The legend of the "Wùshè Incident" (霧社事件) and the spirit of Seediq (賽德克族) comes alive in Director Wei Te-Sheng (魏德聖)'s epic two-part feature film, Seediq Bale (賽德克‧巴萊).
Officially selected as one of the films in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, Seediq Bale (賽德克‧巴萊), also known as Seediq Bale: The Rainbow Warriors, is an epic retelling of the "Wùshè Incident" (霧社事件) in Taiwan, circa 1930.
Apart from being the single largest and final rebellion against the Japanese colonial forces in Taiwan, the uprising by the Seediq tribespeople led by Seediq Chief and legendary hero Mona Rudao is significant for its tremendous death tolls on both sides of the battle, and more importantly, the eventual massacre followed by the mass suicides of the tribe. It was recorded that a total 827 Seediq were slain or committed suicide while 162 members of Japanese Imperial Army was killed in action.
The subject of "Wùshè Incident" has long been a point of contention for both the Japanese and the surviving Seediq. Both side have accused each other of instigating the violence which included the brutal massacre of both children and women. However, with the Japanese Imperial Army having the advantage of utilizing poison gas canisters via air strikes, and the support of rival tribes in suppressing the unrest, it is evident that the Seediq was severely outnumbered and outmatched with their primitive weapons. And with the added emotional turmoil by many Seediq people who have already been converted into Japanese before the incident, the Seediq were fighting a battle with no chance of winning.
The truth behind "Wùshè Incident" have since been clouded by mysteries, and with those involved mostly killed, the lack of communication due to language barriers by the Seediq, and the propaganda methods of the Japanese Imperial Army, we will never learnt the complex truth behind the incident. That said, the story of the three hundred (yes, three hundred) brave Seediq warriors charging into the three thousand soldiers from the Japanese Imperial Army to behead them in the forest, and the tragic tales of mass hanging of the Atayal tribespeople in the trees, make the timeless story an intriguing one to tell.
The second full-feature film by director Wei Te-Sheng (魏德聖), Seediq Bale was a personal dream project for Wei and it has often times proved to be an overtly-ambitious yet severely underfunded project. While Wei were able to raised NT$ 2 million to shoot a 5-minute demonstration film in an effort to garner financial support, the project were unable to proceed until the unexpectedly popularity of Wei's debut full-feature film, Cape No. 7, in 2008. The film's success reignited the director's ambitious vision for Seediq Bale, and with renowned director John Woo joining as producer, the film began production in 2009 with a US$10 million budget. And if you are of the opinion that there's quite a hefty sum to spare, do note that the film had a crew of 20,000 people.
A bold venture by the investors by any means, Seediq Bale will be primarily in the native Seediq language, and secondarily in Japanese and Taiwanese. Literally meaning "A Real Man" or "A Real Human", the phrase "Seediq Bale" is now more commonly known by local Taiwanese thanks to the insurgence in popular culture covering the subject. From the immortalization of Mona Rudao (莫那魯道) as one of the figures in NT coins, 漫畫·巴萊, the local Taiwanese Manhua that inspired Wei, the Taiwanese black metal band ChthoniC (閃靈)'s fourth studio album of the same name, to artist Linzlang's "Bloody Gaya Fulfilled (大出草)", a painted rendition of the massacre (which is in itself a part of a set of mural paintings first displayed during 2009's Unbound: Voices of the Unknown exhibition), interest in the subject is arguably on a all-time high.
And for crying out loud, we seriously need a decent "Movie of the Year" contender this late in 2011.
Come September, Seediq Bale (賽德克‧巴萊) will finally hit the big screen in two 90-minute films. The first part, entitled 太陽旗 ("Flag of the Sun", a reference to the national flag of Japan), will be released on September 9th, while the concluding chapter, 彩虹橋 ("Rainbow Bridge", a reference to the mythic bridge for the dead to return to their ancestral lands, much like Bifröst in the Norse mythology) will be released on September 30th. While I sincerely hope that I can watch both films in one screening, I would count myself fortunate if they can eventually find their way here. For the audience in the West, apart from screening in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival, the film will also be shown at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival in September.
Without further ado, here are the two official trailer for the film.
Here's the official synopsis of the film in English, courtesy of the 68th Venice International Film Festival:
Wei Te-Sheng’s epic film Saideke Balai recounts an extraordinary episode from 20th-century history which is little-known even in Taiwan. Between 1895 and 1945, the island was a Japanese colony inhabited not only by the majority (Han Chinese immigrants) but also by the remnants of the aboriginal tribes who first settled in the mountainous land. In 1930 Mouna Rudo, the leader of one of the Seediq tribes settled on and around Mount Chilai, forged a coalition with other Seediq tribal leaders and plotted a rebellion against their Japanese colonial masters. It was to begin at a sports day meeting where the assembled tribesmen were to attack and kill the Japanese officials. The initial uprising took the Japanese by surprise and was almost entirely successful. But the Japanese soon sent in their army to crush the rebellion, using aircraft and poison gas. Mouna Rudo knew from the start that the relatively small force of Seediq tribesmen stood no chance of defeating the might of Japan. But he and his allies were sustained by the beliefs and myths which had nourished their tribes since time immemorial. Young males in the tribes had to undergo a rite de passage to become adult men, which gave them the right to have their faces tattooed. In tribal language, they became Saideke Balai – heroes of the tribe.
And the much, much more detailed synopsis in Chinese:
賽德克，是一個位於台灣山區、信仰彩虹的民族部落，他們居住在山嵐繚繞的世外桃源，過著與大地共存、生態平衡的生活。族裡的馬赫坡社出了一位意氣風發、同樣信仰彩虹的英雄，他是馬赫坡社頭目之子莫那魯道，年少的他在首度「出草」即以迅雷不及掩耳地將兩顆異族的人頭帶回部落裡，從此之後，賽德克部落間無人不知莫那魯道這個名字，而也因莫那的年輕氣盛，種下了他和道澤群族的鐵木瓦力斯（馬志翔 飾）多年深埋的仇恨與對立。好景不常，賽德克族自由自在的生活，就在甲午戰敗、信仰太陽的日軍正式進駐台灣後而徹底改變。 日治時代的來臨，改變了賽德克族原本的生活， 多數族裡的男人從此搬木頭服勞役，而女人淪為日本家眷幫傭；此外，在日本化政策下，部分族人像花崗一郎、花崗二郎開始學習日本文化，並取了日本名，成為日本警察，更在日本當局的安排下，迎娶同為日化的族裡女子川野花子（羅美玲 飾）、高山初子（徐若瑄飾）。
The posters from the film.
These are the character posters that have been released thus far.
Promotional art for the film.
Set stills from the film.
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