Wed, Dec 15, 2004 - Page 13 News List

Taiwan International 4th Documentary Festival: When 'Cut' means start rolling the film

Chen Chieh-jen's video art piece of an execution by dismemberment shows much more than one man's death

By Max Woodworth  /  STAFF REPORTER


Chen Chieh-jen (陳界仁) is usually labeled a video artist, so the inclusion of his piece Lingchi -- