After all the hype and the box-office success of “The Avengers” I wanted to see something more on the art house level in my local movie theater. This was where I managed to spot the John Woo co-produced critically acclaimed (in the Venice Film Festival) “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale”. This ambitious Taiwanese historical drama is based on the Wushe incident in central Taiwan in 1930. The original film versions of the film was released in Asia and Europe in two parts much like “Red Cliff“1 and 2. The first part is called “The Flag of the Sun” and part 2 was called “Bridge of Rainbow” to total up to 4 and a half hours.
Director Wei Te-Sheng was both heavily praised and criticized for making such an effort. This is the most expensive film ever made in Taiwan to date but the runtime may be too much for the common movie-goer. The film was condensed to a runtime of 2 ½ hours to make the story much more compact and fast-moving. It was been nominated for the finals in Venice and received the Best Foreign Language Film in the 84th Academy awards. This is a monumental film that every fan of Asian cinema should go and see this film.
Mouna Rudo (Lin Ching-Tai) was a young warrior in the Mehebu village when he made his mark in the clan wars between the Sediq people. In 1895, when the treaty of Shimonoseki between China and Japan annexes Taiwan to the Japanese empire, the Sediq people found themselves taken over because of Japan’s military might. 25 years later, the island is slowly becoming civilized as the Japanese have brought their culture with them. Some of the Seediq people have began to embrace the Japanese culture while some are fixed with their old ways. This causes most of the Seediq to be laborers and paid little money. Mouna Rudo, still the chief of his clan, has become a sort of a drunk that is until an incident with a lowly Japanese officer causes a rift between the aborigine tribes that is set to ignite a revolt. Mouna Rudo must once again show his tribesmen what it truly means to be a Seediq….
I am at a disadvantage since I have not seen the original 2-part Taiwanese versions of the film and all I am privy to is the re-edited, re-cut international versions. I am sure much of the details of the true history of the Wushe incident that took place for 50 days lies in the 4 hour plus versions. However, the screenplay by director Wei Te-Sheng feels as though it kept the momentous details of the story. I have read that the Rudo character in the film did deviate significantly from historical records. Be that as it may, the film does feel more like a historical epic when it was compacted and re-edited. There is a lot to keep up with “Warriors of the Rainbow”. The film is filled with significant characters, and yet the script does a good job in keeping its coherency (if a little shaky at times).
The film is all about a native people who up to this day had never returned to their homeland. The direction focuses almost all of its running time fleshing out the beliefs, culture and traditions of the Sediq people. The film begins with a simple set up as we see a young Mouna Rudo (played by Da Ching) become a man and what the tattoos in the faces of the tribesmen stand for. The film is mostly about the preservation of a people and their ways. The film gains its momentum as soon as the tribes have been segregated by the Japanese. It was interesting how different tribes have a different set of pride and rules. The tribes often fight amongst themselves rather than oppose the Japanese. Some have embraced Japanese culture while one tribe had been befriended by the Japanese. The writing was set to reveal a lot of the workings of the human mind and how certain traditions prove to be the defining moment for a man. Such traditions can either make or break a man. The direction leaves such things to be decided by the audience. It was also curious to know that many of the Seediq traditions and beliefs feel similar to those of the Norse Vikings as with the rainbow and a place for warriors.
This is a film about a revolt and any war movie is going to be bloody. We see the Seediq people use their knowledge of the terrain and their skill in maneuvering the vast forest. The use of guerilla tactics is indeed viable in a fight against a large military force. What made the incident quite different was that 300 Seediq warriors were able to hold off a Japanese force numbering in the thousands for 50 days. The battles were grisly and bloody but the direction was very careful not to wallow in the graphic details of the war. The film does have a lot of disturbing images of suicide, and the murder of children. It was necessary and they were as shocking as necessary to demonstrate the proud beliefs of the tribes.
Characters from Taiwanese history such as Temu Wallis (Umin Boya) and Kojima Genji (Ando Masanobu) makes appearances, but the film loses some details about their lives. Dakis Nomin’s (Hsu Yi-Fan) character does make significant impact on the film’s narrative. I do have to admit that looking through Taiwanese history that this compacted film did lose a lot on the details of the second part. The direction was capable enough to make a smooth transition but you can see that the film was re-edited. I would love to see the uncut versions of the film. The film is shot in the bi-lingual languages of Japan and Taiwan, and aids in its feeling of authenticity. Set designs and costumes were accurately rendered. I did have some mixed feelings of its soundtrack, since there were times it lacked some power.
“Warriors of the Rainbow Seediq Bale” is indeed a monumental achievement in Asian cinema. This re-cut and re-edited version may arguably feel more even and well-paced than the near-infinitely long 4 hour plus versions but I would still be willing to give the two-parter a shot. This re-edited version is one film that made me hungry for more. I would love to see the finer details behind the Wushe incident. The direction here made for a good attempt in telling its story, but one wouldn’t be hard-pressed to tell that some grisly images were cut out to keep its pacing. Still, “Warriors” gets a recommended rating from me; it was exciting, engaging and ambitious. It reminded me of the days when I saw “The Last of the Mohicans” and “Apocalypto”. Perhaps I am just a sucker for historical epics.
I saw that this movie is finally playing at a local multiplex. I had the import Chinese dvd but it turned out to be the cheap kind so I did not get to finish the film. I am pumped to see this one again. Produced by action legend John Woo, I do hope that the U.S. did not heavily edit the American release as they have with "RED CLIFF". Full review Here