Taiwanese films have been causing an increasing stir both at home and abroad, none more so than historical blockbuster “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale”, which tells the true story of a 1930s aboriginal revolt against the Japanese invaders. The film is certainly the very definition of epic, being the most expensive Taiwanese production to date, split into 2 parts, boasting a combined running time of a staggering four and a half hours – trimmed down to a still length 153 minutes for the international cut. Directed by Wei Te Sheng, who also helmed local mega hit “Cape No.7”, the massively popular film was produced by none other than Hong Kong action legend John Woo, and features a pan-Asian cast of big name stars and first time performers, including Lin Ching Tai (“10+10”) in the lead, Ando Masanobu (“The Butcher, The Chef & The Swordsman”) from Japan, Tanaka Chie “(Cape No.7”), Vivian Hsu (Hot Summer Days) and many other famous faces.
The film kicks off following the lives of the Seediq people, then charting how they are subjugated and oppressed by the Japanese, who effectively enslave them, robbing them of their traditions and forcing them to cut down the forests they once hunted in. Eventually, they are pushed too far, and the various warring tribes put aside their ancestral feuds and join forces to rise up, leading to the Wushe Incident of 1930. The second part of the film continues with Chief Mona Rudao (Lin Ching Tai) leading the rebellion, carrying out a brutal campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Japanese, striking suddenly from the forests and mountains. The Japanese respond with all the might of their modern weaponry, out matching and out numbering the Seediq, who nevertheless refuse to give up, even in the face of what looks increasingly like certain doom.
“Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale” has been referred to by some as the Taiwanese “Braveheart”, and the comparison is actually pretty fitting, Wei Te Sheng’s film showing the same kind of rousing nationalist spirit and mixture of tragedy and grand, large scale action set pieces. Obviously, the film’s length is a major talking point, though it just about manages to justify the considerable four and a half hour running time, especially if viewed in separate sessions. Of the two, the first part is the one which could perhaps have used a little trimming, with the opening hour or so basically just following the Seediq people before the Japanese invade. However, this is still interesting enough, and does help to establish rivalries and relationships which become important later on when the tribes unite. This is markedly missing from the international cut, and though this shorter edit is faster moving, it lacks the same depth and emotional punch of the original – even for casual viewers, the full version is definitely the one to go for.
The story itself is a powerful one, and Wei does a good job of managing to balance a huge cast of characters and a long list of subplots, taking his time with pulling the audience into the plot. Although the film is predictable and has rather an inflated sense of its own importance, it still hits the right notes, and succeeds in sustaining drama through to the inevitable end. Thankfully, Wei never pushes the sympathy vote too far, and though the film gets melodramatic in places, it is in general surprisingly balanced, even in its portrayal of the Japanese. Chief Mona and his men are never depicted as saintly heroes, the film even going so far as to make them at times rather cruel and unlikeable, and this helps immensely, making its drama all the more believable.
Every dollar of the film’s huge budget is clearly up on screen, and it’s hugely pleasing to see the obvious amount of effort which went into the production, which looks gorgeous and convincing throughout. Best of all is the fact that the film never relies too much on CGI, with whole villages and other sets having been built and destroyed in gloriously bombastic fire and explosions. After the first half of part one there’s a great deal of action, part two basically being made up of a run of ambushes and battles, leading up to the massive final epic clash. All of this is handled very well by Wei, and the film is exciting and thrilling, its frequent carnage helping to keep things moving along at a decent pace. The film is also impressively violent and bloody, with a huge number of decapitations, scalpings and dismemberments, and this adds a definite visceral edge as well as underlining the viciousness of the conflict.
“Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale” is an amazing accomplishment and a stunning piece of cinema, and Wei Te Sheng deserves nothing but praise for his ambition and vision. It’s also a very entertaining film, and though the lengthy running time may put off some, it really does deserve to be seen, offering a stirring, yet grounded portrait of stoic bravery in the face of insurmountable adversity.
Te-Sheng Wei (director) / Te-Sheng Wei (screenplay)
CAST: Masanobu Andô … Genji Kojima
Umin Boya … Temu Walis
Chi-Wei Cheng … Jin – Dun Wu
Lin Ching-Tai … Mona Rudao
Jun’ichi Haruta … Egawa Hiromichi