Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale
Details: (MA15+), China, Republic of (Taiwan), English
Synopsis: Tells the true story of the Wushe Incident in which aboriginal Seediq tribe warrior Mouna Rudo led his people to rebel against the Japanese occupation. Rudo’s men of 300 fought with ancient gun, spears and minimal weaponry and seeking to reclaim their land, their dignity and their honor, they took on the Japanese army of 3000 for two weeks.
Bruising, brutal tale of rebellion in early 20th Century Taiwan suffers from overkill.
the violence becomes numbingly repetitive
Taiwanese writer/director Wei Te-Sheng’s action-drama vividly recounts the oppression of his country’s indigenous population and subsequent rebellion against their Japanese rulers in the early 20th century, a situation that’s comparable to the plight of Australia’s Aborigines and Native Americans.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale is a brutal, epic tale of suffering, courage, sacrifice, tribal rivalry and revenge, marked by some truly spectacular battle scenes and mystical elements.
However, the overall impact is diluted somewhat by the laboured running time of 150-plus minutes and the director’s heavy-handed touch in prolonging many sequences to the point where the violence becomes numbingly repetitive.
The narrative opens in 1895 when China ceded the island of Taiwan to Japan. The colonialists viewed the Aboriginal tribes such as the Seediq clans in a remote highlands region as savages and set out to “civilise” them.
The chief protagonist is Mouna Rudo (Da-Ching), a young Seediq warrior who’s renowned for his fearlessness and fighting prowess. After killing a rival tribesman, Mouna is initiated as a Seediq Bale (a “true man”) by having a tattoo engraved on his face. He takes part in the first uprising against a group of Japanese soldiers who are ambushed and crushed by falling rocks.
Fast forward 25 years and the tribes have been forced into slave labour, building schools, houses and stores, while they spend their meagre wages on getting drunk on cheap millet wine.
Mouna (now played by Lin Ching-Tai) is the chief of his Mehebu tribe, who tries to keep the peace with the Japanese and with rival clans. But beneath the surface he is seething, admitting, “I am a chief but all I can do is get drunk and pretend I see nothing and hear nothing. What else can I do?”
He saves the life of an abusive Japanese cop, who vows revenge. Mouna is reluctant to go to war against the Japanese, fearing they are too powerful. But he changes his mind after seeing an apparition of his father, who reminds him of their ancestors’ spirits and the virtues of sacrifice.
Mouna plans to attack on a day when many Japanese gather to watch sports events and seeks to enlist the support of other clans, some of whom refuse. He mobilises a force of 300 warriors who stage a massacre then retreat, thereafter relying on guerrilla warfare.
The resolution of the climactic battle in 1930 is never in doubt given the superiority of the Japanese army and their firepower. Deaths inflicted by machete, spear, gunfire, cannon and poison gas are expertly staged but through sheer repetition the brutality becomes oppressive; the beheadings are especially gruesome. Several scenes which portray mass or individual suicides by both men and women are chilling and profoundly moving.
Wei focuses on the action to the detriment of being able to flesh out his characters. Most of the Japanese cops and soldiers are one dimensional, depicted as cruel and racist, except for Kojima Genji (Ando Masanobu) who shows both sympathy for the oppressed and that he has a conscience.
Bowkeh Kowsang registers strongly as Dakis, a Seediq who is conflicted as he works for the Japanese as a cop. Among the numerous Aboriginal characters it’s sometimes hard to work out who’s who and how or whether they are related. The performances by Lin, Da-Ching and Lin Yuan-Jieas as a boy warrior who is mentored by the chief are impressive considering they are non-actors, but the female cast is underused.
The production values are admirable, reflecting the budget of $US23 million, which ranks as one of the most expensive Taiwanese films. Chin Ting-Chang’s widescreen photography moves nimbly through the lush, claustrophobic forests, imbuing the film with a grey, gloomy look, and the close-ups are graphic.
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