GOYO: THE BOY GENERAL Provides a Youthful and Naive Lens to the Heavy Consequences of War5 min readReading Time: 4 minutes
The story of Gregorio ‘Goyo’ del Pilar, one of the youngest Generals during the Philippine-American War who fought in the historic Battle of Tirad Pass.
Directors: Jerrold Tarog
Cast: Paulo Avelino, Carlo Aquino, Arron Villaflor, Mon Confiado
Runtime: 155 minutes
Three years after Heneral Luna (2015), Goyo: The Boy General (2018) picks up where its prequel ends: the day after General Luna’s much contested assasination. There are a few familiar characters from the previous movie (check out our review of Heneral Luna!), such as the misguided President and his trusty advisor who has turned against him.
And this time, the titular character here is General Gregorio del PIlar, played by Paulo Avelino. Young, handsome, and suave, General Gregorio – or more informally, Goyo – is leading his best life charming women with his looks and status everywhere he goes. War has come to a halt and life is good.
Watching both movies back to back, what stood out the most was the mood change from the fierce internal conflicts and heavy bloodshed in Heneral Luna to the romantic endeavours and lively celebrations in Goyo. Unlike his predecessor, General Goyo is not a chest-beating patriot who pledges his life to his country and would dive headfirst into war for the sake of honour.
Acting a role almost 10 years younger than his actual age, lead Paulo Avelino still manages to convey a naive, youthful charm with his disarming smile. Pitted against the loud and commanding General Luna, whose death still influences division in troops, General Goyo initially comes across as a weak stand-in, one who winks at swooning ladies and is almost undeserving of an eponymous movie.
For a supposed war film, much of the film is about the general’s romantic pursuits and his commanders are equally involved in frivolous entertainment. Having appeared in Heneral Luna, a familiar (but slightly redundant) young journalist ends up shadowing General Goyo and his troops, responding and reminding politely when invited to choose a girl, “We’re at war, Colonel.”
Without many historical events referenced, the emphasis of the general and his playing-hard-to-get crush slows the film down a lot. Where is the war? The light-heartedness and fun threatens to dismiss the sobriety of war which Heneral Luna has laid the ground for.
But as the story progresses (slowly… but surely), we begin to realise that we are forced to take in General Gregorio’s naive perspective and sit through his complacency, which reveals themselves to teach him a hard lesson later. General Gregorio isn’t General Luna, who has years of experience under his belt and knows exactly what he’s doing.
General Gregorio is nicknamed the boy general, but is also simply a boy. A boy who yearns for the childish pleasures in life. A boy who struggles with his own sense of right and wrong. A boy who fears death as much as anyone does.
Instead of a film about war and history, Goyo is more inclined towards charting the growth of a young boy who has to mature quickly because of the circumstances of war. Using repeated scenes and tropes liberally to portray General Gregorio’s internal conflicts, the movie gives some depth to the otherwise unreadable and shallow general. Showcasing Goyo’s fears and trauma, the movie is more abstract and less didactic than Heneral Luna, leaving the audience to form their own judgement.
If Heneral Luna is impressive for its never-before-done, large scale production of a Filipino historical movie, Goyo pushes it to another level. With more soldiers, more locations, and the setting of difficult mountain-top plains, the budget of Goyo is ostensibly higher (almost three times that of Heneral Luna!) and that truly pays off in the final fighting scenes. Engaging in warfare, tactics, and mind games, the last segment of Goyo finally indulges war film fans with its full on battles.
But perhaps, in trying to outdo Heneral Luna and impress with its spectacle, Goyo seems to lose sight of its main protagonist. General Gregorio is mostly cast aside during the climactic confrontation between the Americans and the Filipinos, alongside other loose ends of the plot.
Goyo fluctuates between telling the personal tale of a questionable hero against the backdrop of war and pushing for a large-scale representation of one of the turning points in Philippine war history. But by parallelling internal struggles with external fighting, Goyo seeks to question morality and patriotism from the nuanced perspective of a figure with less experience in life and in war. With General Gregorio, we see a more relatable figure who makes mistakes and shows weakness. And unlike the average youth, he has to pay a heavier price for them.
Goyo: the Boy General is available on Netflix, but remember to check out Heneral Luna first to gain a clearer understanding if you’re going in without prior knowledge. Here’s the trailer for Goyo: