One of the biggest issues people in the Philippines have is the lack of support for anything local, whether it be in comics, TV shows, politics or more importantly for this review’s purposes, movies. Now contrary to popular belief and even if I always go out of my way to call out the bullshit of local telenovelas and the crap that tends to crowd up the MMFF (Metro Manila Film Fest) every fucking December, I’m willing to support any piece of Local Cinema on the condition that it’s good. I don’t want it to be some brainless pieces of shit like most everything that the TV networks shit out that tend to rip-off whatever’s popular in the West at the moment nor do I want the pretentious as fuck Soapbox Movies that some Indie Movies tend to fall into; all I want is a simple good movie from any genre made by us Filipinos that reflects the current situation of the country.
Every once in a while, the powers that be side with those like me and give us a good Filipino movie after letting us suffer through fuck knows how many Two Hour Product Placements that are pathetic excuses for movies and thankfully, in the year 2015 where a lot of the movies released so far have been awesome, the Cinema God decided to resurrect emotions of patriotism and anger in the timely Biopic entitled HENERAL LUNA (literally GENERAL LUNA for you non-Filipino readers out there… thanks for reading this by the way even if we don’t live in the same nation).
Based on the life of the Revolutionary General from the days of the Philippine-American War for Independence back in the 1800’s, HENERAL LUNA tells the hardships of the of the titular Gen. Luna as he struggles to fight the good fight for a nation he (literally) loves to death. Rather than go old-school and tell his entire life in film, HENERAL LUNA instead decides to follow the style of recent Modern Biopics like SELMA (a Martin Luther King Jr. centered movie based on one of his more iconic rallies) and LINCOLN (based on the titular American Civil War president’s pivotal victory in the question of slavery) by simply getting the most significant events from said Historical Figure’s life and focusing on those just to emphasize what made him immortal in a historical sense and this works heavily in HENERAL LUNA’s favor.
By doing so, HENERAL LUNA’s pacing is perfect for the source material it based itself upon as it beautifully balances the best bits of the two sides of Filipino Film Making: the Mainstream and the Indie. On one side, you have the usual elements of a Mainstream Filipino Movie where actions scenes, quick dashes of humor, relatable characters and the like are used to keep people both entertained and involved while the Indie Side of the equation flexes its muscles in the drama department, social commentary and stylized sequences, all of which elevate HENERAL LUNA’s status to something more than just Popcorn Entertainment. Even if it had the aid of American production crews and even with is obvious amount of Foreign Influence in terms of style and execution (there are many scenes here that are shot in the non-conventional Filipino way; I guess this is something those not from here will get but hopefully you get my point), HENERAL LUNA is first and foremost a Filipino Movie based on a larger than life historical figure.
As a Biopic, HENERAL LUNA does its job of showing audiences just what made Gen. Luna an icon in Filipino history. With that being said, if given to a weaker director, HENERAL LUNA would’ve ended up being a fucking history lesson straight out of a classroom play/reenactment and thankfully the final version of HENERAL LUNA isn’t anything that shitty. Rather, it’s a stylized retelling of the general’s life with a lot of artistic liberties taken in terms of how one would normally tell a Biopic and this is just one of the many things that make HENERAL LUNA a good watch.
The only things that could be leveled against HENERAL LUNA are the few liberties it took with standard Biopic tropes. For one, there are quite a couple of unnecessary scenes such as a One Scene Wonder featuring his wife that are used to humanize Luna as a person beyond the uniform. While they do show some backstory, overall they seem rather pointless and shoehorned in a movie whose entire conflict relies on politics. After showing an important person in Luna’s life, they’re literally forgotten until it’s time for the credits. Hell, the motherfucking Americans and the Obvious Audience Surrogate Character (a fictional guy named Joven) had more relevance to the story than Luna’s family members.
Another thing worth mentioning is Luna’s depiction; while it is true that the man was a temperamental bastard who’d snap at the smallest thing, HENERAL LUNA depicts him as a Walking Ideologue Of Patriotism With A Temper. His entire personality in the movie is nothing but patriotism and nationalism and while this sounds like what a History Book may say, this is a fucking movie. That’s not how things should be here since a Biopic shows Human Characters and at times, Luna seemed like a Flat Dude who’d sleep with the national flag in a moment’s notice.
