Jerrold Tarog’s Goyo: The Boy General aims to offer a Lawrence of Arabia-esque portrait of Gregorio “Goyo” del Pilar (Paulo Avelino), a Filipino general who was a national hero in the Philippines for his actions in the Philippine-American War. In the early days of said war, the film introduces del Pilar as a young, strong-willed fighter who also happens to be a notorious womanizer. The film proceeds to chronicle del Pilar’s initial experiences in battle, and it eventually concludes with a sweeping re-enactment of the Battle of Tirad Pass, the last-stand battle in which del Pilar and 60 other Filipinos were killed by a contingent of 500 American troops.
Overall, Tarog’s film suffers from two major flaws. To begin with, its attitude towards war is self-contradictory. As evidenced by the frequent dialogue about hunger, exhaustion, and the awfulness of combat, the narrative wants us to see that “war is hell.” Yet Tarog’s depiction of the Battle of Tirad Pass is – there’s no other word for it – beautiful, featuring breathtaking mountain vistas, soaring background music, and brightly lit shots. If you’re just going by these stylistic elements, war comes off looking as hellish as a summer walk through the countryside.
“…a Filipino general who was a national hero in the Philippines for his actions in the Philippine-American War.”
Meanwhile, the other issue with Goyo: The Boy General is that it’s painfully cliché. Del Pilar is portrayed as a heroic, righteous figure who’s admired by almost everyone, especially attractive single women. When depicting del Pilar’s death at Tirad Pass, moreover, Tarog goes out of his way to martyr him, setting scenes of mourning female admirers to sad music that underscores the “nobleness” of del Pilar’s sacrifice. Tarog’s film may not be quite as hagiographic as, say, Darkest Hour or Hacksaw Ridge. But ultimately, its view of del Pilar still proves maddeningly simplistic.
In Tarog’s defense, however, Goyo: The Boy General does have two things working in its favor. For starters, Avelino does a decent job in his role, portraying del Pilar’s patriotism and obstinate idealism with admirable dedication. Additionally, for American viewers, the film will hopefully provide an incentive to learn more about the Philippine-American War, an important but frequently ignored chapter in American history. Thanks to all of this, Goyo: The Boy General avoids being a complete disappointment, and you’ll at least be glad you watched it.
Goyo: The Boy General (2018) Directed by Jerrold Tarog. Written by Jerrold Tarog and Rody Vera. Starring Paulo Avelino, Carlo Aquino, Mon Confiado, and Arron Villaflor.
3 out of 10