The film begins with a fantastic action set-piece in the middle of an ancient forest, between two warring tribes. There are arrows, guns, people falling off the cliff, jumping underwater, decapitations – all very gory and visceral. And a lot of dead people. So much so that you wonder if anyone from the tribe would be left to propel the narrative further. This scene, how it is composed and presented, sure to gladden the heart of every action-film aficionado.
‘Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale’ (2011) has several such sequences, shot with a carnivalesque zest, including the climatic battle between the tribe and the imperial Japanese army, set in the tune of a haunting folk ballad. There’s just one word for it. Mesmerising.
But, the Taiwanese film, an overlong and overambitious epic, released in two parts originally, which was the Number 1 film in the country last year, is much more than a action picture. It’s a reinvention of the nationalistic pride. It tells the story of the time of Japanese invasion of China (last year, we saw at least two Chinese films on the subject: The very grim and very effective ‘The City of Life and Death’ and polarised and Hollywoodised Christian Bale starrer ‘The Flowers of War’), and how it came about occupying Taiwan, till then a virgin territory.
Following the invasion of China, the Japanese set their eyes on the untapped resources of Taiwan, the timbre and the minerals. As the royal Japanese army invades the land, the local tribes rise to the occasion. There are skirmishes, there are battles. At first, the Japanese are at disadvantage. But, they have more resources and soon, the tribal warriors are overpowered.
In India, we know the story, how the colonialists arrived, fought with us, and then made us work for them as they took the resources to their own country.
One such tribe, who now works for the Japanese is the Seediq, led by their legendary chieftain Muana Rudo. He’s fierce, proud and doesn’t want to be ruled by the outsiders.
The Seediqs have their code of honour and it is related to war and bloodshed. They must smear their hands with enemy’s blood before they could cross the rainbow bridge to the other world. And, before the film ends, Muana Rudo and his tribe get plenty of opportunities to shed their enemy’s blood.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale’, was director Wei Te-sheng (‘Cape No. 7’), and was produced by iconic action director John Woo, along with Terence Chang & Jimmy Huang, and stars Lin Ching-Tai, Umin Boya, Ando Masanobu, Kawahara Sabu, Vivian Su and Da Ching.
The film reclaims an extraordinary episode from 20th-century history, which is little known, even in Taiwan. Between 1895 and 1945, the island was a Japanese colony inhabited not only by the majority Han Chinese Immigrants, but also by the remnants of the aboriginal tribes who first settled the mountainous land. In 1930 Mouna Rudo, the leader of the Seediq tribe settled on and around Mount Chilai, forged a coalition with other Seediq tribal leaders and plotted a rebellion against their Japanese colonial masters.