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Film / Amigo

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The first Vietnam. Except America won.

"At the turn of the last century, the United States declared war on Spain. They pledged to free the island of Cuba, ninety miles to the south, from colonial rule. It was thus that American troops came to yet another Spanish colony—half a world away. They decided to stay."

Amigo, released in 2010, is an indie, joint American/Filipino production, directed by notable small-time indie filmmaker John Sayles, and starring the likes of Garret Dillahunt, Chris Cooper and Dane DeHaan on the American side, as well as a rather star-studded cast on the Filipino side, including such luminaries as Joel Torre, Rio Locsin, Ronnie Lazaro & Pen Medina, amongst others. (The Spanish side meanwhile is represented by a friar played—rather ironically, possibly deliberately so—by Cuban-American Yul Vazquez.)

The Philippines, 1900. Joel Torre stars as Rafael Dacanay, the head (cabeza) of the tiny Filipino barrio of San Isidro, which is just beginning to enjoy its newfound independence from Spain (as evidenced by chained soldiers and the locked-up friar, Padre Hidalgo), when out of nowhere the Americans burst in, bringing the "Philippine Insurrection" into this small corner of Luzon. This puts him between a rock and a hard place, as the Americans obviously expect him to cooperate, but his own brother is in the Revolutionary Army under General Emilio Aguinaldo, now forced to fight off a wholly new coloniser in this new, brutal and largely forgotten chapter in the history of American imperial power. The rest of his family is similarly divided by their loyalties. Both sides are armed, dangerous, and will not hesitate to shoot anyone presumed to be working for the enemy. Whose side is he to choose?

Notable for being one of the very few fictional works made by Americans about their colonial empire, in stark contrast to the abundance of British colonial fiction and literature about The British Empire, producing such luminaries as Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, E. M. Forster, and so on. The Real Glory, made back in 1939—before World War II, while the Philippines was technically still a U.S. colony, though upgraded to Commonwealth status—is one of the few other known American films about the Philippine-American War period, and even then it deals with the Moro (Muslim) Rebellion in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.note  Contrast an even more obscure play by George Ade, The Sultan of Sulu, which deals with the U.S. invasion of Sulu, off the coast of Mindanao, and also a precursor to the Moro Rebellion—but which, as a musical, is treated more comically. note 

Also compare Heneral Luna, a 2015 Biopic also set during this war, and whose protagonist, the eponymous General Antonio Luna, was the Real Life chief-of-staff of General/President Emilio Aguinaldo's Revolutionary Army. For another fictional though more minimalist and surreal take on the war from another part of the Philippine archipelago, compare Balangiga: Howling Wilderness, a 2017 indie film set in Samar province, in the Visayas region in the central Philippines.

Sample tropes featured in Amigo:

