Monday, September 17, 2018

Goyo: The Boy General

Before they were hoping for Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return, the Philippines tried to throw out his father, Gen. Arthur MacArthur, along with the rest of the American military. That was the job of Gen. Gregorio “Goyo” del Pilar and his fellow officers, but they were not up to the task. However, they were able to (allegedly) dispatch one of their own, General Antonio Luna. That makes Del Pilar a rather unlikely protagonist for the follow-up to Jerrold Tarog’s Heneral Luna, but he cut a dashing figure. Arguably, his flaws were costly to his own cause, but his youth adds an element of romantic tragedy to Tarog’s Goyo: The Boy General (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Del Pilar was twenty-four at the time of his final battle. Apparently, the revolutionary president Emilio Aguinaldo had a habit of appointing young generals—and del Pilar was one of the youngest. He was certainly well received at social functions, but he lacked the training and seasoning to be an effective field commander, at least judging by the results. Being complicit to some degree in the conspiracy against Luna did not help endear del Pilar to the late general’s men either. However, he made steady progress wooing Remedios Nable Jose.

That is basically the cynical portrait Tarog paints, perhaps stung by criticism that Heneral Luna helped pave the way for Duterte’s election by venerating a strong, willful leader. This time around, we get del Pilar the womanizer, whose poor judgement leads to military disaster. It is only during the Tirad Pass engagement that del Pilar is finally redeemed, even though the loose series of battles still ended with an American victory. Throughout both films, Aguinaldo (perhaps intended as the Duterte surrogate this time around) has been the real villain, but if you think he has been problematic so far, just wait until the Japanese occupation during WWII.

So, yes, the Americans had a better grounding in military tactics and strategy, as well as superior resources and a relatively high level of morale among their troops. Right, aside from all that, the Revolutionary Army had all the advantages. Frankly, Tarog hardly bothers to score any anti-American points this time around. Instead, he eviscerates the factionalism and paranoia Aguinaldo fostered. However, he stages some appropriately chaotic scenes of warfighting during the Tirad Pass sequences.

Frankly, Paulo Avelino does little humanize or otherwise rehabilitate del Pilar and little chemistry develops during the chilly scenes he shares with Gwen Zamora’s Nable Jose. On the other hand, Mon Confiado is perversely compelling, in a Mephistophelean way, as Aguinaldo. Veteran character actor Ronnie Lazaro also helps liven up the proceedings as Lt. Garcia, a Luna loyalist, who rallies del Pilar’s troops at Tirad.

If it were not for the shared cast and director, it would be difficult to believe Goyo and Luna are part of the same duology (projected to be part of a greater series of Filipino historical epics). Still, as a tandem, they definitely illustrate the complicated thorniness of the Philippines’ history with the United States as well as its own difficulties establishing and maintaining republican forms of government. It is fascinating as a cultural document that also happens to have some good battle scenes, but it doesn’t really pull viewers in as an absorbing historical drama. Perhaps interesting to some on that limited basis, Goyo: The Boy General opens this Friday (9/21) in New York, at the AMC Kips Bay.