the movie’s ending: Gwen Zamora reading Goyo’s last letter while Glaiza de Castro’s rendition of Cinderalla’s “Bato Sa Buhangin” plays in the background. “Bato Sa Buhangin,” the deathless theme of an impossible love, was also used in that old FPJ & Vilma Santos movie. Why is this good? Jerrold Tarog lifted this ending from the opening scene of a much better movie, Jon Red’s Ang Beerhouse (watch the trailer here). Only in Ang Beerhouse, it was Julia Clarete singing the song and instead of Gwen Zamora in baro’t saya, it was Gwen Garci in two-piece bikini. Gyrating in all her buxom glory.