Artikulo Uno Productions’ Heneral Luna is a historical action film that depicts the rise and fall of General Antonio Luna, the best military tactician during the Philippine-American War, and how his demise affected the fate of the Philippine Republic. Under the calculated direction of Jerrold Tarog, Heneral Luna is graphic and violent without being gory, informative without turning into a boring documentary and witty with dark undertones without being comical. It gives vitality to the colorful life of Antonio Luna, a Filipino hero worthy of accolades, who would have otherwise remained in the sidelines if credits were based on exposure on history books. It is refreshing that Heneral Luna does not hero worship the general; his unbridled courage and peerless military achievements are shown side by side his hot temper and unmufflered mouth.
Heneral Luna showcases the humanity of Antonio Luna (John Arcilla) through his different facets – as a general, a lover, a son and a brother, and a patriot – not in equal measure, but each is given the same attention to detail and thoughtful process that are commendable. All of Luna pointed to the general theme of the movie, “bayan o sarili?” (nation or self).
As a general, he was blessed with intelligence and foresight. He used military strategies that kept better-armed Americans at bay and grudgingly earned the respect of General Arthur MacArthur (Romcel Musa). He wanted to employ guerilla warfare against the enemies and build a fortress in the North (Cordillera) to solidify the Filipinos’ effort in the war that was slowly slipping from their grasp, but was vetoed by President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado). He backed his plans up with actions because he was also a badass in the battlefield. His badassness (is this even a word?) was punctuated by a galloping horse ride in the middle of a losing battle to rally his troops. As a military leader, he was feared by cowards but was revered by like-minded individuals. On one hand, Luna’s loyal men followed his every whim (and even followed him to the grave) without question because he had the right vision for the country. On the other hand, undisciplined foot soldiers and their complacent higher ups despised Luna’s efficient and exacting orders because they did not want to give more than the bare minimum. Luna was a brutally unforgiving leader who did not mince words in making a point. To illustrate, Luna grabbed Captain Pedro Janolino (Ketchup Eusebio) by his family jewels and said that his brain was in his genitalia. To add insult to injury, Luna added that his brain was not even that big. That did not endear him to the Cavite Brigade.
As a lover, he was passionate and honest. His trysts with Isabel (Mylene Dizon), a member of the Cruz Roja, showed that Luna was as skilled in bed as he was in the battlefield. Yet, Luna the general trumped Luna the lover. As Isabel said, “giyera ang asawa mo. Ako ang kabit” (War is your wife. I am the mistress) because Luna chose the welfare of the nation above his own needs, carnal or otherwise.
The film shows Luna as a son and a brother in one long masterful sequence. His mother (Bing Pimentel) started her visit to Luna with a slap to the general’s face, but it was a slap done with love. Now, I know where Luna got some of his temper. Luna grew up in an upper class family, showered with affection from his parents and older siblings. He and brother Juan (the maker of Spoliarium and the designer of the uniforms of the Philippine Army, also with temper problems) spent some of their adult years in Europe, practicing fencing and hobnobbing with the intellectual elite while getting a good education and making the Philippines proud with their work for the Propaganda Movement.
As a patriot, he belonged to the golden generation of Filipinos that produced the likes of José Rizal, Graciano Lopez-Jaena and his very own brother, Juan. Like these ilustrados, he placed the well-being of his motherland above his. He could have spent the rest of his life working as a chemist and enjoy the European life, away from the treacherous minefield called Philippine Republic, but he did not. He came back to help the cause of his budding nation that would later turn into a poisonous flower. Moreover, he was firm in his beliefs and had the balls to take on balimbing (two-faced) politicians in Felipe Buencamino (Nonie Buencamino) and Pedro Paterno (Leo Martinez). In one heated scene, he derided the officials who believed that the Americans came in peace, uttered my favorite line in the movie, “para kayong mga birhen na naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng isang puta!” (you are all like virgins who believe in the love of a whore!), banged the table for emphasis and stared them down. Tarog could have ended the movie right then and there and I would have left the theater with a smile on my face.
Heneral Luna also showed that Luna, like most protagonists, was not without weaknesses. Luna’s fervor went overboard when he pronounced that he would kill anyone who would betray the interest of the Philippines, the president included. This was bad as Filipinos are born tsismosos (gossip). What made matters worse was the fact that he made the pronouncement in President Aguinaldo’s bailiwick, with the latter’s men littering the grounds, ready to report back to Aguinaldo.
John Arcilla acted the heck out of the title role like he was born to play the badass general. He showed enough swagger in fighting scenes and humanity in intimate moments with Isabel, his mother and Joven (Arron Villaflor). Arcilla’s stance and bearing as the general of the Philippine Revolutionary Army are credible. His delivery of the malulutong na mura (palabrotas/crisp profanities) is powerful and his almost-maniacal laughter is still ringing in my ears. Now, in my mind, Arcilla is Antonio Luna, in the same way that Cesar Montano is José Rizal.
Mon Confiado as Pres. Aguinaldo was calm and collected. He let Arcilla shine in their scenes together, but his brooding was scary as I imagined him thinking evil thoughts as he listened to Luna’s mad ravings. Epi Quizon as Apolinario Mabini was perfect. He was everything I imagined Mabini to be when I listened to Ambeth Ocampo’s lecture – intelligent, humble and insightful.
Luna’s loyal men – Colonel Paco Román (Joem Bascon), Captain Eduardo Busca (Archie Alemania), brothers Colonel Manuel Bernal (Art Acuña) and Captain José Bernal (Alex Medina) – acted as his sounding boards and confidantes. Busca provided greatly-timed comic relief while Román was the serious and poetic one. They looked formidable as a group but their military prowess was useless against the treachery of their fellow Filipinos.
Heneral Luna manages to exhibit this treachery in all its vivid detail. Luna’s death is one of the bloodiest I have seen in a Filipino film. He was stabbed and shot repeatedly by a dozen men, but he remained upright and continued fighting (this scene reminds me of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar’s death scene). After what seemed like an eternity and a couple of false death rattles, Luna’s body remained still. From a window, Pres. Aguinaldo’s mother shouted, “gagalaw pa ba ‘yan?” (will it move again?). I am sure I said something that rhymed with witch at that instant. When the assassins were certain that the general was dead, they looted the corpse. Then they dragged his and Col. Román’s bodies like “bloody carcasses of slave gladiators” (Rizal).
I would like to think that the deaths of Luna and his men signalled the end of the First Philippine Republic. Without capable officers to lead the common soldiers used to regionalism, Aguinaldo was eventually cornered and was forced to surrender.
Heneral Luna shows the heroics of a man who died more than a century ago, but the lessons are transferrable to here and now. We are faced with the same dilemma that Gen. Luna asked Buencamino and Paterno, “bayan o sarili”. I know most would choose “sarili” as I would, and there lies the problem that Luna stressed several times,“malaking trabaho ang ipagkaisa ang bayang watak-watak” (it takes a lot of effort to unite a divided nation). I can feel Antonio Luna’s unwavering gaze on me as my self-worth as a Filipino depreciates exponentially.
In a country that has superfluous supply of politicians, a true patriot like Luna is greatly missed, whether in 1899 or in 2015. For every dozen of Buencamino and Paterno, there is only one Luna, and the sheer number of grandstanding politicians is one of the reasons why it still feels like 1899. How I wish that Luna would slap the Buencaminos and the Paternos of our generation silly so they will realize that “walang nakakaangat sa batas kahit pa presidente” (nobody is above the law, even the president).
NOTE: Heneral Luna offers student discount (50% off the ticket price) for students with valid IDs.