In the Philippines, being a colony that we are (or were, but that's arguable) we had revolutionaries that fought to achieve changes and freedom from the hands of the foreign captors.
These heroes, however, are almost always set aside in our textbooks. During my primary and secondary school, their lives were taught very ambiguously. Perhaps this was to spare our little minds from the grueling and violent tragedies that befell these loyal countrymen.
For this reason, it's truly refreshing to see a film made for these often overlooked heroes. Yes, they were fiery, they did not mask their emotions with indifference, and the story of their lives were portrayed with justice in this movie. They were honest, and even though most of these events happened over a century ago, they're still relevant. It is still important to immortalize these heroes in film, not just to educate and entertain our generation, but also because nothing has truly changed.
In fact, the situation has only gotten worse, and these historical films immortalize the sacrifices of people of the past... They are a touching tribute, and also a wake-up call for change - to remind people not to settle for less. To remind us not to put all these revolutionaries' sacrifices to waste; remaining silent, being weak-willed and taking things for granted are among some of the things we do which undermine the legacy of these heroes.
Before I begin, who was General Antonio Luna?
Antonio Luna de San Pedro y Novicio Ancheta (29 October 1866 – 5 June 1899), an Ilocano born in Manila, was a Filipino general who fought in the Philippine–American War. He was also the founder of the Philippines's first military academy, which existed during the First Philippine Republic. He was regarded as the most brilliant of the Filipino military officers during the war. Succeeding Artemio Ricarte as commander of the Philippine Revolutionary Army, he sought to apply his background in military science to the fledgling army. A sharpshooter himself, he organized professional guerrilla soldiers later to be known as the Luna Sharpshooters and the Black Guard. His three-tier defense, now known as the Luna Defense Line, gave the American troops a hard campaign in the provinces north of Manila. This defense line culminated in the creation of a military base in the Cordillera. Despite his commitment to discipline the army and serve the Republic which attracted the admiration of people, his temper caused some to abhor him. His efforts were not without recognition during his time, for he was awarded the Philippine Republic Medal in 1899. He was also a member of the Malolos Congress. Besides his military studies, Luna also studied pharmacy, literature and chemistry.
Antonio Luna was the most brilliant Filipino General who have ever lived. He fought in the Filipino-American war; he was a brilliant strategist, a great leader, and a great revolutionary. He was a fiery general, but only because he has an ambition and determination to totally liberate the Philippines from yet another foreign colonialist group. He also had no tolerance for incompetence, laziness and other troublesome actions; anyone who displayed these characteristics was detained. This lead to his demise, as his assassination was orchestrated by the soldiers he dismissed for insubordination.
Set during the Philippine-American war, a short-tempered Filipino general faces an enemy more formidable than the American army: his own treacherous countrymen.
In 1898, General Antonio Luna ( John Arcilla ), commander of the revolutionary army, is spoiling for a fight. The Philippines, after three hundred years as a Spanish colony, has unwillingly come under American rule. General Luna wants to fight for freedom but members of the elite would rather strike a deal with the United States. The infighting is fierce in the new cabinet but General Luna and his loyal men forge ahead even as his military decisions are met with resistance from soldiers who are loyal only to President Aguinaldo ( Mon Confiado ). Ultimately, it is the general’s legendary temper and pride that bring him to his death when a pack of presidential guards assassinate him in broad daylight. While American newspapers are quick to point the blame to Aguinaldo, the mystery has never been completely solved and the General’s killers were never put to justice.
Courtesy: Heneral Luna official website.
The Film Raises The Stakes
Most of my friends have already seen this film, and they all spoke highly of it. In recent memory, I've never heard of a Filipino independent film that was lauded by both critics and young mainstream moviegoers. A film that could have been just a diamond in the rough is now making waves among millennials.
One of my friends even told me that she'd like to slap some folks who already judged it to be 'boring' without even seeing it.
The movie's director Jerrold Tarog has set the standards high for future adaptations of this sort. He knows the significance of social media, and harnessed its power to market his movie.
Read also my commentary about Philippine cinema here.
