‘Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale’ proves you can’t buy success

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Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale

Written and Directed by Wei Te-Sheng

Taiwan, 2011

Billed as the most expensive film in the history of Taiwanese cinema, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale had a lot of things going for it. It had the budget, a cast of fifteen thousand people, and was Executive Produced by the legendary John Woo. With ambitions to become the Asian equivalent of The Lord of the Rings, the film eventually peters and becomes nothing more than a lackluster rendition of the already lackluster 300.

The film takes place in the early 20th century, documenting the 50-year long Japanese occupation of Taiwan and its indigenous people. After enduring decades of indignities and maltreatment, a coalition of 300 from various Seediq tribes, led by the illustrious Mouna Rudo (Lin Ching-Tai), stage a fierce rebellion to take back their land and way of life.

Nothing like 300, right?

Like all other films yearning to be an epic, Warrior tries its damndest to provide the audience with an experience of unparalleled scope and grandeur. But rather than having sprawling, majestic cinematography, it relies on artificial devices instead. Computer generated images, to be specific.

But because the CGI is done so poorly, and is so apparently fake, it distracts from the power of the film. It’s hard to feel moved by someone singing a heartfelt tribal song when they are performing in front of an obviously computer generated waterfall. And when the film showcases one of its innumerable decapitations, we feel desensitized – partly because they are patently unrealistic, but mostly because they are innumerable.

It’s frustrating to watch such poor computer effects, especially when the film purports to boast the country’s largest filming budget. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to actually film on location? It may be more expensive, but the costs could be offset by reducing the fifteen thousand-person cast (which the film never fully exploits).

Another way the film tries to create an epic is to tell a series of different, but intertwining stories. However, this device fails because there are too many characters. Not only that, all of them are stock, most of them are interchangeable, and none of them are particularly interesting.

When they film moves from one story to the next, it’s hard to track the progress because no one stands apart from the next. Instead, it feels like a bunch of stories happening all at once, and to everyone. Between the opening and ending battle sequences, the film’s attempt at character exposition turns into an interminable lull that lasts for over an hour (the film itself is 150 minutes).

Even Mouna Rudo, the most prominent member of the cast, isn’t very captivating. His demeanor never elevates to more than a growl, and his personal history is literally told to us by other characters. He is supposed to be the prolific leader of the cause, but we are never given any indication to why he is really that special.

As if anticipating this, the film tries to make up for the lack of sympathy in the protagonist by making the antagonist irredeemable. The result, however, is a muddled, uneven tone.

In the beginning, the Japanese treat the Seediq like savages. In turn, they capitulate. Although a bit melodramatic, the film does succeed in making us feel for the natives. Initially, at least, because the film comes to a point where the roles reverse. Not only do they become sanctimonious and preachy, the Seediq people seemingly affirm the savage nature presumed by the Japanese by going on a tirade of decapitations and depravity.

Because we don’t cheer for either side, the conflict between the Japanese and the Seediq tribes feels meaningless. For such a big budget, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale lacks a sense of emotional investment.

– Justin Li

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