On Sunday afternoon on Nov. 5, I went to see the new documentary Beyond Beauty — Taiwan From Above (看見台灣) with my family. When we emerged from the movie theater, I was left with an intense mixture of emotions. I found the documentary very moving — it had an element of pathos, but also a sense of purpose.
The movie makes an emotional impact right from the beginning, when the viewer hears the first line of Wu Nien-jen’s (吳念真) narrative: “If you have never seen this before, it’s just because you were never tall enough,” as an impressive view of the Central Mountain Range rolls across the screen, accompanied by powerful music played by the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
It was quite an opening. This, then, is Taiwan, our beautiful island, our Ilha Formosa. Thanks to the work of Taiwanese director Chi Po-lin (齊柏林), who flew over these vistas to capture them on film, everyone is now tall enough to witness the beauty, but also the pathos, of Taiwan.
This aerial documentary employs three elements that make it so special: aerial imagery, Wu’s narration and a soundtrack that perfectly complements the visuals. As the camera soars and swoops high above the nation, the elegant beauty and the sheer majesty of Taiwan made my eyes well up with tears.
However, the viewer is then shown Mother Taiwan, the land that has suckled Taiwanese and kept them alive, slowly but surely being bled dry as we Taiwanese — transient guests with our technology and insatiable desires — run amok and destroy it.
The aerial images show gouged out highlands, leveled ranges, coastlines clogged with concrete wave breakers and gaping wounds left in the flesh of Mother Taiwan along the east coast by concrete companies that sell a significant amount of their products overseas, all of which causes her boundless suffering as her cries go unheard.
How can one not feel the poignancy of these images when thinking about their children and grandchildren, and what will be left for them? How can one not feel despondent upon hearing Wu’s voice half-singing, half-saying: “We have taken so much and yet given so little.”
However, the documentary then concludes with the camera swooping over a group of Aboriginal children standing on the peak of Yushan (玉山), singing a song about Taiwan, about the perseverance of life.
As the vigorous orchestral music plays and settlements nestled in the mountain far below a vast sea of clouds swept across the screen, I was filled with complex, yet reassuring, emotions and told myself that I had now properly seen Taiwan, in all its beauty and pathos.
I was at the same time filled with hope that everyone who dearly loves this nation can see it as it is and dedicate themselves to striving to preserve and cherish Mother Taiwan.
Tsai Yung-wen is the dean of the College of Performing Arts at National Taiwan University of Arts.
Translated by Paul Cooper