After a long wait Formosa Betrayed (被出賣的台灣) has come to Taiwan. I saw the film at the Taichung premiere on Monday night. The premiere was well attended and producer Will Tiao was there to to introduce the film. Tiao said it was the first ever Hollywood film about Taiwan’s White Terror period. He also said that as the film was produced in the USA and Thailand some details are not accurate, but the important point was to tell this story about Taiwan to the world.
The film is described as “inspired by actual events”. The murder of a Taiwanese American professor at the beginning of the movie is an obvious reference to the murder of Taiwanese writer Henry Liu in California in 1984. The Kaohsiung Incident, the Lin Yi-hsiung family murders, spies on US university campuses and the 228 Massacre are also alluded to in the film in varying degrees of detail.
Audiences in Taiwan will already be familiar with much of the historical background to the events portrayed in the film. Those with background knowledge of Taiwan’s history might find some of the details are not accurate or don’t concord with the chronology of the White Terror period and the early 1980s the film is set in. However, the focus should really be on the story of how an American FBI agent discovers the truth about the true nature of the ROC regime on Taiwan. It is this process of discovery by FBI agent Jake Kelly that forms the central part of the story.
Agent Kelly, played by James Van Der Beek, is working on the investigation of the murder of Professor Wen, a Taiwanese American professor who was shot on a US university campus. When the two suspects flee the country he is then sent to Taiwan to observe the investigation. In Taiwan Kelly gradually finds that the authorities in Taiwan are not merely not cooperating, there is something much more serious going on.
The plot is very well structured and builds to a strong climax. The pacing is perhaps a little slow for those used to Hollywood action fare, but it allows time for events to unfold and for the audience to reflect on the new discoveries that Agent Kelly makes. The government officials who seek to “entertain” Agent Kelly serve as the face of the regime that successfully fools most outsiders. Susan Kane, the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT ) liason officer played by Wendy Crewson, represents the complicity of the US in supporting the authoritarian regime on Taiwan. The presence of a Taiwanese general who is sympathetic to the democracy movement shows the film wants to suggest that people working both inside and outside the government contributed to Taiwan’s democratic transformation. The other main Taiwanese characters represent the pro-democracy movement. When the activist Ming, played by Will Tiao, says, “The Chinese say we are their brothers. But if we are brothers why do they treat us like this?” this really sums up the pro-Taiwan sentiments that run through the film.
Although there have been a number of Taiwanese films about the White Terror period none of them have looked at the events as directly as Formosa Betrayed. The release of the film in Taiwan is sure to promote much discussion. It should also appeal to young people, who were just babies or not even born at the time the events portrayed in the film took place. It should encourage them to ask more questions and try to understand the past. Formosa Betrayed succeeds in bringing the story of Taiwan’s recent history to a wider audience.
*Formosa Betrayed is screening at cinemas in Taipei, Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung starting on Friday 6 August. Check Yahoo Movies or newspapers for exact details.
**Purchase Formosa Betrayed on DVD from Amazon.com (affiliate link).
- Formosa Betrayed – official website
- Formosa Betrayed – Internet Movie Database
- Formosa Betrayed – trailer at YouTube
- Producer brings Taiwan’s history to the big screen – Taipei Times interview with Will Tiao
- The Gospel According to Will: Formosa Betrayed – Michael Turton’s review
- Telling the story – The Far-Eastern Sweet Potato’s review
- Formosa Betrayed coming to theaters in Taiwan – The Peking Duck’s review