Top director creates Taiwan’s answer to ‘Zulu Dawn’

2012-07-30 00:00

TAIWAN’S Wei Te-Sheng may be the hottest director in Taiwan today, but his low-key presence ensured very few people noticed him at the Durban International Film Festival at the weekend where he showcased his epic film, which he likens to Zulu Dawn.

Like Zulu Dawn, which reconstructed the famous Battle of Isandlwana between British forces and Zulus in 1879 in South Africa, Te-Sheng’s Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale tells the story of a 1930 native Taiwanese rebellion against Japanese colonial rule in which the Seediq mountain tribes were almost wiped out.

The movie is produced by one of Taiwan’s most successful exports, John Woo, whose Hollywood blockbusters include Face/Off (starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage), Mission: Impossible II (Tom Cruise), Hard Target (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and Broken Arrow (Travolta and Christian Slater).

Te-Sheng said the common view is that the “Wushe Incident” in 1930 was a native Taiwanese rebellion against oppressive Japanese colonial rule. “That’s true as far as it goes, but the rebellion had a very specific root: the Japanese ban on indigenous cultural practices. The Seediq tribes were outraged when foreigners trampled on their ancestral lands.”

Alexander Chou, information officer with the Taipei liason office in SA, draws parallels between Te-Sheng’s movie and Zulu Dawn, saying both tribes were fighting for dignity and the right to be, using rudimentary weapons against sophisticated ­arsenals of their oppressors.

“It is for this reason that we decided to bring this film to Durban. It will resonate among the Zulus as they will see their own battles in it,” said Chou.

Te-Sheng said it was not the “Wushe Incident” rebellion itself that was heroic, but rather the fact that it was an uprising in defence of a principle. To the Seediq rebels, the most beautiful thing in the world was to die defending their beliefs, and the same applied to Zulu warriors.

Chou said the highest aspiration of all Seediq boys was to become a “Seediq Bale” (Seediq warrior or hero) — an adult member of the tribe worthy of his ancestors.

“My intention has been to re-examine the ‘Wushe Incident’ in this light, through the prism of Seediq beliefs.

“At the same time, I’m trying to effect some kind of reconciliation between the two opposing sides — and to address larger questions of human dignity and self-fulfilment,” said Te-Sheng.

Te-Sheng has picked up top prizes at the Golden Horse Awards, Hawaii Film Festival and the Asian Marine Film Festival.

Another torchbearer for Taiwan is Ang Lee, who was the first person of Asian descent to win an Oscar for best director with Brokeback Mountain in 2005. Lee’s Hollywood films include Hulk, Sense and Sensibility and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Will Te-Sheng be moving to Hollywood soon? He said he just wants to tell good stories.

“The reason I wanted to make this film is simple: it’s a great story,” said Te-Sheng.

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