Friday, August 19, 2011
Can you quickly name an Asian country that Americans have
not stepped on its soil fighting in a war? That is probably
why many countries around the world feel resentful
imperialism. The US has been acting like the world
police since the little known Philippine-American
War at the beginning of the last century, and continues
to act in that role around the world today in the name of
spreading or defending "democracy." At this moment, the US
spends a billion tax dollars per week right fighting in
Afghanistan while the domestic deficit skyrockets to an
absurd bankruptcy stage.
A little history lesson through a film might help us to reflect on American's foreign policy. Academy Award-nominated indie auteur John Sayles offers an impressive such lesson with his new film "Amigo" (USA 2010 | in Tagalog/English/Spanish | 128 min.). The film tells a tragic story during that forgotten Philippine-American War which amazingly resonates today's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In 1900, after the US wins the Spanish-American War, the US takes control over the Philippines from the Spanish, and begins to fight with the resistance from the local guerrillas. Led by Col. Hardacre (Chris Cooper) and Lt. Compton (Garret Dillahunt), the US troops occupies a small village. Knowing nothing about local language and culture, they can only communicate with the villagers through a shady Spanish friar Padre Hidalgo (Yul Vázquez). The earnest village head Rafael (Joel Torre) is caught in the middle and faces a daunting dilemma. He must cooperate with the Americans in order to protect other civilians in the village, which makes him a traitor in the eyes of those guerrilla fighters, consisted of his son and brother, who also depend on his support for supplies and information. Rafael's tragic fate is sealed as soon as the Americans arrive from the other side of the Pacific Ocean.
The film creates many rich and complex characters with superb performance, although the flow of the story telling seems a little choppy and sometimes a scene appears to be artificial for the purpose of making a point (for example, the conversation between the two Chinese workers). However, above all elements of the film, the anti-imperialism central theme stands out. We observe how the war destroys the lives of civilians and their culture. The film effectively delivers this powerful message by focusing on Rafael's personal tragedy.
The film's story is strikingly relevant to today's wars that Americans are still fighting. History is repeating itself, unfortunately.