  • Actor Allusion: Probably unintentional. The American colonel remarks that Aguinaldo could be hiding in the very village the movie is set and they'd be none the wiser. Joel Torre played Aguinaldo himself in Tirad Pass: The Last Stand of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar in 1996.
    • Many of the same circle of actors recur frequently in various Filipino period movies; parish boy Nenong was played by John Arcilla, who would later famously headline Heneral Luna. Other such actors active in Filipino Period Piece circles include Ronnie Lazaro, who here plays Simón, Rafael's rebel brother. Joel Torre himself first got prominent billing in the 1982 Oro, Plata, Mata, although that was set just prior to World War II.
  • Aerith and Bob: Hispanic names for the Filipinos (and the friar), English names for the Americans. (The modern Filipino tendency of mixing-and-matching—and modifying—all sorts of Western names would only come long after the American colonial occupation.)
    • Not to mention the Chinese names of the full ethnic Chinese labourers, as well as the surnames of Chinese-Filipino mestizos.
  • The Alcoholic / Can't Hold His Liquor: Lynch, one of the American soldiers. Sometimes he has to be helped to relieve himself outdoors when he's had too much to drink.
  • America Takes Over the World: Literally the entire reason for the story conflict.
  • Author Tract: There's a slight heavyhandedness to the film's message. In the past, indie director John Sayles has often made movies about the downtrodden and oppressed: menial labourers, immigrants, minorities, and now would-be colonial subjects, and Amigo pretty clearly shows how War Is Hell and how U.S. imperialism effectively aborted a new nation. To his credit, reviewers didn't see Amigo as too preachy, though.
  • Authority in Name Only: Rafael is largely reduced to this, a sort of native assistant colonial administrator, when the Americans set up a garrison in his village. They even kind of allow even more authority to Padre Hidalgo despite the latter being part of the departed, vanquished, Spanish-colonial regime, because they set him free as an indispensable interpreter and moral and social authority in the community, since he does control their behaviour as good, churchgoing Catholics.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: The Americans are the aggressors from the Filipino Revolutionaries' point of view, and it's a Foregone Conclusion that they defeat the rebels. More specifically, in the context of this film, they sentence Rafael to die and then hang him.
  • Banana Republic: It's a background detail, but broadly speaking, the First Philippine Republic (for which Rafael's brother's fighting), falls under this—it's very much Hispanicised or Latinised in character (having just broken free from 330+ years under Spain), has a government monopolised by oligarchic elites and a military leader (General Emilio Aguinaldo, who in Real Life called himself the "Dictator of the Philippines" at one point), and is about to begin a long, tangled relationship with the imperialist United States, just like many of the more stereotypical banana republics across Latin America.
  • Boomerang Bigot: A rebel named Locsin singles out Chinese workers to kill but it's noted that his own name is of Chinese origin, so he must be part-Chinese himself and he hates them for an unknown reason.
  • Chinese Laborer: Some Chinese coolies are depicted in the show, a number of whom are pressed into working on the American side, ordered to dig ditches and other related jobs.
  • Les Collaborateurs:
    • How the Revolutionary Army views anyone suspected of collaborating with the U.S., which it naturally deems treason, and punishable by death.
    • Downplayed with the Americans who have a few tag-along Filipinos and even a Spanish soldier among them serving as guides and translators. Some Filipinos had always collaborated with the Spanish and then the Americans instead of helping the revolutionaries, but the Spaniard joined the Americans since there's no place for him back in Spain after the Spanish surrendered.
    • The Quisling: As the point person who will have to deal with the American forces, Rafael is in danger of being seen as this by the Revolutionary leadership (including his own brother!) when he attempts to accommodate the Americans in his village.
  • Death of a Child: Sadly, a little girl in the town is felled by a bullet. A poignant funeral scene with all its Hispanic Catholic pomposity follows, with children chanting Latin orations and older folk in lacy finery.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: The U.S. troops throw racial slurs around with abandon, calling the Filipinos "goo-goos" (which later evolved into the term "gook", later used against their Korean enemies, and still later against the Vietnamese). The term "goo-goo", in fact, was first recorded used during this war. Ironically "goo-goo" may have evolved from Filipino itself, from "gago" (stupid), which may have been borrowed from Spanish. (Another theory is that it came from Tagalog gugo, a native shampoo derived from the bark of the eponymous tree.)
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Vietnam? Afghanistan? Iraq? Take your pick.
  • During the War: Set during the Philippine-American War, so obviously.
  • Eagle Land: Largely Type 2, of course, considering the Americans are the new colonial occupying forces, but individual troops are at least sometimes portrayed as capable of their own sympathy and positive curiosity towards Filipinos and their culture (or at the very least, are humanised as Punch Clock Villains who didn't really ask to fight a punishing, tropical guerrilla war), lending the film at least a modicum of Type 1 credentials.
  • The Empire: The United States. No matter how much it denies the label, this was very much the role it was playing against the ragtag Filipino insurgency—and would continue to play over the next century, by some metrics until The Present Day.
