“Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale” was surrounded by buzz at this year’s Venice Film Festival, not to talk about the outstanding success in Taiwan. Made by an acclaimed Taiwanese director, Wei Te-sheng, with John Woo, a Hollywood force, as producer, the film has already broken records. At a cost of $25m, it is the most expensive Taiwanese film ever made. The opening-day takings of NT$23m ($790,000), for the first of what will be two instalments, were the highest ever for a Taiwanese film. More box-office records are bound to follow.
The director Te-Sheng Wei applies himself to a meticulous re-creation of the circumstances surrounding a little-known 1930 Wushe Incident. Mouna Rudo, the leader of the Taiwanese aboriginal people Seediq, launched a mighty attack with his followers on their Japanese oppressors, who responded with equally deadly force. Japan’s occupation began in 1895 and extended 50 years until Japan’s defeat in World War II. Seediq were forbidden to tattoo their faces. And these tattoos were seen as the Seediq’s traditional belief to transform themselves into Seediq Bale (“true humans”).
It is the first mainstream Taiwanese film to focus on Taiwan’s aboriginals. Numbering about 500,000 out of a population of 23m, Taiwan’s aborigines are descendants of Austronesians who first came to the island as long as 12,000 years ago. Han Chinese immigration started in earnest in the 17th century, beginning the long marginalisation of indigenous.
No Chinese is spoken in the film. Most of the film’s dialogue is in the Seediq dialect, which Mr. Wei had to have painstakingly translated from his script, which he wrote in Chinese. The actors, nearly all of whom didn’t have knowledge of the dialect, had to be coached in the language.
Both Taiwan’s president, Ma Ying-jeou, and Tsai Ing-wen, his challenger in next year’s election, buried their hatchet and enjoyed the film together. Seediq people believed in the Rainbow and the Japanese in the Sun, but the sky remains the same for everyone.