Sunday, September 27, 2015

‘Heneral Luna’ Is Meant to Condition Filipinos to Vote for Duterte as President

LOL.  Yeah.  Sorry, for the horrible “bait-and-switch” title.  This post isn’t really an analysis of such preposterous thesis.  This is simply my review of the movie Heneral Luna.

To be honest, I wasn’t really compelled of watching Heneral Luna at first.  I was somewhat impressed of the trailer, but I wasn’t set yet of actually watching it.  It was a 50/50 thing.  But then, my Facebook newsfeed exploded with dynamic approvals and high recommendations for the movie.  This made me finally put Heneral Luna on my mental list for movies to watch.  Thankfully, albeit late, the local theater showed it, and I went to watch it as soon as I got the time.

Indeed, Heneral Luna deserves all the hype it receives.  In a Filipino movie industry that has been dominated by garbage, this movie is a much welcome gem.  It’s an overall good movie, and a highlight of my 2015 movie watching.  But I’m not going to eagerly shower it with my praises.  It’s not exactly the homerun that I was hoping it to be.

As far as being a biopic of a Filipino hero is concerned, I still think that the 1998 José Rizal epic film starring Cesar Montano has proven to have a more polished, purposeful, and interesting narrative than Heneral LunaHeneral Luna has plenty of great moments, and succeeds in portraying its titular character in an exciting light through a well-crafted tale.  I, however, have some problems with its pacing and inability to sustain an overall sense of enthrallment.  Make no mistake though, this movie started strong and has provided plenty of riveting moments.  However, I’m a bit of more prejudiced against Filipino movies, which, in general, suffer from extreme cheesiness and scarcity of cleverness.  Hence, I find it harder to forgive details of cheesiness – mild they may be – which easily distract me.  There are some elements in the story that I felt are cheesy and gratuitous, which derailed my enjoyment of the movie a bit.

My biggest disappointment on the movie is the lack of focus on Luna’s reputation as a brilliant military tactician.  This is a commander that is historically known to be capable of earning victories against Spanish and American forces with just a militia of conscripted farmers under his command.  His genius has been mentioned several times in the movie, but it isn’t thoroughly shown.  I’m sure that the movie would have been twice better if Luna’s genius military mind has been explored more.  I read in the past about cool stuff like the “Luna Defense Line” (a three-tiered defense line that gave the Americans plenty of trouble) and his fondness for assembling elite squads like the “Luna Sharpshooters” (snipers, basically) and the “Black Guard”, a 25-men guerrilla unit led by a lieutenant named Garcia (the movie’s Garcia could be this guy), and I wish that these things were featured and expounded in the movie.

Also, if you expect some awesome action sequences from this movie, you’ll be disappointed.  Yes, it doesn’t shy away from showing gruesome violence to portray realism.  But the battle scenes aren’t remarkable at all.

Nevertheless, the intent is to be more of a drama movie anyway, rather than an actual action film.  And with the drama, the movie hits empathically.  The terrific acting fuels the intensity of the drama and kept me invested, even when my problems with the pacing start becoming apparent.  Kudos most of all to John Arcilla, whose captivating performance effectively portrayed the different facets of General Luna’s personality, both his admirable traits and flaws.

I wasn’t expecting that this movie will have its share of humor, but it indeed has the right dosage of hilarity.  This movie has made me laughed aloud on several instances.  Some of the funny moments actually happen in a violent context, which is kind of morbid, but it’s so well-executed that laughing can’t be helped.

But the best thing about this movie is that it provokes reflection.  That is something rare of mainstream Filipino movies to do.  And I absolutely welcome it.  True, it actually has a pretty cynical message.  The political climate of the past is just as messed up as of that in the present.  Hence, it can be said that this movie is a reflection of our current rotten status as a nation.  We put personal interests, egos, and conveniences above the benefit of the motherland.  We have an inability of being completely one as a nation.  We are an undisciplined people.  And having a sense of nationalism for this country is simply wasted, because those in power will just screw you.  But, who knows, maybe by realizing these things, Filipinos would now accept that, as what General Luna posits in the movie, in order to change this country, what’s required is something radical.

(Seriously, with all the sympathy generated by the movie for Gen. Antonio Luna, it feels like that the movie is conditioning the Filipinos to subscribe to Luna’s stern methods and philosophy.  Hence, it feels this movie is a conspiracy sponsored by a “Duterte for President” movement.  LOL.)

So all in all, Heneral Luna is a well-acted, excellently-made, eye-opening, must-watch movie.  The Filipino film industry desperately needs more thoughtful movies like this.

I’m happy that this movie is making money, after its first week’s poor gross receipts (lots of props to social media word-of-mouth).  This kind of movie needs to be rewarded.  And, since everything is driven by money, this would encourage other Filipino filmmakers and producers to pursue making more insightful, more intelligent mainstream movies.  Also, by this, a sequel, about Gregorio Del Pilar (fact: this young general is my favorite among Filipino national heroes while growing up), is ensured.  Can’t wait!
(Keeping my fingers crossed that this is the start of the Filipino Cinema Renaissance!)

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