Our history as a species is full of bloodshed, death, warring, and some more bloodshed. For the majority of our species’ years, we engaged in battles large and small over things important and trivial. This practice still continues on today, though it has receded in recent decades by a huge margin, leading to this era being known as the most peaceful era of human civilization ever recorded.
A common phrase you might be familiar with goes as such, “History repeats itself”. It is quite true, especially when it comes to war. It seems we have a penchant for ignoring the lessons history tries so hard to teach us. We make the same mistakes over and over, resulting in repeating casualties and tragedies in a vicious cycle. However, this hasn’t stopped us from extensively archiving the events of past wars, and in some cases, recreating them. The Filipino-American war is no exception, and has seen documentaries and movies faithfully recreating and recounting its events be made in the past few years. So, until the day we inevitably rush off to another war, why not make use of this era of peace to watch this historic war from the comfort of your living room.
A Brief Summary of the Filipino-American War
The Filipino-American War was by no means a small skirmish that lasted a few months at best. It was a full-blown war that went on from the 4th of February in the year of 1899 to the 2nd of July of the year 1902. This war was mainly a struggle for independence between the United States and the First Philippine Republic. This war didn’t start outright in 1899 however; it was by all means a continuation and extension of the Philippine Revolution that had begun three years prior in 1896.
The war was a result of the Treaty of Paris, in which the Philippines (along with a handful of other territories) was handed over to the United States by Spain, putting an end to the Spanish-American War only to ignite a new one in its place. The 1899 Battle of Manila was the first instance of fighting recorded for this war, and took place on the 4th of February. However, the First Philippine Republic didn’t officially declare war on the United States until the 2nd of June that year.
The war came to a conclusion with the United States as the victor, but several Filipino rebel groups refused to surrender and continued to fight for some years to come. Eventually the war led to measures that would, in time, lead to the United States granting independence to the Philippines. The war itself was a huge casualty for the Philippines, with some estimations of civilian deaths from famine and disease reaching almost a million dead.
Amigo is a decent enough film to watch if you want to get a slight feel for how world was like back then for the Filipinos. Though the movie doesn’t have spectacular ratings, it is a good entry to watch if you’re more in it for the worldbuilding than the character drama and story.
The plot follows the mayor of a Filipino village who is trapped between the fighting of the United States forces and the Filipino rebels. The twist is that while the American officer pressures the main character for leads on rebel forces, the protagonist has trouble deciding what course of action to take. Obviously, he wants his village safe, but he also doesn’t want to divulge information the rebellion. The fact that his brother leads the rebel groups in that area only complicates matters.
Heneral Luna (2015)
For a better story that is still set within the Filipino-American War, consider taking some time out to watch Heneral Luna. It follows the story of General Antonio Luna, who was one of the Philippines’ most respected soldiers. The plot, though it is understandably centered around the Filipino-American War, is also about the struggles the general had to face in his war against the Americans. Troubles that were exacerbated by the worst foes a general could ever face; traitors amongst his own trusted men.
Tirad Pass: The Story of Gen. Gregorio del Pilar (1996)
This Action movie and Biography combo is famed for depicting the earlier days of the Filipino-American War. Specifically, the Battle of Tirad Pass that took place on the 2nd of December in the year of 1899, the year the war had begun. This battle is known for being one of absolute hopelessness for the Filipino side. There was just no way sixty Filipino soldiers could have faced down five hundred American soldiers. And yet, General Gregorio delPilar did not back down, and him and his men went down honorably.
Cavalry Command (1958)
Also known by the title ‘The Day of the Trumpet’, this movie is as good as it gets if your most important criteria is a film made as soon as possible after the Filipino-American War. Cinematography could have been a bit better, but then again you can’t really expect too much from a film made in the 50’s. Big budgets were reserved to very important movies back then, movies that were sure to rake in millions after their debut.
Cavalry Command is a story about the United States cavalry arriving in a small village in the Philippines, and getting to work building infrastructure and making friends with the locals. The story is a fun little adventure about how armies need to present a friendly face to the locals, and actually show they’re willing to help. The movie was even directed by a Filipino director, making it a very progressive film for its time.
This Bloody, Blundering Business (1971)
A half-hour satirical documentary, ‘This Bloody, Blundering Business’ sits in stark contrast to Cavalry Command. This short film instead focuses on how the Americans used to think of people from Third World countries, and how they had a habit of interfering with local problems uninvited. The film is full of ragtime music, narration, and cuts of newsreels from the period of the Filipino-American War to get its point across to the audience.
Goyo: The Boy General (2018)
Because just one movie wasn’t enough to properly convey the feeling of the Battle of Tirad Pass, ‘Goyo: The Boy General’ is another retelling of General Gregorio del Pilar’s story and how he ended up commanding sixty Filipino soldiers against five hundred American ones. This film also serves as a sequel to 2015’s Heneral Luna listed above, so if you liked that one, you’ll also love this one.
And that wraps up our list of movies based on the Filipino-American War. We got almost all of them in there, as you can only retell a story so many times before people don’t want to watch it anymore. And if you’re interested in old timey things, why not read about the complete works of Charlie Chaplin or his most iconic roles?