  • Ensemble Cast: Particularly on the Filipino side. Joel Torre, Ronnie Lazaro, Rio Locsin, Pen Medina, Bembol Roco … they and others are well-known veterans in Philippine entertainment. Meanwhile, there's Chris Cooper and a pre-stardom Dane DeHaan on the American side, which is kind of amusing given their future relationship in The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and also Garret Dillahunt.
  • Evil Colonialist: As individuals, the Americans aren't presented as outright evil—many of them get enough screen time to be considerably humanised—but as an occupying force they're presented as more than capable of inflicting their share of atrocities and brutalities on Filipino insurgents and civilians alike, which is already more than one can say for their typical good-guy image in most history books on both the American and Filipino sides.
    • In the rear-view mirror, Spain too, which is why the Filipinos fought to break free from them in the first place. It's largely lost and conceded defeat by the movie's setting (in 1900), but its remnants continue to hold power in local communities like San Isidro, particularly in the form of Catholic friars like Padre Hidalgo.
  • Face Death with Dignity: Rafael is sentenced to die by the Americans for aiding the Revolutionaries. On his execution date, he puts on his Sunday best (a close-collared white suit) and goes to church with his wife.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Sadly, we know that the Filipino resistance will eventually lose, and over the next several decades, the U.S. will successfully buy the loyalty of almost all of the Filipino populace, whether elite (via political tutelage, military aid, and exclusive trade deals) or masses (via mass English-language public education, Hollywood movies, and sports like basketball).
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: The film ends with the final surrender of the local rebels, including Rafael's son, some years later.
  • General Ripper: Colonel Hardacre, who approves harsher methods against the Filipino rebels when they aren't bending to hearts-and-minds conditioning as easily as the Americans had hoped.
  • The Ghost: Aguinaldo himself never shows up in this movie; indeed, no onscreen character here is a Real Life personality or a Historical Domain Character, in contrast to many Filipino Period Piece productions, which are more often explicitly Biopics, Based on a True Story, or The Film of the Book.
  • Gratuitous Spanish: There are Spaniards, so there's this, but very little since two of them are ex-colonial Spanish soldiers who spend little time in the film proper (apart from a little conversation and one of them in a minor sniping match with Padre Hidalgo), and none of the Filipino natives know much of it. Rafael uses exactly one phrase when introducing himself to the Americans: "Soy muy amigo" (I am a good friend).
  • Gratuitous Latin: Catholic masses and rituals were conducted almost entirely in Latin in this era, shown in Padre Hidalgo's pronunciations and the liturgical hymns (e.g., the one sang at a funeral).
  • Gorgeous Period Dress: Especially evident among Filipino natives when they put on their gauziest finery, especially for Sunday masses and town fiestas, one of which plays out under direct American occupation. There are baro't sayas (embroidered women's shawled dresses), barong Tagalogs (embroidered men's shirts), a profusion of top hats and salakots or native conical hats, and opaque suits like Rafael's close-collared white one. The military uniforms depicted are relatively simple but not too shabby, like the Americans' dark blue-and-khaki outfits or the Revolutionaries' light-blue rayadillo ensembles.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Contrary to conventional views of the U.S. being the uncritical heroes, they are not above concentration camps, torture, and brutal war crimes when engaging with the Filipinos. On the other hand, the Filipino rebels are also quite willing to ruthlessly kill the enemy and anyone working with them, such as the Chinese coolies employed by the U.S. troops.
  • The Hero Dies: Rafael Dacanay is hanged by the Americans.
  • Hidden Depths: Lt. Compton served in the Peace Corps prior to this war, and had architectural training. That's how he's able to deduce that the Philippine islands are an "earthquake country": he notes that their headquarters have stout, load-bearing posts. Truth in Television for some variants of the Philippine bahay na bato note , especially those in northern Luzon, like the city of Vigan.
  • Home Guard: The Spanish prisoners of the Filipino rebels, later set free by the Americans, are just the village friar, the officer of the local Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and a few troopers, who are actually Filipinos unlike the previous two.
  • It's Always Sunny at Funerals: The child's funeral around the halfway mark of the movie is officiated by Padre Hidalgo and carried out in broad daylight, soon before the arrival of the rains. There is also the parallel funeral of a downed insurgent, presided over by rebel leader Simón, who was trained in a seminary but has grown to hate the friars' brand of Catholicism.
  • Latin Land: The Revolutionaries just finished defeating Spanish-colonial forces, tying up their officers and even locking up a Spanish friar, both integral elements of a colonial regime that controlled much of the Philippine islands for over 300+ years prior. By this point, it's pretty much Latin Land in Asia, what with Hispanic-influenced architecture, an oligarchic Banana Republic fighting for independence in the background, and almost everyone being at least nominally Catholic (and holding Catholic fiestas, masses, funerals, etc.), and having mostly Spanish given and/or family names.note 
  • La Résistance: The Revolutionary Army of the First Philippine Republic, for whom Rafael's brother, Simón, is fighting.
