The impact of Heneral Luna on the cultural landscape is difficult to measure, but easy to see. When the film was released in 2015, it broke box office records — it holds the honor of being the highest-grossing Filipino historical film ever — and invigorated discourse on the potential of local cinema, how embedded American imperialism is in our history, and what it means to serve one’s country. Oh, and how fine Gregorio del Pilar apparently was.
A strange takeaway, to be sure, but not surprising. It was Paulo Avelino after all, who played the famed Boy General in Heneral Luna. Paulo’s ability to win hearts is incontestable, considering his work in shows such as Bridges of Love, or films like Sana Dati and I’m Drunk, I Love You, both significant notches in an illustrious career in showbiz. This year though, the Gawad Urian Award-winning actor will be reprising his role as the lead in director Jerrold Tarog’s spinoff/sequel, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral.
The general: Paulo Avelino brought his character to life by consulting historical references with director Jerrold Tarog.
Let’s not forget, of course, among Goyo’s legion ensemble, the young general’s band of brothers on set: Arron Villaflor, reprising his role as fictional journalist Joven Hernando, and newcomers Carlo Aquino and Rafa Siguion-Reyna, who respectively play soldier Vicente Enriquez and Julio del Pilar, Gregorio del Pilar’s brother.
It’s the kind of camaraderie you see between soldiers, or at least people who’ve worked hard together to help make something amazing.
When the boys of Goyo pull up to Artisano Studio on a dry May afternoon, the chemistry is easy to see — it’s the kind of camaraderie you see between soldiers, or at least people who’ve worked hard together to help make something amazing. The bond is especially noticeable with Arron, who carries an air of approachability about him and fondly remembers their time filming. “I miss everybody,” he says. “I miss the shooting days, I miss our director, yung kulitan namin, kahit gaano pa mahirap yung shooting namin.”
It’s the kind of bond that forms in an environment full of passionate people. “You see people who actually know what they’re doing, this young, it motivates, it pushes you to bring out the best,” Paulo says, the tone of his voice as serious as his commitment.
The writer: Arron Villaflor says one of the things that he enjoys about shooting Goyo is the camaraderie on set.
Rafa and Carlo, though, were the new recruits, and while Rafa remembers being nervous on his first day, that tension was quickly ameliorated. “Paulo gave me the mic and he made me pray in front of everyone.” (Paulo: Ulul?) “He was like, ‘Pray.’ I didn’t know everyone so I was like, ‘Dear God…’” He laughs and gathers himself. “I was very nervous just because it’s the biggest project I’ve been a part of.”
Big is one way to describe it. Goyo was completed over the course of seven months, with shooting taking place all over the country, from Mount Balagbag in Rizal, to Ilocos, to Zambales, with grandiose sets built from the ground up. And over the time they had to shoot, the cast and crew would brave tough conditions like hard rain. Such logistical hurdles would be difficult for anyone, but less so when you’re surrounded by the right people. “Mahirap siya, pero gumaan dahil masarap kasama ang mga katrabaho mo,” Carlo adds. “Mas magiging mahirap siya kung mga a**hole mga kasama mo. Pero dahil mga professional yung mga kasama namin, katrabaho namin, mga makukulit… parang mas naging magaan yung trabaho.”
The veteran: Carlo Aquino considers the challenges they encountered on set useful in lending authenticity to the film.
Carlo, ever the trooper, considers such trials as useful in lending authenticity to the film. “Kailangan namin maranasan yun eh. Kasi yung init tsaka yung ulan… wala lang yun sa naranasan talaga nila Goyo.”
And while we’re on the topic of authenticity, that’s a special burden historical cinema carries. There are a few ways to go about achieving that sense of accuracy. Paulo would consult, along with direk Jerrold Tarog, multiple historical references — sometimes with contradicting accounts — culminating in a cohesive character sketch, which Paulo would use for his acting. “Aside from him being a playboy, or someone who fools around… it’s really more like a young boy given power,” is how Paulo describes his character’s subject position. “You base what you decide on and what you will implement on advisers and the people around you. Sa character ni Goyo, it’s almost the same. I have my brother, I have Vicente, and there’s also Emilio Aguinaldo, whom I look up to.”
‘The similarities of the problems of people in power, the problems
of society then, it’s still happening now,’ says Paulo.
Rafa had even less to work with — playing Goyo’s brother means fewer references to consult. So his approach was a little more personal. “My relationship with Paulo is very similar to Julian and Goyo. Kasi I respect what he’s achieved as an actor. And Julian as the brother, I feel like (he) feels that way of Goyo. He wants to be like that, but it’s someone else, but he respects it.”
The rookie: Rafa Siguion-Reyna joins the band of brothers as Julio del Pilar, the brother of Paulo Avelino’s character Goyo.
One wonders, given the shared bond cultivated from working on a film with clear political resonances, how the boys of Goyo felt while shooting and watching what was happening in the country. That’s hard to process for anyone, whether you’re an actor or not, but the boys see the parallels, and Paulo, like a leader gathering his troops, brings those concerns together. “You see what was happening then, based on what you read, and you see what’s happening now — (“It’s a cycle,” Arron interjects) — it’s never-ending. It became a part of our culture, na hindi nawala, even after a hundred years.”
It’s a mindfulness of history that Paulo hopes will be the takeaway for Goyo audiences. “The similarities of the problems of people in power, the problems of society then, it’s still happening now. Maybe they could also learn and see and realize or find a way to better (solve) those problems that are still happening.” The boys affirm this with a silent but firm nod. And then the shoot commences, and the playful mood resumes, and it’s like watching friends who’ve known each other for longer than half a year. Like films aspiring to the same historical scale as Goyo, this kind of bond is rare. And once Goyo hits theaters this September, it’s a rarity we’ll all get to see.