Sunday, January 6, 2013

Warriors of the Rainbow

   The film I am reviewing here is called Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale.  It was written and directed by Wei Te-Sheng and produced by John Woo.  I didn't really know what to expect, I just gave it a try.  I'm glad I did.  There is apparently a 2-part, four hour, original version of this film--I saw the 2 1/2 hour international version on Netflix.  I am interested in seeing the original because the shortened version was so good that the time flew by and I didn't realize it was so long until after the fact.  There was something fascinating about this film that deserves to be captured and understood.  The story is based on an actual event, the "Wushe Incident," an uprising of Taiwanese highland indigenous peoples against the Japanese in the 1930's.  The Japanese had taken the island from China in 1895 and while the Han Chinese of the lowlands acquiesced to the new rulers, it seems assimilation was virtually impossible for the indigenous highland tribes.

   The "Wushe Incident" was a localized uprising of some 300 warriors against Japanese authorities.  It occurs some thirty years after the initial occupation and it is led by now chief, Mouna Rudo, who was just a young warrior when the Japanese first arrived.  The plot is somewhat predictable, but it is not about the plot.  The plot is just a tool used to explore various themes.  Among these themes is the clash between primitives and civilization, which is a rich theme when looked at honestly.  This film attempts to do that.  I think it is highly successful because it honors another less obvious reality that binds the two: the fight between contempt and respect.  Contempt, as defined by Eli Siegel, is "...the disposition in every person to think he will be for himself by making less of the outside world."

   Without being heavy-handed about it the film explores the contempt of the civilized Japanese and the primitive Seediq Bale.  It is intriguing to watch.  It is a study in violence at its core.  The Seediq are head-hunters who celebrate the process of taking heads--this is not Dances With Wolves and aside from the scenery, which is gorgeous, it is not Last of the Mohicans.  It is not good guys versus bad guys, yet the insurgent natives do seem to come out on top.  They are petty and cruel, yet they kill with purpose and ultimately many die with purpose, choosing death, even by suicide, to surrender and continued life under the Japanese.  The bottom line is that the Seediq kill for a reason: over hunting grounds, to settle scores, for the tribe, for their way of life, while the Japanese kill because their government told them to.  One is simply less honest than the other.  The filmmaker is able to convey nearly a religiosity onto the native violence and I don't think he is wrong.  The rainbow is how the Seediq travel to the next world and clearly, both in the film and in reality, they chose to go "home" rather than remain in what their home had become. 

   The events are mostly real.  The Japanese are not caricatured as they are in other Chinese films.  Here I feel they are representative of civilization and its impacts on primitive peoples.  They are not especially villainous, they just assume they are better and they are right--any civilization will see itself in the mirror here.  In this sense, the queer quality of civilized warfare is captured.  The matter is not just about the past as there are still many primitive people in Asia (Many are more primitive than those depicted in the film.), but they are being pushed to the point of extinction.  As a side note, the actor who plays the elder native chief, Mouna Rudo, is not a professional actor, yet he is great!  The film is well worth watching.


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