Its quite embarrassing to admit that going into the cinema, I had only a vague idea of the role that General Antonio Luna played in the revolution towards independence during the time of Spanish and American regime in the Philippines. Its sad to think that while national heroes like Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo are credited for their work towards attaining Philippine independence from foreign rule, very little is said about other heroes like Luna in the history books. It was a commendable move for the filmmaking team at to take a gamble on making this movie and give the lead role to veteran actor John Arcilla, who, while he has proven his mettle in theater, film and television, has yet to receive his big break in headlining a major motion picture.
Heneral Luna gives the audience a deeper insight into the life of the General Antonio Luna, who at the time of the transition from Spanish to American rule, was head of the revolutionary army. Luna, oftentimes perceived as arrogant, stubborn and headstrong by politicians who want to to push the idea of annexation under American rule, earned himself the ire of businessmen and other cabinet officials who want to compromise and do business with the Americans at the time. A brilliant war strategist, Luna accepts no compromises in achieving full independence from the foreigners and mobilizes soldiers and and platoons all over Luzon to beef up their defenses against attacks from the strengthening American army, all while trying to counter the advances of the politicians advancing their own agenda.
At first glance, the filmmaking approach of director Jerrold Tarog seemed very theatrical, with a lot of dialogue laced with bravado, especially during the cabinet meeting with President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado) and Apolinario Mabini (Epi Quizon) where Arcilla established the character of Luna. Arcilla, was ever present, lending an animation to the character with his acting strength, honed from years in theater and film and made Luna the polarizing character he was intended to be. At times, funny, at times no nonsense, at times acting with no clear intent as to what he was hoping to achieve — Arcilla made Luna multi faceted and confusing, so much so that the audience understood how government and military leaders at the time felt in dealing with him. He was a wild card, General Luna, but one has to admire the man for his unequivocal patriotism, courage and strength to stand by his principles.
Negosyo o kalayaan, bayan o sarili? Pumili ka! — General Luna (a question that our politicians need to answer)
Luna was often misunderstood, his bluster often construed as arrogance but when he was explaining his motives to the fictional character Joven (Aaron Villaflor), his intentions were as plain as day. His frustration over the bureaucracy and the fact that it was his fellow Filipinos who were keeping him from fulfilling his duty to his country was palpalable. And while he seemed callous and unaffected by the fact that lives will be lost in the quest for independence, Arcilla’s protrayal leaves no doubt that had he been given a choice, he would have wanted a better way to achieve his objective.
Its highly unexpected to hear the audience laugh out loud in the middle of the battle scenes but the unique approach of the movie made it possible. Luna’s approach to getting things done often proved uncanny and comedic at times but it ensured that audiences were entertained and amused especially while setting up for the finale. It made Luna a more relateable character, and while he was not perfect, the man deserves credit for going the extra mile to make things happen. Archie Alemania as Captain Eduardo Rusca was a perfect balance of comic relief and loyal ally, Joem Bascon’s Col. Paco Roman was undoubtedly the general’s most loyal subordinate, and his allies Col. Manuel Bernal (Art Acuna) and his brother Capt. Jose Bernal (Alex Medina) also gave touching portrayals as Luna’s staunch allies. On the other hand, on the political side of the spectrum, its frustrating, saddening and appalling — the lengths that these supposed leaders of the country went to to stop Luna based on hearsay and speculation. It made my skin crawl how many Filipino heroes were privy to the betrayal of General Luna and why they condoned such an action.
There were times when the budget constraints were obvious such as one of the early battles where American soldiers were supposedly overwhelming the Filipino soldiers holding their base. There were very few American soldiers whose only advantage was that they had more ammunition and weapons, and the American actors cast were very poor actors. If the film had a bigger budget, no doubt it would have been a more epic confrontation.
At the end of the film, I was infuriated and enraged at how Luna got his end. I was much more frustrated that this act of betrayal was not discussed in the history books that we learned about while in elementary and high school. The role that politics played hundreds of years ago is still prevalent now and it is saddening that we are still fighting a war up until now, not with guns but a war against poverty, powerlessness and injustice. While we have claimed our independence years ago, we are still slaves to leaders who do not care about our welfare, who still push their own interests first before the country’s, which is the same problem the country was experiencing more than a century ago. Luna was credited by the movie as being the country’s greatest general, and he did not deserve what he got in the end.
All in all, Heneral Luna is a must watch for every Filipino. It was well executed and conveyed the true essence of patriotism through a man who was imperfect but mostly misunderstood. It was a tragedy that was part of our history that all Filipinos should know about. Actually, it compelled me to do more research about history and if it managed to do the same for others as well, Filipinos would do well to understand more of their origins to chart a better path for the future.