Even if John Arcilla does play the role exceptionally,it would’ve been nice if the movie decided to highlight some of the general’s flaws outside of his fiery temper that gets triggered whenever some fat bastard in a suit reeked of defeatism, just to help bring the larger than life general a bit down to Earth for the audiences. Instead of just glossing over stuff like how he interacts with his wife, HENERAL LUNA should’ve spent a little more time in that department, just to balance out its politics and humanity. As it is, Luna was depicted to be the best motherfucking patriot EVER if not only for his stupid temper and a lot of people who rightfully deserve to die a horrible castrated death.
The casting here is damn good with each of them looking almost exactly like their historical counterparts (except Leo Martinez; that dude always look like a Sleazy Motherfucker in every movie he’s in), the dialogue is rightly modernized for an audience built from the 21st Century where Filipino Characters finally don’t sound like Obnoxious Spanish Assholes from some ancient play shown in the occupation days (the cast of HENERAL LUNA talk like Actual People while the cast of most local Filipino Telenovelas sound like Cartoon Characters) but most importantly, HENERAL LUNA perfectly asks the hard questions and hammers in themes of selflesness and selfishness without sounding like a pretentious asshole from a Philosophy 101 class.
One thing most anything in Filipino Media lacks is a massive amount of guts; fuck next to no one asks the tough questions because everything is a stupid fucking battle of good and evil where the character that goes to church everyday is the obvious winner. Here in HENERAL LUNA, the biggest enemy of the Filipino Revolution is not the encroaching American army but the Filipinos themselves as they endlessly bitch about politics, annexation and military tactics instead of actually uniting and doing shit. Rather than demonize one side of the story, HENERAL LUNA shows where each side is coming from, no matter how stupid and petty their reasons for their actions may be: The Filipino Elite want to preserve their businesses and income hence their preference to be annexed by the United States while the Filipino Soldiers like Luna and his few loyal compatriots prefer to die on the battlefield than allow some new foreign power to rule the nation. This constant conflict of interests and the endless class war are what eventually bring down the revolution from the inside and is the ultimate tragedy of the Philippines, even in today’s day and age. The tragedy shown in HENERAL LUNA is done in a way that it’s obvious whose side the crew behind it chose (hint: the richer the character, the bigger the bastard they are) and yet it tells its story in such a mature, unpretentious and impartial way that makes one think about just what the fuck being “Filipino” really means.
Without exaggerating, HENERAL LUNA is possibly the most important movie in recent Filipino memory. For you Non-Filipino viewers, this is a well done Historical Biopic that can help give you a glimpse as to how fucked up and stupid the ruling body of the Philippines is. For those who share my anger against a nation that lets the family of a motherfucking former Cold War Dictator live in excess while the rest of the country rots in poverty and for those who wish a country ruled by whores who’d bend over for whichever foreigner has the biggest winning bid would fucking wake up and do something, HENERAL LUNA is more than a welcome change of pace and proof that (holy shit) we can make movies that aren’t Extended Telenovela Episodes as it is more than that: it’s a fucking call to arms.
Anger is something we Filipinos barely see in any form of media since the country’s too fucking busy in claiming to be the Happiest Nation On Earth even if we’re more delusional than optimistic and fucking finally, a movie captures that anger and kicks people in the head with a demand for some fucking patriotism instead of hiding behind fancy words like “family” and “religion.” Of course, there were good Filipino Movies before HENERAL LUNA such as the crime thriller OTJ and the other great Filipino Biopic JOSE RIZAL but HENERAL LUNA here is something we needed at this certain point in time when the fate of a nation is hanging in the balance with the upcoming 2016 Presidential Elections.
To summarize this, I will switch to my local vernacular for once as an appeal to my fellow Filipinos out there: Kung Pilipino ka talaga, panoorin mo ang HENERAL LUNA sa sinehan at ‘wag antayin ang pekeng DVD. Putang ina naman at sa awa ng kung sino mang Diyos ang iyong sinasamba, gawin mo na ito bago mawala siya sa mga sinehan para suportahan ang magandang pelikula na ito.