Sunday, May 20, 2012

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

I was half-tempted to do a "indigenous people versus their conquerors" double feature, both in terms of what I saw and what I reviewed with Crooked Arrows, which also opened at Boston Common on Friday, but I'm kind of guessing that weighing the decapitations in Taiwan against the playing of lacrosse in America might seem a bit unbalanced. Maybe I'll take that one in later.

Very light crowd - the kid and his mother who were there when I arrived seemed to not expect anyone else, as he said "see, there's another" when I sat down. I noticed that AMC was using the "First Look Play!" pre-show generally used for family-friendly movies, as they always tend to do for Chinese movies, and, well, I hope this family had some idea what they were in for, as the Seediq people of Taiwan seemed to have very different ideas of what rainbows represent than most Americans do, more "warrior culture's bridge to Valhalla" than "beautiful sign of peace and friendship after a storm". The movie gets to the violence right away and then doesn't stop until the end, but so far as I can tell, this pre-teen stuck around.

I didn't find out until after I opened up the IMDB page to review it that the original movie was a two-parter, but I suppose that might explain a lot of the issues I had with it - what seems like an all-over-the-place script might just be the inevitable result of American editors trying to get it down to a length which theaters will play that includes most of the action and is still somewhat comprehensible. I'm curious to see how Well Go winds up releasing it on video; Magnolia took a similar tack with John Woo's Red Cliff, releasing a cut version in theaters but making the full version available on DVD/BD, although it and the US cut were separate releases. I saw the short one and bought the long there, though I haven't yet had time to watch the full version.

I don't know if I'll make any attempt to see the original cut, even if I can see a worthy epic there. To be perfectly frank, (SPOILERS!) the mass suicides toward the end of this one really soured me on the whole experience. As much as it's easy to equate the Seediq with the American Indians and Australian Aborigines whose histories parallel them in many ways and whom a lifetime of movie-watching has conditioned me to find especially noble and spiritual, there's an ugly streak of racism running through this movie's Seediq that is a match for the Japanese conquerors and which overpowers the valid messages about living in harmony with nature.

I hate finding myself agreeing with the villains who call these guys savages, but this cut, at least, presents a culture whose road to heaven seems to require murder and where the women all kill themselves and their children to not be a burden on the men who have launched a suicidal attack. One, who had assimilated into the Japanese, wails to her father about why they have to collect heads, but there's no follow-up. Oh, and this is after she somehow survives when the group of unarmed Japanese women she's in is slaughtered. It's tough for me to see the nobility there, (!SRELIOPS), and I don't know if an extended cut will make it better or worse.

Sàidékè balái (Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale) (US cut)

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 19 May 2012 in AMC Boston Common #12 (first-run, Sony Digital 4K)

No matter the cultures involved, movies like Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale follow a certain tragic pattern: Conquest, valiant rebellion, inevitable clampdown. Here, the invaders are the Japanese, the natives are Taiwan's Seediq people, and the way they fight back involves a lot of decapitations. The mayhem is well-done, but at a certain point the bloodiness of the battle overshadows the rightness of the cause and the complexity of the situation.

In 1895, the Shimonoseki Treaty placed the island of Taiwan in Japanese hands, and just as young Mouna Rudo (De-Ching) is earning the tattoos that will mark him as a man, the Japanese penetrate to the Wushe are where Mouna's Mehebu clan makes their home. Some thirty years later, the older Mouna (Lin Ching-tai) is now the clan's chief, with an admirer in young Pawan Nawi (Lin Yuan-jie). The native people doing backbreaking labor for just enough money to pay for millet wine, although two members of the clan have taken Japanese names to work for the police - Dakis Nomin (Hsu Yi-fan) as Hanaoka Ichiro and Dakis Nawi (Soda Voyu) as Hanaoka Jiro. An incident with a non-native officer, Yoshimura Katsumi (Matsumoto Minoru), and Mouna's sons Tado & Baso, leads to Mouna contacting the other clans to launch a co-ordinated attack.

It may be unfair to judge the version of Seediq Bale playing in North American cinemas too harshly; like producer John Woo's own Red Cliff before it, what was released in Asia as a two-part epic has been cut nearly in half by its local distributor (IMDB lists a total runtime of 276 minutes in Taiwan; the US release runs roughly two and a half hours, with no word yet on how Well Go will release it on home video). It seems likely that very little in the way of action has been cut, so everything else likely takes an even harder hit. As a result, there are a bunch of characters who don't seem to do much (or seem redundant), storylines that seem to disappear for a long time, and sudden turns that maybe would have been foreshadowed earlier in the longer cut.

Full review at EFC.

1 comment:

Richi Rich said...

Hi Jason,

I've not seen this movie from Taiwan as it has not been shown in Singapore but heard quite a lot of good review of it. A movie buff myself, I will sure to catch it when it is released here.

I do have a movie blog myself, if you are keen, may want to check it out at and who knows, we might be able to connect more in the blogsphere community in the future for win-win situation.