It’s only natural, of course—Goyo is, after all, part of a franchise whose first installment reignited a sense of nationalism within the Pinoy moviegoing audience. Yes, there’s pressure to deliver. But Goyo is a very different film altogether, one that sets itself apart through a quiet, more meditative execution that allows it to step outside the long shadow cast by its brash predecessor. Like its titular character, this historical retelling eschews straightforwardness and is elusive in its depiction of heroism.
After the death of Heneral Luna, there’s an air of unrest in the Philippines. With no end in sight in the ongoing war with the Americans, Gregorio del Pilar (Paulo Avelino), together with what remains of the Philippine Army, must escort President Emilio Aguinaldo (Mon Confiado) and his family in a safe retreat through Ilocos Sur. But beyond the call of duty, there’s a war raging inside Goyo as well—one fueled by paranoia, mistrust, and doubt. Is he merely Aguinaldo’s naïve guard dog, one that’s blindly following orders? Or is he a self-possessed leader, an agila worthy of his title? His personal queries and incessant philosophizing are intended to bore through the viewer's thoughts as well, a subversive tool that takes you out of his headspace and into the present.
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"When given the right part, Paulo Avelino is an effective leading man. And here, he shines in the more contemplative moments. He has a knack for conveying a swell of emotions through his eyes, a trick needed since apparentlyGoyong isn’t much of a talker"
When given the right part, Paulo Avelino is an effective leading man. And here, he shines in the more contemplative moments. He has a knack for conveying a swell of emotions through his eyes, a trick needed since apparently Goyong isn’t much of a talker. He’s a wooer, though, that’s for sure. And it’s actually in the small vignettes he has with his lovers, both current and former, that the charm attack is in full gear. It’s when he’s verbally sparring with the equally mesmerizing Remedios Nable Jose (Gwen Zamora) and the sensitive Felicidad Aguinaldo (Empress Schuck) that Paulo seems to be having fun with the material. Why shouldn’t he? This historical figure has been fashioned in pop culture as a notorious ladies’ man, a serial heartbreaker who moves through towns and leaves beautiful women swimming in a pool of their own tears.
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Goyo’s excessive womanizing, however, could be read as a symptom of deeper troubles, one highlighted by an interesting storytelling device employed by director Jerrold Tarog. In the movie, Goyo is plagued by ominous visions of his own death: macabre images of flying eagles and blood spewing from orifices, hallucinations marked by mocking strangers and shadowy figures hanging out in the periphery. He knows his fate and you should, too (unless you straight-up sucked at Filipino History and skipped class when you could). But is he suffering from PTSD and guilt or are his nerves foreshadowing his earthly demise? Fearless as he may appear, no one that young (he was only 24) could be so sure of themselves, especially given his unique circumstances.
When the Battle of Tirad Pass finally arrives, you’re just waiting for tragedy to strike. Goyo and his crew setup trenches to keep the Americans at bay, leaving their enemies scrambling in unfamiliar terrain. The sequence, a well-paced battle scene that’s simultaneously tense and comedic before erupting into an all-out bullet-fest, is one of the production’s centerpieces.
Tarog has found a way to balance the tone and mood of these particular films. Like Luna before it, Goyo is a steady mix of genres—it’s a historical retelling, war film, tragic romance, and coming of age story all at once. It has echoes of mainstream appeal, but never loses its creative voice in the process. It knows that sometimes there’s no need to be too loud to be heard.