at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa



Wednesday, May 7, 2014 at 7:00 PM
Center for Korean Studies Auditorium

USA (2010, 124 min)
English/Tagalog/Cantonese/Spanish w/English subtitles

Director: John Sayles
Writer: John Sayles
Cast: Joel Torre, Chris Cooper, Garret Dillahunt, Yul Vazquez, Bembol Roco, Rio Locsin, Ronnie Lazaro

The year is 1900. The setting is a sleepy, small village in the Philippines. A group of American soldiers arrive to secure the area and rid of it any rogue elements. It’s nothing new to the villagers of San Isidro. They’ve been under the Spanish rule, until recently. It’s the same white people in different clothes (nice blue wool shirts and cream colored khaki pants, I might add).

Director John Sayles has spent his career portraying stories based on important, neglected American history on film, and giving voice to the voiceless. In Amigo, his 17th feature, one small piece of American Imperialism is at work in Southeast Asia at the turn of the 20th century.

As usual, Sayles leaves no stone unturned. Telling the story of survival and death from multiple points of view, he examines naked racism, manifest destiny, the hypocrisy of religion, the spreading of American “democracy” abroad, loyalty, friendship and more. His attention to period detail is quite amazing in Amigo. With the production designer Rodell Cruz, Sayles built a village entirely from bamboo and shot entirely on location with a mostly Filipino crew (and NO, this is not your Marcos-era exploitation film). There are 4 different languages spoken in the film- Tagalog, English, Cantonese and Spanish.

Garret Dillahunt as Lt. Compton is great as soft-spoken, learned soldier, who has the best intentions at heart and is beginning to doubt his mission. Chris Cooper chews up his limited screen time as a bigoted, bloodthirsty colonel with strong military conviction. But the real star of the film is soulful Torre as the man trying to do right by his people while being amigo to the oppressors and to the Insurrectos alike.

Sayles draws obvious parallels to America’s present involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan with waterboarding (which originated from the Philippine-American War, called the “water cure”) and the phrase ‘winning hearts and minds’. The film beckons the viewer to find out more about these hidden American histories.

Dustin Chang –

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