Director-co-writer Jerrold Tarog (along with Rody Vera) has come up with an epic-looking historical drama related to the Philippine-American War (1899-1902, but mostly fuelled by the Spanish-American War).
As the title declaims, this feature focusses on the “Boy General” (Gregorio del Pilar—engagingly portrayed by Paulo Avelino who, even in forced marches and drawn-out battles, always sports a perfectly shaved chin).
History buffs of all stripes and on all “sides” will find various issues with the “facts”, but the—too frequently in any armed conflict—notion that there are no good or bad guys rings true from first frame to last.
In the early sequences, we learn that the Filipino insurgents have no qualms about executing their own members for selfish reasons: an occurrence that seems to keep the current White House moving from crisis to crisis daily.
A love interest is created (apparently, del Pilar had all of the randiness of any 19-year-old who began to believe his own press releases). In this instance, it falls to the privileged (comparatively in the largely lower-class populace) Remedios to be captured by the allure of the debonair general. (Gwen Zamora does her best in the will-she/won’t she role, but there is no palpable heat between the pair, which tends to slow the passion on both sides of the battlefield down to a mere trickle.)
The best dramatic conceit comes in the form of apprentice-photographer Joven Hernando whose secondment to del Pilar’s troops allows the backstories to be captured in his journals (even as his boss returns to Manila to immortalize the conquering American heroes…). Arron Villafor is ideally cast and delivers one of the most convincing performances of the film.
Yet it must be said that the real star of this production is the Philippines itself—magnificently captured by cinematographer Pong Ignacio. The mountainscapes are nothing short of spectacular; the small details (burning flames in Jevon’s wide-framed glasses) display an attention to detail that would be welcome in a slew of other cinematic efforts.
The final battle scenes (Mount Tirad Pass) sadly, likely accurately, portray the country lovers out gunned and out manoeuvered by the invaders who, after all, “are only following orders.” The carnage, while graphic—notably the demise of “He Who Must Be Obeyed”, is mercifully brief.
The coda (never leave during the first credits) reminds one and all that—even despite past atrocities, victories, losses—there is nothing new under the sun when power and commerce are at stake. JWR