It Broke The Stereotype About Its Respective Genre
Perhaps one of the factors of its success can be alluded to the the sheer controversy the limited screening of the film got. It generated a lot of attention, which in turn became a blessing in disguise.
Heneral Luna didn't just raise the stakes (as the real man would most likely do), it also did a sublime job at eliminating the misconceptions about historical biopics - or simply, educational movies. Movies of this genre usually get snubbed (most think it'd be boring without even seeing it), but by the looks of it, the more people that will see the movie, the more they'll realize and appreciate that it isn't just a great masterpiece released this year, it is among one of the greatest Philippine films released in this decade.
Others of this kind such as El Presidente (2012) and Bonifacio: Ang Unang Pangulo (2014) also had critical acclaim, but unfortunately not a lot of people went to see them in the theaters.
The film is Rated-13. Some people may flinch at this because the subject matter deals with war, violence, lots of blood, and explicit language.
However, it's good to know that despite these elements, it's still Rated-13. It means that we have to acknowledge that children need to start learning their history early on. And, not abridged history at that. It's also an indication that 13 year-olds aren't underestimated just because of some obscenities present in an otherwise great film.
You've seen this coming. Anyway, so many people who posted about this film in facebook or twitter have gone viral for some hilariously sad reasons. Why you ask? Many people wondered why Apolinario Mabini (Epy Quizon) remained 'seated' for the entire movie. It would make a great pun if he was a 'chairman'...
Sadly though, that's not the case. The first Philippine Prime Minister was paralyzed due to polio. He was often referred to as the 'Dakilang Lumpo' (The Sublime Paralytic), so yes, Epy Quizon had to remain seated for the entire movie... ya know, for accuracy.
Although the film did take some liberties, it didn't sacrifice the overall historical accuracy. Aside from that, moviegoers can download a historical study guide of the film from their website here.
What sets Heneral Luna apart from the other movies of the same genre is its humanity. You'll see the characters in a unique way, you'll be able to like them, at the same time as you flinch at their questionable actions. They aren't portrayed as saints, and don't have their said questionable decisions glossed over... you'll empathize with the characters because they're only human and we can learn a thing or two from the mistakes of the past.
I'm so glad that despite having limited release to make room for mainstream films, Heneral Luna breached the 140 Million Pesos mark (approx. 3 Million USD) this week and has been a bigger financial success than its predecessors of the same genre. It's important to support independent filmmakers because they produce great quality films with a tight budget for the risk they're taking.
Because, as the screenwriter and executive producer said, it's not about the financial success but the passion and purpose behind the movie.
With this, I hope more income will follow soon, so more future movies (according to the team behind Heneral Luna, it will be a trilogy) will be made, and they'll be even better.
A lot of people have seen this movie already, but we need more. To my fellow countrymen, I may not have seen this film myself (yet), nonetheless I encourage you to spread the word. Often, we snub films like this, and if you've seen Heneral Luna, encourage everyone you know to watch it. It's time to up the ante (no, don't watch the pirated version; students get 50% discount in cinemas!).
Generally speaking, no longer should we settle for less than magnificent; and no longer should we judge a film by its genre or title. A great film may just be in front of you - a film that will satisfy your finicky taste and will leave you in veneration for years to come.
To the rest of the world, it doesn't matter if you know Philippine history or not... If I may say, this film could be the trailblazer for a new era in Philippine cinema. It's a film we're proud to have as our official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film in the Oscars, and has a serious quality that needs to be considered.
Heneral Luna is in stark contrast to any other film our country has produced in the last few years. It features a stellar cast who embody their roles perfectly, great direction, a masterful script- in short, all of the elements of a great film. It raises a poignant question that will make you reflect and ponder over it for a very long time.
PS. This post will be updated when the film will be available in iTunes, and int'l release dates. Don't miss it!
Update: Heneral Luna reached the break-even mark of 240 million Pesos, thus making it the highest-grossing historical film of the Philippines - a remarkable and rare feat!
Starting October 30th, the film will also open in North American cinemas!