Review: ‘Heneral Luna’ Is a Patriotic Biopic That Aspires to Epicness


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John Arcilla as Antonio Luna in “Heneral Luna.”



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Artikulo Uno

I’m only a little embarrassed at liking “Heneral Luna,” an audaciously manipulative movie that’s more involving than it should be. But really, when a film works this hard to rouse you, there’s no shame in just giving in.

A patriotic biopic that veers toward propaganda, “Heneral Luna” is about Antonio Luna, who in the late 1800s led the Philippine Revolutionary Army during the Philippine-American War. Early in the story he’s given command of the military. (“General Luna, it’s up to you now. This war is in your hands.”) Cue the sweeping orchestral music.

Battles are waged, speeches are made and foreign enemies soon become the least of Luna’s problems: Bureaucrats, cowards and other homegrown spoilsports continually try to sabotage his unconventional plans. “General Luna, you may be a military genius, but you do not understand politics,” one of those skeptics whines.

The film, directed by Jerrold Tarog, portrays the general as a Patton-esque figure, bucking authority and doubters, all for love of country. There’s frequent grandstanding and staring off into the distance as the movie aspires to epicness. Even Luna’s adversaries admire him. “He must be the bravest man I’ve ever seen or the looniest lunatic this side of Frisco!” an American proclaims after Luna single-handedly charges the front line. Under fire. With only a revolver. On horseback.

John Arcilla, as the general, remains gallant and charming despite appearing in nearly every scene to deliver exposition amid cheap-looking sets. Still, with so much energy and eagerness to please, it’s easy to be enthused. The makers of “Heneral Luna,” the Philippine entry for foreign language film for the coming Oscars, know their audience wants a hero, and they aren’t here to hold back.



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