What makes a hero?

Features Opinion & Analysis Feb 8, 2019 at 4:16 pm

GOYOFILM REVIEW: Goyo, The Boy General (2018)

By Ysh Cabana
The Philippine Reporter

The story of Gregorio del Pilar, one of the youngest generals best known for the defense of Tirad Pass against a backdrop of American aggression. And in online streaming site Netflix 120 years hence, he’s been given a more thoughtful biopic with the film Goyo: The Boy General. Directed by Jerrold Tarog, the film pulls from recorded accounts while also expounding on Del Pilar’s complicated life to bemoan the ways in which all too commonplace veneration of heroes has hampered critical thinking.

With the baggage of a colonized past, a filmmaker has to make it pretty clear to, as concise as possible, swallow centuries of knowledge to tell as a narrative. To create a film is already to prefer. For Tarog, Goyo is an intentional model, a narrative with a nationalist moral attached, a pedagogic tale bearing political truth.

It’s 1899, the President of the First Philippine Republic Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado) retreated to the northern region of Ilocos where American troops were after him for a complete control of the islands and remnants of Spanish rule. Chief of War Gen. Antonio Luna is dead, but the Philippine Revolution is far from over.



Hailed as the Eagle and big hero of Bulacan, Gen. Gregorio “Goyo” del Pilar (Paulo Avelino) is tasked to lead the Filipino forces against the Americans. Alongside him are his brother, Col. Julian del Pilar (Rafael Siguion-Reyna) and dear friend Col. Vicente Enriquez (Carlo Aquino).

Aguinaldo had to be grateful for very young Goyo. This is the same officer who chased after the remaining officers loyal to Gen. Luna, whose assassination Aguinaldo ordered.

The movie can be read like a mountain. Before the greater heights of his life and eventual downfall, much is depicted on the peak of Goyo’s career as a glorious general. Two-thirds of the composition propels our horse-riding hero to a colourful career of extrinsic motives flirting with political power and women as represented by his love interest Remedios (Gwen Zamora).

The rest casts a shadow on his character with nuances of inward fragility following exposure to armed conflict and painful heartbreak. Forced to face the harsh realities of life, the boy grows up hard enough to ask the only defining question in times of war: What makes a hero?

To reiterate, this is still a hero film. It is a recognizable portrayal of the world of human foibles. Focusing on a single individual is the very basis of its humanist approach. The search for a cinematic formula to balance the personal-versus-impersonal disjunction was carried on with spectacular landscape shots by Pong Ignacio and production design by Roy Lachica.

goyo-ang-batang-heneral-29The script written by Tarog and writer Rody Vera was freighted in the same vein. In a sequence, the Prime Minister Apolinario Mabini (Epy Quizon) asks “Can a Filipino stand the truth without feeling resentment?” Tarog kept the film well within the terrain of humanism as originally marked in the first installment of his Luna-Del Pilar-Quezon war trilogy.

But without the bombast of Heneral Luna, the second instalment is more subdued and restrained. Still, Goyo’s defining heroic last stand is a contestable triumph, complicated by doubts.

A whole Filipino unit is being decimated before our eyes under a barrage of better equipped enemy crossfire as the song “Bato sa Buhangin” (Rocks Among the Sand) plays in the concluding parts. In using the song, Tarog brings the metaphor of universal suffering as implied in the chorus. Many may relate for having experienced this, to be cheated on or to have been deceived.


Director: Jerrold Tarog; screenplay: Rody Vera and Jerrold Tarog; cinematographer: Pong Ignacio; production designer: Roy Lachica; editing and  music: Jerrold Tarog; producers: Joe Alandy, Daphne O. Chiu. Not rated. In Filipino and English, with German, Spanish, French, English, Italian subtitles. Running time: 155 mins.

Starring: Paulo Avelino, Rafael Siguion-Reyna, Carlo Aquino, Aaron Villaflor, Gwen Zamora, Mon Confiado, Epy Quizon, Empress Schuck, Alvin Anson, Perla Bautista, Benjamin Alves.