Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Taiwan, 2011)

I miss attending the Udine Far East Film Festival, particularly because it was my primary opportunity to catch popular East Asian Cinema. Most film festivals tend to focus on films destined for the art houses if they manage a release at all.  While I enjoy such films and documentaries, I also want to keep myself abreast of the popular autochthonous films in East Asia, and that is Udine’s main mission.  Thankfully, just as the 14th edition of FEFF in Italy is wrapping up, the Taiwanese blockbuster Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, (which screened at this year’s FEFF), will be showing up on the screens of North America.

No stranger to dominating the Taiwanese box office, Director Wei Te-Sheng’s Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale took over the top spot for highest-grossing Taiwanese film in Taiwan by replacing Wei’s previous record-holder, Cape No. 7.   An ambitious project, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale revolves around the ‘The Wushe Incident’ when clan chief Mouna Rudao (alternate spelling ‘Mona’) led roughly 300 Seediq in a succesful strategic raid against the Japanese colonists.  As a result of his leadership, Mouna Rudao is seen as a hero amongst many Taiwanese, not just Seediq, and his image is found on Taiwanese currency.

Films about historical events can’t help but be stories told from the lenses of the Present.  The commentary around the film can help fill the historical holes and address the egregious errors or blatant political choices.  Many films inspire viewers to follow through on researching the history portrayed on film, enabling the fact-checking and footnoting a film can’t provide when, in this case, it’s limited to two and a half hours.   With my limited knowledge of Taiwan’s history, I am hesitant to speak to the historical accuracy of the film.  I am not the person to offer that commentary and I look forward to reading investigations by scholars of Taiwan.   One thing I did learn from Andrew D. Morris in the book he co-edited with David K. Jordan and Marc L. Moskowitz, The Minor Arts of Daily Life:  Popular Culture in Taiwan (University of Hawai’i Press, 2004), is that the containment practices of the Japanese towards Taiwanese aborigines were influenced by similar interventions in the US towards Native Americans.  It’s not required that the film integrate a fact such as that one, but it adds an interesting context to the film for the U.S. viewer.

This film’s focus on a significant moment in the history of Taiwanese aborigines follows from the recent angle taken by Taiwan tourism promotion, such as bus banners and posters, that highlight Taiwan’s indigenous peoples.   I assume I’m not unique for a provincial American with little youthful exposure to Taiwan’s history, but I wasn’t aware that there were aboriginal peoples in Taiwan before the Chinese until I heard about the copyright issues plaguing Enigma’s famous song “The Return to Innocence”.   (Here’s a link that gives a brief overview of the Ami couple Kuo Hsiu-chu and Kuo Ying-nan and how their song ended up being connected with a global number one hit.)   Along with political recognition, (better known to non-Taiwanese through her role in Ang Lee’s The Wedding Banquet, Kao Jin Su-mei, aka May Chin, is of Ayata heritage and has fought for the rights of various Taiwanese aborigines as a legislator), Taiwanese indigenous peoples have made significant impacts in sports, such as the little league team made up of mostly Bunun aborigines that beat a visiting Japanese team in 1968, an event that Morris credits as a defining moment in Taiwanese nationalism, and in entertainment, such as pop diva A-Mei (aka Chang Hui-Mei) who is of Puyama descent.  Warriors of the Rainbow:  Seediq Bale extends this impact with a cast of hundreds of aboriginal actors who provide impressive performances.

Which brings me to the my lesser interest in film that is the primary interest for most of this popular genre -Does it entertain viscerally?  The answer is, yes, for the most part it does.  The fight scenes are well choreographed and engaging.  (John Woo’s production hand in this film probably had an influence on this.)  Now. you can tell that no animals were harmed in the making of this film because they are clearly CGI-ed, but no less so than the animals in, say, Avatar, so it’s not too disruptive to the narrative.  There’s also a CGI moment of fire that looks unreal, but in a weirdly fantastical way, so it still worked for me.  One bit of annoyance, however, is that no woman is allowed to speak her opinion until well over an hour into the film.  Women are clearly put on the periphery here.  As a result, this is an ironically conservative film all tied up in the bow of being somewhat progressive by the mere fact that it spotlights a brief triumph of indigenous ingenuity in rebelling against colonial oppression.  All in all, if you’re looking for a film to provide some exciting combat scenes, you’ll be treated to a fairly well-spaced and well-choreographed pace of them.