The centuries-long Philippine struggle for independence indicts both Europe (Spain) and the U.S. as culprits in the country's oppression, and Jerrold Tarog's Heneral Luna pulls no punches in naming names and outlining offenses. But the would-be epic film's real goal is to lionize General Antonio Luna, who led the Philippine Revolutionary Army in the Philippine-American War. Opening title cards proclaim, "This film is a work of fiction based on facts.... While historical accuracy is important, there are truths about the Filipino Nation that can only be reached by combining the real and the imaginary." That disclaimer sets up an experiment with form or notions of heroism that never materializes. Instead, Heneral Luna is a hagiographic, testosterone-driven war film heavy on macho posturing, gunfire and explosions, bodies falling, and a stoic hero at the center of it all.
That familiar template might work, but the performances -- lead and secondary characters -- all veer toward the broad, with American villainy (as shown in marauding bands of soldiers slaughtering innocents) rendered almost cartoonish. Indoor sets and outdoor locations look equally stagy, while costumes (from the attire of poor village women to soldiers' pristine white uniforms) seem freshly checked out of the wardrobe department. That's all doubly unfortunate, because this chapter in global history is little known outside the Philippines and deserves serious attention. At a minimum, the film might inspire some people to hit up Google for a crash course on this historical narrative.