For the last 10 days since it’s premiere in Taiwan on September 9th, 2011, a movie has been smashing box-office records, gaining critical acclaim, and dominating headlines and watercooler conversations. I can’t even have a party without someone mentioning Seediq Bale (pronounced See-dick bal-lay). Costing a whopping $24 million US dollars to shoot (the biggest budget for any Taiwanese movie in history), Seediq Bale: Warriors of the Rainbow was selected this month for the Venice Film Festival and is earning the praises in domestic and international markets.
The movie depicts the real life 1930 Wushu Incident in Taiwan, where 300 native Seediq warriors staged an uprising against the Japanese colonial forces, who by then had been in Taiwan for over 30 years. The movie is a subtitled film for the Taiwanese audiences already, since the dialogue is entirely in Seediq dialect and Japanese. The domestic release of Seediq Bale is being split into two parts, a total of 4 and a half hour running time (think Red Cliff 1 and 2). The part 1 poster on the left reads “warriors, your hands which are covered in blood, can it still cup the soil of the hunting grounds? – 9-09 – the Sun Flag”, while the part 2 poster on the right reads: “children, your clean foreheads, can you still cross the beautiful rainbow bridge? – 9-30 – the Rainbow Bridge.”
Here is a plot synopsis of Seediq Bale pulled from Wikipedia:
During the Japanese rule of Taiwan, the Seediq were forced to lose their own culture and give up their faith. Men were subject to harsh labor and kept from traditional hunting; whereas women had to serve the Japanese policemen and their families by doing the household work and giving up their traditional weaving work. Above all, they were forbidden to tattoo their faces. And these tattoos were seen as the Seediq’s traditional belief to transform themselves into Seediq Bale (“true humans”). Mona Rudao, the protagonist, witnessed the repression by the Japanese over a period of 30 years.
Sometime between autumn and winter 1930, when the slave labor is at its harshest, a young Seediq couple are married and a joyful party is thrown. At the same time, a newly appointed Japanese policeman goes on his inspection tour to this tribe. Mona Rudao’s first son, Tado Mona, offers wine to the policeman with gusto, but is in return beaten up because his hands were considered not clean enough. With anger, Tado Mona and his brother Baso Mona attack the policeman. And from that day onward, their tribe is living in the shadow of being the object of revenge by the Japanese.
In a few days, a group of youth surround Mona Rudao. They strongly request him to lead the retaliation against the Japanese. Mona Rudao struggles for a long time between extending his fellow’s lives and fighting back for dignity, until he sees these youngster’s faces – clear without Seediq’s tattoos – that he made up his mind. He tells the youngsters, “Japanese troops out-number the stones in Dakusui River, more intensive than the leaves in the forest, but my determination fighting them is ever stronger than Mt. Kire.”
“Children! On the tip of the Rainbow Bridge led to home of our ancestor’s spirits, there is another beautiful hunting range. Our ancestors are all there! Remember, only brave spirits can enter this place, and we can never lose it. My fellows, let us hunt the heads of our enemies, and we wash our spirits with blood so that we walk the Rainbow Bridge to be always with our ancestors.”
The film Seediq Bale depicts the Wushe Incident, which occurred in central Taiwan during the Japanese rule. When the Seediq Bale, believing in the Rainbow, and the Japanese, believing in the Sun, met one another, they fought. The leader of Seediq Bale, Mona Rudao, led 300 warriors fighting against 3000 Japanese troopers. The only thing they forgot was whether it was the Rainbow or the Sun they believed in; they actually believed in the same sky.
Seediq Bale is directed by Wei Te-Sheng, whose last movie Cape No. 7 became the top grossing domestic movie of all time in Taiwan (which Seediq Bale is well on its way to smashing), and co-produced by John Woo. Watch the fully-subbed five-minute trailer and marvel. It’s like Avatar without the environmental and capitalist greed hoodoo, and clearly no magic happy ending. But the movie is telling a true story in proud and unflinching ways, and the trailer makes me inclined to agree that the critical acclaim and success Seediq Bale is raking up is clearly well-deserved. The lead actor playing Mona Rudao is a real descendent of the Taiwan aboriginal Atayal tribe and has never acted before, but whose screen presence and intensity is undeniable.
Five-minute trailer for Seediq Bale:
Doesn’t the movie look absolutely breathtaking AND gutwrenching? It’s like you just want everything to not happen, but it’s already etched in blood into history. The mountains of Taiwan really is that lush and beautiful. The Portugese (and later the Dutch) didn’t call the island Formosa for nothing.