Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale
“A fascinatingly brutal history lesson… visceral and powerful” – Mark Adams, SCREEN DAILY
“Stunning to look at… authentic… spectacular” – Deborah Young, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER
Deep in the lush forest of Taiwan’s mountainous heartland, tribal braves clash over hunting grounds. The victors, led by the stern and arrogant Mona Rudao, take the head of one of their vanquished foes as a trophy — for such is the longstanding tradition of the Seediq people. It is by beheading an enemy that a young man earns the facial tattoos that mark him as a Seediq Bale, a “real Seediq”.
A far greater challenge to Rudao’s people is brewing elsewhere, however. The 1895 Treaty of Shimonoseki has been signed and the Han Chinese have surrendered Taiwan to the Imperial Japanese, who have an eye on the island’s natural resources. So begins an epic tale unfurling over decades, a saga of crushing colonialism and cultures in conflict, of oppression, adaptation, honour, betrayal and ultimately fearless yet doomed defiance, concluding with the infamous Wushe Incident of 1930.
Taiwan’s most expensive film production ever, the making of Wei Te-Sheng’s massive, John Woo-produced historical epic SEEDIQ BALE was itself a struggle of well over a decade. It at last reached Taiwanese screens last year, prompting home-turf comparisons to BRAVEHEART and LAST OF THE MOHICANS. It thrilled audiences with its rich visuals, its brutal, vivid violence and its streak of national pride, while at the same time challenging them with a fierce reminder of the fates of their own First Nations and the moral complexity of large-scale occupation and resistance, too easily reduced by others to a simple good-guy/bad-guy dichotomy. Across the various groups involved — the Seediq and other First Nations, the Japanese occupiers, the Chinese go-betweens — a diversity of personalities emerge and evolve, robustly portrayed by seasoned screen vets and non-professional indigenous actors alike. Wei takes great care with cultural and historical accuracy, but not at the cost of the rousing, ferocious display of guerilla combat as the Seediq battle for their land, their dignity — and at last, for their moment to cross the Rainbow Bridge, across which lies the paradise of their ancestors.
— Rupert Bottenberg