Aug 29, 2010

Bound in Motion Furor

What if this were Rome burning tonight
and we were still sticking to past mistakes
running past the same images in our minds
spinning over and over again

Would we keep our mouths shut
eyes taped, arms bound
forever doomed to the same story
told at night, but still - a convenient truth
for we are left to tell

Only - we know, it's all but a lie
and the people are bound in motion pictures
or concentrated in camps
the animals were taking over

Corpses washing down the river
the ground soaked in black and green blood
breathing a sole grievance
and everywhere the towers are growing into the sky
tongues twist as people divide

We follow the footsteps to a new home
and a bright future ahead
where distraction will keep us from
aiming clearsighted and thus is to be eliminated
outdated, the inferior falling to our furor
childish naïveté mating mature brute
this house is burning
and the dancefloor explodes in light

(written somewhat around 2008/09, inspired by visited Rwandan sites)

Aug 16, 2010

Formosa Betrayed - film review

First of all, this is an important movie to see for everyone with an interest in Taiwanese or Asian history. Though mostly fictional, the film is based on a number of events in the 1980s. The good thing is: This movie is political, and it takes sides. Portraying the KMT regime in such a highly critical fashion, I don't think this movie might have been shot even in today's Taiwan. Although officially aiming at a neutral stance between blue and green, the movie must be called pro-TI (strange thing that neutrality today seems to imply the avoidance of mentioning anything shady about the KMT's past, or a "status quo" position in between independence and unification while altering the status quo via economic dependence is credited perfectly "neutral").

So, while the fact that it is a Hollywood produced flick surely has its advantages (concerning mostly the movie's outreach), there come a number of flaws with it. (I won't complain about Dawson's Creek ex teen idol Van der Beek starring the lead role.) Unfortunately, the acting is not very convicting since director Adam Kane was mostly relying on American actors with Asian background. Of course, their English is perfect, while there is only little Chinese in the movie and even less use of the Taiwanese language (except for the Kaohsiung demonstration). How police officer Chen was stumbling his few sentences in Mandarin - hurt. Even the most committed actor in this movie - Will Tiao - had an unmistakable American accent to his Chinese. This seriously made the film's atmosphere suffer. Another point of critique has to be its being shot in Thailand, which also means that the entire extra cast was Thai - and I would maintain that you can actually tell Taiwanese apart from Thai. The extra cast in a weird way did not feel involved in the film at all, most strikingly in the demonstration scene in Kaohsiung. I have seldom seen an agitated crowd acting less agitated. Even when security police was marching on, people hardly seemed to take notice and adjust their behaviour. The pictures of streets and houses had a certain artificial feel to them, like you could tell they were studio-made. I don't really buy into Thai studios being able to resemble Taiwan in the 80s more than parts of Taiwan today. Sure, the costs would have been higher, but if wanted there would have been some way...

To be honest, I was disappointed by the movie's overall artisanry. Like I said, this is an important movie, for it also depicts historical material (background on Chiang Kai-shek, the US and Red China etc.), but it will have a hard time attracting people solely for its entertainment value. This being said, I wish the film could be seen by more Taiwanese kids. Perhaps they will like the movie for its handsome lead actor and thus subtly internalise the messages delivered in the movie which present an alternative to mainstream KMT-imposed amnesia on its shady past. For this matter, it is definitely good news that Formosa Betrayed was showed to members of US Congress, too.
The film's title alluding to George Kerr's legendary journalist account of suppressed and abused Taiwan (1965) is a bit misleading, for at least I would expect a work more equivalent in content and quality to wear this book's name.

Citing film critic Roger Ebert on the movie:
As a result, "Formosa Betrayed" begins rather awkwardly, but ends by making a statement that explains a great many things. One question left unasked: Why did we promise to defend Taiwan with nuclear weapons but refuse to recognize it as a sovereign nation?
Review and presentation with more pictures in Chinese.
The Boston Globe has a review of the movie, and says the following of the acting:

Tiao is a passable actor at best, but he’s infinitely more genuine than Van Der Beek, who continues to be the same limited performer he was on TV’s “Dawson’s Creek,’’ just older, and, in this case, sweatier.

As a political thriller, “Formosa Betrayed’’ has enough suspense and intrigue to pull viewers along willingly. It doesn’t try too hard, which is refreshing. John Heard plays a veteran FBI colleague of Kelly’s; in another thriller he might be a double agent, but here he’s every bit as average as he seems.

And as a history lesson, the film is a decent primer. It will enlighten those who may not know much about the post-World War II era of Chinese rule over the island the Dutch named Formosa, a.k.a. Taiwan.

Along comes the trailer: