It's difficult not to compare Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral to Heneral Luna. After all, it is the sequel by the same filmmaker, Jerrold Tarog.
It picks up from where the first movie ended: the day after Heneral Antonio Luna is butchered in an act of treason by his fellow soldiers, there is unrest and confusion, even as politicians position themselves to serve the new masters: the Americans.
The three posts who hold up the storytelling are Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado), Apolinario Mabini (Epy Quizon), and Heneral Gregorio del Pilar (Paulo Avelino).
The shadow of Heneral Antonio Luna looms long and large over Goyo the movie. John Arcilla’s character may have died in a most gruesome manner that many would rather forget—but he is never forgotten in the movie. His presence, his name are mentioned time and again, and the recurrence of the same kinds of characters in Philippine history is not lost on the audience.
The screenplay, co-written by Tarog and Rody Vera, goes beyond skin deep. It portrays the lead character Goyo, and many supporting ones, as complex characters, delving into their various agenda and motivations that are sometimes at odds.
Goyo is not merely a pretty face running after skirts nor just the president’s favorite who has hit the jackpot. He is also a young man with a disturbed conscience who tries to tackle the challenges of a role that fate and circumstance have forced upon him.
The movie retains its humor, though in lesser doses than its predecessors—reflecting the Filipino characteristic as it persists today. The comedy is never forced nor conspired, but natural, without missing a beat.
Gwen Zamora and Empress Shuck do not merely light up the screens with their pretty faces but also toe the line—but never cross it—of women vying for the same man’s affections. So there are no screaming matches nor confrontations accompanied by physical violence. Their anguish and passion are muted.
Unlike Heneral Luna, there are no quotable quotes or catchphrases in Goyo. There are long musings about the immaturity of the Philippines and its people. There are many insightful statements that remind us that we seem to be repeating the same mistakes until now, that we have yet to learn the lessons of history. But the rising fervor and fever does not come close. Rather than rush out of the cinema with a renewed sense of nationalism and patriotism, Goyo somehow makes audiences file out of the cinema quietly, their heads hanging, with a sense of helplessness.
Paulo’s chiseled features make him a natural as an arrogant, philandering boy-general, but he has what can be called a “resting heartthrob face:” boyish pretty. He does his best acting when he has his episodes of extreme self-doubt and distress, most notably in the nightmarish sequences of characters from his past haunting him and in his underwater sequence.
There is a prolonged sequence that takes the audience behind enemy lines, as the American troops try to break down the Filipino troops’ defenses. At its conclusion, the battle scene eventually makes sense, but as it unfolds, it feels too drawn-out.
Tarog shows off his musical roots by providing the score so perfectly for the entire film—he celebrates the spirit of scenes accompanied by a wide variety of music and reigns himself in when he chooses not to score certain scenes, and instead uses the ambient sound or deafening silence.
A gem of a sequence that shows off all of Tarog’s roles involves a dinner party dance, oscillating between two focal points: Goyo and Remedios dancing and Joven rifling through Goyo’s bag of letters. It elicits a wonderful fireworks display of emotions: anticipation, kilig, excitement, and curiosity.
The cinematography is impeccable, especially notable in the underwater sequence and the variety of tight and very wide shots as the troops trek across the mountains. Director of Photography Pong Ignacio lets the silhouettes move against a majestic sunset and lights up Paulo’s face as he goes through internal anguish, struggling between life and death almost as his inner turmoil bubbles almost up to the surface.
Though the story is topbilled by Gregorio del Pilar, the film is an ensemble piece with excellent portrayals by Mon Confiado (as Emilio Aguinaldo) and Epy Quizon (Apolinario Mabini) that are nuanced and will undoubtedly be iconic. Other recurring characters like Art Acuña, Carlo Aquino, Aaron Villaflor, and Alvin Anson make the full impact of the story more engaging and profound.
Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral ends with a hint of whose story will be told next in the series. It is a short, witty scene that settles some questions but also raises eyebrows.
P.S. Stay behind for the mid-credits scene that will tie up a loose thread that was not answered in the main story.
ED'S Note: The "PEP Review" section carries the views of individual reviewers, and does not necessarily reflect the views of the PEP editorial team.