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August 06, 2012

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

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Wei Te-Sheng - 2011
Well Go USA Entertainment Region 1 DVD

First, let me advise readers that the version I saw is the shorter release with a running time of about two and a half hours. Ideally, I would have seen the original version five hour version. I don't know what I've missed, but this shorter version worked well enough for me to overcome most of my concerns.

This is a Taiwanese national epic about Japanese occupation prior to World War II, and the guerilla warfare of several aboriginal tribes in what has been referred to as the Wushe Incident of 1930. And while some aspects might be culturally specific to the place and time, there is enough for those aware of other histories to see parallels with, for example, native Americans, or Vietnam. On a more visceral level, there is simply the excitement and fascination of seeing a smaller band of people at war against a larger, better equipped enemy.

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The film mostly centers on Mouna Rudao, introducing him first as a young man, earning his warrior tattoos on a hunt. The film jumps ahead to an older Rudao, seemingly at peace with the Japanese occupation that has transformed the region where he and his tribe live. As was customary in other countries of Japanese occupation, some would take take on Japanese identities and work with the Japanese authorities, even though they would still be considered as second class citizens. In this film, two members of Rudao's tribe are members of the local police force, wearing the same uniform, although paid less. The tribesmen are consigned to cutting down the forests, part of the exploitation of Taiwan's natural resources, but additionally destroying the Seediq peoples traditional way of life. Continual mistreatment by the Japanese authorities causes Rudao to plan war against the people he considers intruders, although this is tempered by the animosity that continues with rival Seediq tribes.

What I have been able to glean from other sources is that Wei was able to cast the primary roles as authentically as possible, so that the Seediq people are portrayed by actors of aboriginal descent. Lin Ching-Tai, is not a professional actor, yet he is able to carry most of the work as Mouna Rudao. Possibly the best known actor in the pan-Asian cast would be Masanobu Ando who plays a Japanese policeman who has a more respectful attitude towards the Seediq, at least in the beginning of the film. Also, Seediq is the spoken language in the film, as well as Japanese, and some Chinese, making the film linguistically authentic.

One part of the film that would benefit from explanation are songs performed by the characters. I assume these are traditional Seediq folk songs. In any event, one of the songs provides a particularly interesting counterpoint to the action, a melancholy song about the implications of going to war, where a lesser filmmaker would more likely use some kind of rousing music to signify victory.

Normally, "Making of" DVD supplements are not always of interest. Here though, it is worth having Wei discuss the origin of making the film, the various obstacles in getting financing, and the logistical problems with a large cast and crew in a somewhat remote location. One of the people who appears frequently and is seen dealing with various logistical problems, is Wei's assistant director, Anne Wu. Don't be surprised if Miss Wu moves into the director's chair sometime soon.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at August 6, 2012 07:13 AM