Sunday, April 22, 2012

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

Film: Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

I had the pleasure of being invited to attend an advance screening of this film by one of its sponsors.  TECRO is the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the United States, and this organization frequently sponsors films that present or teach about Taiwanese culture.  I am always impressed by movies that I really learn something from.  And, just about everything in Warriors of the Rainbow was brand new to me.  I’m not claiming to be so worldly as to know everything about all the countries in the world.  But, I’ve found that it’s often hard to find films that cover new ground.  This phenomenon is understandable.  Filmmakers are eager for their work to succeed, so many tend to fall back on old, reliable material.  But, I really learned a lot from this film.
This story is about the Seediq Bale, the aboriginal people from the island of Taiwan.  The island has changed hands so many times in recent history and has been at the center of much political conflict.   My knowledge of the nation had previously been limited to these modern controversies.  I had no idea that there were tribes native to the island.  And, it was fascinating to learn about their culture, and the various battles they fought against the island’s many invaders.   This story starts as Japan takes over ruling Taiwan from China as a part of a treaty deal.  The Japanese military’s goal is to “civilize” the island, and to keep the native people under control.  The Seediq Bale people live a tribal lifestyle based on hunting and war.  Men traditionally gain merit by proving themselves on the battlefield as warriors.  However, this is impossible under the new, commerce-based, Japanese way of life.  The star of this film Ching-Tai Lin plays the warrior Mouna Rudo, who unites several of the previously unfriendly tribes to stage a revolt.
Warriors of the Rainbow is a pretty, intense, action-packed film.  Once the battle begins, the audience gets to witness some pretty intense, and bloody fighting.  And, director Te-sheng Wei doesn’t do things halfway.  Beheadings, disembowelments, arrows through the skull—this film has it all.  A lot if the material is pretty grisly.  But, this violence doesn’t feel gratuitous.  I think it is meant to demonstrate the warrior-based religion and culture the Seediq Bale people live—and to highlight the blood sacrifice they feel they must make to prepare their souls for the afterlife.  This warfare is central to a cultural identity and morality that is very different from our modern one, and it should not be judged by our current Western (or Japanese) sensibilities.  This film is really a very fascinating look at a lost culture, and it does an excellent job illustrating many of its customs and beliefs. 
I think it is very important to continue learning new things, and I am always content with a film that has something to teach.  But, beyond that, this film is also very beautiful.  It is set in the lush jungles and forests of Taiwan, and the scenery is just gorgeous.  Director Te-Sheng Wei also poured a lot of attention into other details, like the traditional dress of Seediq Bale tribes, and their intricate facial tattoos.  There is so much to take away from this film—culture, history, and beauty.  And, I highly recommend you go see it during its limited U.S. release, starting April 27.

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