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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."
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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 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 chief 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-American War 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?

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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 war. Contrast an even more obscure play by George Ade, The Sultan of Sulu, which deals with a related conflict—the U.S. invasion of Sulu, off the coast of the Southern Philippine island of Mindanao, and a precursor to what is called the Moro Rebellion—but which, as a musical, is treated more comically. note 

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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.


Sample tropes featured in Amigo:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Les Collaborateurs: How the Revolutionary Army views anyone suspected of collaborating with the U.S., which it naturally deems treason, and punishable by death.
    • 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.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Vietnam? Afghanistan? Iraq? Take your pick.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Filipinos with Firearms: It's the Philippine-American War, so of course. But they're hardly limited to guns—other weapons such as bolo knives get some use too.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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.
  • Nerd Glasses: Signal Corpsman Zeke wears round, metal-rimmed glasses. He's slight in build, and (per his position) mans the garrison's communications. This also makes him sort of a Western megane.
  • 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.
  • 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!
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • Sinister Minister: Padre Hidalgo, the local Spanish friar, who wields more de facto power than even Rafael Dacanay does as village chief, 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 likely not to mention 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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