Reviewed Apr 30, 2012
This review reportedly contains spoilers.
I can handle the truth.
Evan Nicoll said:
I saw "Warriors of the Rainbow" (Seediq Bale) today, a Taiwanese movie about an uprising of aboriginal Taiwanese against the Japanese colonists in 1930. It's an interesting movie, especially after films like Avatar on the one hand (glorifying any kind of revolt against an occupying power in very black and white terms), and Ip Man on the other (movies that use the Japanese occupation of China as a staging ground for ultra-nationalist pagentry), mainly because of how incredibly and relentlessly violent it is. The "incident" did not end well, and the main concept of the film is that the tribes go into battle knowing full well that the subsequent response by the Japanese military is likely to wipe all of them out.
So in essence it is a movie that glorifies death in resistance over successful cohabitation or assimilation, and the resistance is expressed in the terms of the culture and worldview of the Seediq people. What I mean by that is, in the beginning of movie there is a lot of inter-tribal conflict that is very violent and territorial--refreshing in relation to the "we were once a peaceful people..." meme that thoroughly pervades most media in this genre. So even to the end the movie balances how these conflicts between various Taiwanese tribes continued to affect things even after they had a supposedly common enemy in the Japanese, unlike the glorious 'unification of the tribes' that I was expecting. On the other hand, there are many characters in the movie who have at least partially 'assimilated' to Japanese culture, and others who form reluctant alliances with the Japanese in order to give themselves an advantage over enemy tribes.
But the US version is still kind of a bad movie, and here's why: Like Red Cliff, this movie was originally split into two full-length feature films, and for the 'international' verison they combined the whole thing into one 2.5 hour movie (John Woo, the director of Red Cliff, also served as a producer of this movie). I'm not sure exactly what was cut out, but what really bothers me is what was left in. The movie is almost non-stop 'action,' which really is brilliantly shot and executed. The problem is this is a very morally ambiguous action movie, and while you might be thrilled to see the tribe get their glorious revenge on the nasty Japanese early, pretty soon you realize that not only are they dooming their entire community, they're also relentlessly executing even unarmed Japanese civilians and the film also implies they kill plenty of women and children too. I imagine this was the case in the actual Wushe uprising, too.
Apparently the original Taiwanese version contained many more scenes of this kind of brutality, and for that reason wasn't as big of a hit as it probably could have been. I admire the director for including them originally. But in the US version the whole thing is glossed over. It seems like the only scenes that weren't tampered with were the battle sequences. I just find this kind of insulting, as though the international version was trying to pass itself off as a straight-up action movie where clearly there is a lot more going on under the surface. Scene after scene of righteous beheading and sneaky ambush just makes you nauseous after awhile. It's not that the violence was out of place, I just felt insulted that it seemed like the film was expecting me to only be able to enjoy it as pure spectacle. I'd try to track down the extended version at some point, because I'm curious about what other characterization they could add to flesh the film out, but honestly it is such a violent movie I'm not in a huge hurry to experience it again.
But yeah, I guess if you're interested in watching 2.5 hours of Japanese people getting their heads sliced off, you might enjoy it.