Thursday, September 9, 2010

Formosa Betrayed 《被出賣的台灣》

If we consider this movie just as a thriller, than it was an epic fail. While there is a bit of suspense, there is no real action to speak of, or plot resolution. The characters are pretty flat, the motives are not always clear, etc. On the other hand, this is a movie motivated by history and politics. Only someone who has an interest in Chinese and Taiwanese politics and history can enjoy it. It's actually a pretty good introductory film for a foreign who has no understanding of the subject. The writer/producer is a Taiwanese American, Will Tiao, and probably one of his biggest mistakes with this movie was casting himself in it; he's a pretty shitty actor. (Side note: Will Tiao is from Manhattan, Kansas which is where KSU is, which is KU's (my university) rival, but he went to Michigan, Tufts, and Columbia University. For a while he was involved in US politics working for Bill Clinton and George Bush).

The basic plot is your typical FBI/Cowboy movie. An American Professor (originally Taiwanese and from the get-go presumably DPP) is murdered in Chicago. Initial reports suspect that it was the work of gangsters, they are followed and escape back to Taiwan. The actor, James Van Der Beek (from Dawson's Creek!), plays an FBI agent and is sent to Taiwan, knowing practically nothing, as an observer, but we all know Americans don't sit back and observe, we like to take charge. So James waves his FBI badge left and right like a douche bag as if it was recognized by the Taiwanese government. Basically there is a connection between the murder and the KMT. The plot is pretty predictable.

The true value of this movie is as an introductory piece to Taiwanese Martial Law, US/Taiwan/China relations, and gangs in Taiwan. I actually thought this movie was going to be about Taiwanese Independence, and while that is a small part of it, it really focuses on martial law in Taiwan. There was also an accusation of Taiwan aiding Nicarguan Contras in exchange for US weapons, I have never heard of that before and can't really find anything to confirm it. It ends by saying that what the KMT was really concerned with was independence supporters, and not so much communist invasion (it takes place in the 80s). Other than that, it does not introduce anything that the three of us have probably heard of or read. There is also a lot of anti-communist rhetoric thrown around the American side, presenting it as a binary issue Nationalist vs. Communist, but what I think the producer wants to say is that the real issue is KMT vs. Independence supporters, and the anti-communist stuff is international rhetoric to get US support (since most Americans didn't/don't know the local issues so if it is reduced to communism than the KMT will get some US support). What this movie creates is the initiation of an international dialog of what happened under KMT rule in Taiwan. I think most people, except the most die-hard KMTers, would not treat the material in this film as controversial (the message, yes, but not the facts they are trying to represent). But overall it is still a pretty mediocre film so I give it a 3/5.

Edit: I forgot to say that this is an American movie from an American perspective. It's about Taiwan, but it is definitely not a Taiwanese film. Are there any Taiwanese films that talk about these political issues?


  1. I think Conor could answer the last question.

    After reading your review, I stand by my decision on not wanting to watch this particular film haha. To be honest, I had already decided I didn't want to watch it when I saw in the trailer that it's main character is played by James Van Der Beek.

  2. I would suggest this movie for Conor though, since he is the resident Taiwan film/literature expert.

  3. Hey, I'll try and find this one here somewhere. I'm drawing a blank on films dealing with the oppression of the KMT, except for City of Sadness. There's a book called 蕃薯仔哀歌 which talks about a guy who was disappeared by the KMT, it was originally written in Japanese.