  • Machete Mayhem: Besides rifles, the insurrectos carry long bolo knives, similar to machetes. One of them, Locsin, develops a fearsome reputation for cutting wide swathes of carnage and seizing enemy firearms with just a bolo.
  • Meet the New Boss: American colonialists quickly replace Spanish ones. Philippine independence barely got a squeak in between.
  • Mighty Whitey and Mellow Yellow: The Filipinos seem to be a frequent target of this. One of the Americans stationed in San Isidro falls for a native girl, even if neither can understand what the other's saying. One of the disgraced Spanish soldiers is also taking a native woman home with him to Spain. (Truth in Television for many Filipinos, even today.)
  • Morton's Fork: Rafael Dacanay's situation. Poor sod must either bend the knee to the Americans, and get charged with treason and shot by his insurrecto relatives—or join La Résistance, and get charged with banditry and hanged by the Americans.
  • Nerd Glasses: Signal Corpsman Zeke wears round, metal-rimmed glasses. He's slight in build, and (per his position) mans the garrison's communications.
  • Occupiers Out of Our Country: Precisely what the Filipino Revolutionaries are fighting for. They just finished kicking the Spaniards out—they're not about to let the Americans take away their hard-won independence!
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Nenong, the sacristan. Only after he replaces the executed Rafael as village headman does he insist on being called Don Saturnino.
  • Period Piece: Set at the height of the (officially dated) Philippine-American War, 110 years prior to the release date.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Quite literally. The rebels cut down a telegraph line just as the news of Aguinaldo's capture is being relayed to San Isidro. Rafael ends up hanging effectively because of them. (In their defence, they didn't know.)
  • POW Camp: The entirety of San Isidro is converted into a concentration camp for its own residents. The U.S. troops set up a barbed-wire perimeter and warn that anyone caught crossing it will be shot. It doesn't seem to be terribly effective, however, since rebel forces do manage to bleed back and forth across it.
  • Punch-Clock Villain: Many of the American troops are just boys who are Just Following Orders, and while they might be insensitive (to varying degrees), some of them are capable of a slight degree of tolerance or sympathy for the Filipino locals, particularly the "civilian" population that doesn't appear to be fighting.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Lt. Compton, in charge of the garrison at San Isidro, who is at least levelheaded, not quite raring to crush the rebels like Col. Hardacre, his superior, is.
  • Rebel Leader: Simón Dacanay, Rafael's brother, an officer in Aguinaldo's Revolutionary Army. He looks visibly different with his long black hair and beard as opposed to Rafael's short grey hair and clean-shaven face.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: One of the revolutionaries, Locsin, keeps targeting Chinese workers employed by the Americans (and the Spanish in the past) who are just caught in the crossfire. It's stated to be out of his personal bigotry despite he himself being part Chinese. Also he's said to be a literal bandit who joined the cause, which accepts all comers.
  • Sinister Minister: Padre Hidalgo, the local Spanish friar, who wields more de facto power than even Rafael Dacanay does as the cabeza del barrio, even when the Spanish government per se has already surrendered to the Filipinos. As a polyglot who knows both Tagalog and English in addition to his native Spanish—and Latin, as expected in his line of work—Padre Hidalgo is thus indispensable to the American occupying force as an interpreter, and is thus kept free to maintain the Americans' control over the town. The enormous latitude of such indirect friar power over the natives is Truth in Television.
  • Title Drop: When Rafael tells the Americans "I am a good friend" in Spanish: "Soy muy amigo". The U.S. troops later on call him "the amigo" at times, especially if they didn't recall his name, or care to.
  • Vestigial Empire: Spain. By this point, they've already lost, already sold off the Philippines to the incoming Americans for $20 million, per the 1898 Treaty of Paris. Except for the friar (and initially including him too), all their men have effectively been locked or tied up by the so-far victorious Revolutionaries.
  • Water Torture: Col. Hardacre orders his U.S. troops to essentially waterboard Rafael to give up the location of the rebel base. Truth in Television, too: the "water cure" used by American soldiers on Filipinos is basically an ancestor of modern waterboarding, involving forcing huge quantities of water into the victim's guts and then stepping or jumping on their distended stomachs to throw it all up, all the while feeling like drowning.
  • War Is Hell: This proto-Vietnam riceland/jungle setting proves intensely discomforting to the Americans, what with mud, mosquitoes, alternating humid sun and torrential rainfall, and the quick spread of tropical diseases. It's also hell for the Filipinos, who aren't entirely immune from the diseases themselves (many insurgents actually died of things like cholera), and could expect brutal treatment if captured by the Americans, including torture methods like the infamous "water cure"—essentially the precursor to the waterboarding employed against the Middle East in The War on Terror, a century hence.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: The Filipino revolutionaries are called mere bandits (bandidos) and thieves (ladrones) by others. The Americans even pronounce "ladrones" wrong, as in attack drones which don't exist yet. Played with as the Filipinos consider it no slur to call themselves insurrectos or rebeldes since they rose up against Spain, but insist on being revolucionarios defending themselves against the newly invading U.S.