Sunday, April 11, 2010

'Formosa Betrayed' Leaves You Unsatisfied - In A Good Way

... and rightfully so - here's why.

** May contain spoilers **

I showed up with some family and friends at the 10:00PM showing of 'Formosa Betrayed' at one of only three theaters in Washington state. April 9th was the opening weekend for 'Formosa Betrayed' in Seattle, and this was the second night. But much like the empty theater that we sat in (more or less 15 people total), the movie left me empty inside as well. It was as if there was no ending and something else needed to wrap things up. After each scene faded to black and the next scene emerged, I kept hoping that the next fade-away would be followed by another scene.

So why do I think it was a good movie? It is because of this feeling of the lack of fulfillment that makes this film worth watching. For most other films, this may be a bad thing. After all, why would a story that leaves you hanging give the viewer satisfaction? But in this case we are left unsatisfied because of the fact that this story is yet unfinished.

This point is highlighted in the ending seconds of the movie where the screen goes to black with text appearing, highlighting the current situation of Taiwan: There are currently 23 countries that recognize the country of Taiwan, "The United States is not one of them."

The injustice to Taiwanese of the past, continue to occur to this day. Whether it be on the international scale or domestically in Taiwan, the internal struggle of Taiwanese is still there. While there may be no blatant executions of political dissidents and torture of Taiwanese intellectuals, instead what we have is fear and bullying tactics by the same secret police state that existed before. Stories such as this: Police in Taiwan asking for registration details of political activists that use Plurk. Things don't need to happen on the surface for it to be real; often times it's what happens underneath that is even scarier.

Anyways, as far as the actual acting and etc...

3 out of 5 stars. Entertainment value-wise, it was average. The acting was okay, but at times I just grimaced at the use of non-native Chinese speakers (sorry Will Tiao). The saving grace for Will Tiao was the fact that his lines were mostly in English and Taiwanese, otherwise I may never have gotten past that issue. The use of simultaneous time-lines was at first confusing, but after a couple flash forward and backs I realized what was going on. The action scenes were pretty underwhelming, but I found it quite appropriate for the setting (set in the 1980s).

But, the thing that bothered me the most after leaving (other than that unfulfillment) was that I felt I had already seen the movie. The most powerful scenes in the movie were basically the same scenes used in the theatrical trailers, which is quite genius if you think about it. But, it leaves you with just fillers for the actual movie, in between those powerful scenes.

Nevertheless, it's a story that needed to get out, and I applaud Will Tiao and the rest of his crew for being able to generate the investment needed to put out this film. All that, despite the likelihood that they knew they wouldn't have a spectacular box office run. When you have a film about Taiwan, and yet Taiwanese as a group have a hard time getting out to watch it, you know you are in for trouble.

All in all, 'Formosa Betrayed' was a film that needed to be done. And as a film that needed to be done, it's a film worth being seen. If you are in the Seattle area, get out to watch it ASAP! If you did not know (as I did not know originally), it's having a limited release in both location as well as time-wise. I believe it's only showing here in the Seattle area until this coming Thursday, April 15th.

Edit: While I was unable to make it to the Q&A session with producer and actor, Will Tiao, of Formosa Betrayed at the Seattle Taiwan Center on April 8th, someone (ryl0911) was able to record it on video and put it up on YouTube (Thanks!). There's 13 parts in total, so check it out. A lot of interesting information about him and the movie, with answers to "FAQs" that most of you probably have thought of (When is it showing in Taiwan?, Why is it shot in Thailand?, etc.)
You can view the rest of the 12 of 13 parts by going to this playlist, and you can set it to auto-play through the rest (top right-hand side).


timera said...

I have to agree on most of the points you have made. Although I think the experience had been more powerful for me for some reason. I believe it had something to do with my family history. Though no one was executed in my family, my grandfather was locked up for a bit and shared a cell with one of the most well-known scholars in Taiwan at the time. And my grandfather was the last person he shared moments with right before his way to heaven. So (spoilers coming!) when the old guy got taken away at the restaurant in the beginning, it was as if I was watching my own grandfather taken away for doing nothing.
I am glad that I went to the movie, for one, I got to see a movie that pretty much squeezes Taiwanese history into an 2 hour action/drama movie. For two, I brought an American, a Hong Kongnese?, a Dane, a Japanese, a Korean, another fellow Taiwanese to witness this historic moment. And I am pretty sure after the movie, they came to the realization that why some Taiwanese prefer not to be called Chinese

Richard said...

I hear you Tim. The movie will hit different people in different ways, depending on their background. For non-Taiwanese, perhaps a very very good learning experience, for some Taiwanese, a reason to call into question what they have believed thus far, and for others like you just something to continually be thankful for in what we have today.

While my parents haven't talked much about that time, the little that they've said is that my grandfather who was the principal for the local elementary school at the time, used to write letters to the government about democracy. In the end, he decided to emigrate to the U.S. for fears of repercussions. Similarly on the other side of my family, they emigrated to escape the martial law injustice occurring across the island (my grandfather on mom's side owned a shop, and would often have to deal with KMT soldiers stopping by for "kick-backs" in order for him to run his store without problem).

BTW, I added video of the Q&A session with Will Tiao that was at the Seattle Taiwan Center a few days ago. So, check it out if you missed it.

timera said...

Hey Rich,
yeah, thanks for the video, I just realized how well he acts in the movie. since i almost couldn't recognize him in this video :)

P. S. said...

Just saw the movie in Seattle April 9. Maybe I am naive because I did not grow up in Taiwan (but lived there in late 80s), but the violence and open abuses of power were shocking. Straightforward question: was it really that bad?

Overall, I liked it because it was eye-opening. Also, the main character did not over-act, and was not made out to be a superhuman. Tiao's character was well-played (language issues notwithstanding) and his family's fate dramatically drove home the point.

Finally, an intriguing line was drawn between American acceptance of KMT violence and Taiwan supplying arms to the Nicaraguan contras. Whaaaaaa? Huh? Is that true? Wow, that is pretty explosive!

Richard said...

"Straightforward question: was it really that bad?"

Yes, it was bad. Was it really that bad though? It'll be different for everyone you ask. As you can see from the above comments, for some of our families it wasn't execution. But for others, and I've heard many personal accounts from Taiwanese of family members being taken away and never being seen again. The anecdote from the movie ***spoiler*** where several political dissidents were taken to a river and the first was shot and killed, bringing the rest down to drown in the river, is a story I've heard and read about before. If you have the time, take a look at the video with Will Tiao that I added to this post, he talks about how many of the events in the movie are composites of various events/stories.