High Five Movies About Filipino Heroes

by AC Recio
High Five Movies About Filipino Heroes
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Flag Day, Independence Day, National Heroes’ Day—these are just some of the holidays that commemorate our country’s freedom and the heroes that fought for it. Although observing holidays is the least we can do to acknowledge the deeds of those that came before us, an empty platitude or a stereotypical greeting just doesn’t feel fitting to show our full appreciation.
If you want a deeper understanding of the people that shaped the nation, you can start with biographical films. While these may not be entirely accurate, these films capture the spirit of our heroes, telling us their life stories through the lens of the country’s foremost filmmakers. And hopefully, it will inspire us to learn more about Filipino heroes and their significance to our country, and what we can do to serve our country and its people.

So without further ado, here are SEA Wave’s High Five movies about Filipino heroes.

Jose Rizal (1998)

One of the most renowned films about the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal was helmed by Marilou Diaz-Abaya, a prolific director during the Second Golden Age of Philippine Cinema. The film dramatizes the life of Jose Rizal (Cesar Montano) and follows his tragic and heroic story. While Rizal is imprisoned in Fort Santiago, the film intersperses flashbacks with key moments from his life, from childhood to his practice as a doctor.

The film swept the nation, earning 17 awards in the 1998 Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF) and making it the most awarded MMFF film at the time. It also received accolades from the 1999 FAMAS Awards, the 1999 Gawad Urian Awards and the 1999 Star Awards for Movies. But while it is critically acclaimed and highly awarded, its lasting legacy will be how it is recognized as the primary biographical film for our national hero.

Bayani (1992)

Bayani by Raymond RedBayani is the feature length directorial debut by Raymond Red, one of the pioneers of independent films in the country. While not a lot is left of the film by means of a digital footprint, its cultural impact definitely reverberated, as it joined the Forum section of the Berlin International Film Festival and competed in the Tokyo Film Festival, launching the career of Red as one of the prominent directors in the country.

Bayani follows Andres Bonifacio (Julio Diaz) and chronicles the rise of the Katipunan, a revolutionary organization he founded along with other revolutionaries, to achieve independence from Spanish colonial rule. The film’s experimental approach to visuals and stylized presentation highlighted our protagonist’s struggle, while leaving a haunting impression as it presented Bonifacio’s inevitable downfall. The film left a lasting mark as a fitting tribute to our Supremo and his unwavering love for our country.

Sakay (1993)

In a one-two punch, Raymond Red directs another historical biopic for his second ever feature length film. Sakay follows the life of Macario Sakay, a factory worker and stage actor from Tondo, who joins Andres Bonifacio’s Katipunan. Julio Diaz once again takes on the titular hero in a memorable performance about bravery and alienation. The film explores how the remnants of the Philippine Revolutionary Army were treated, from the Philippine Revolution against Spain, until after the Philippine–American War. The tragic portrayal of Sakay’s downfall shows how our heroes were treated by foreign invaders—as bandits to be deceived with underhanded tactics by a bigger force.

While Macario Sakay is a lesser known hero in our history books, his will to fight for his country is forever remembered in this acclaimed film, which garnered nominations and awards from the 1993 Manila Film Festival, the 1994 FAMAS Awards, and the 1994 Gawad Urian Award.

Heneral Luna (2015)

Then known for his movie score compositions, his foray into independent films, and for directing segments of the Shake, Rattle and Roll films across several entries in the franchise, Jerrold Tarog solidified his position as a prominent filmmaker in the country when he wrote and directed Heneral Luna, the film that started the recent booming interest in historical biopics.
Following the life of the titular Antonio Luna (John Arcilla), the film explores Luna’s resolve and passion as an army general during the Philippine–American War. As with other entries in this list, our hero meets his untimely demise, but this time in an assassination attempt led by fellow countrymen. While the feeling of indignation is palpable in this movie, it also sets up a sequel in a mid-credits scene featuring Gregorio Del Pilar (Paulo Avelino), getting ready to cover then-president Emilio Aguinaldo’s retreat at Tirad Pass. This setup definitely increased interest in historical movies in the Philippines, earning PHP 256 million for the film in the box office and winning numerous awards and nominations.

GomBurZa (2023)

The latest historical biographical film to make waves in the Philippines was the 2023 MMFF entry, GomBurZa directed by Pepe Diokno. The film follows the lives of the three renowned Filipino Catholic priests—the eponymous Padre Mariano Gomez (Dante Rivero), Padre Jose Burgos (Cedrick Juan), and Padre Jacinto Zamora (Enchong Dee)—as they strive to fight for the rights of their countrymen to be on equal standing with Spaniards.

It’s no exaggeration to say that this film is the current culmination of historical biopics in the country. With top notch performances from an all-star cast, amazing direction and cinematography, the film takes creative liberties, filling in historical gaps due to the lack of primary sources, but all the same it manages to communicate the struggles of our countrymen as they fought for our independence and for Filipino voices to be heard.

The journey we took to get to where we are today is long and arduous, and it’s filled with as many heroes and victories as it is with villains and tragedies. As we continue to commemorate our heroes during holidays, let’s also remember them as humans and the courage it took for them to fight for our country.

Which Filipino hero would you like to see on the big screen? Let us know in the comment section below!

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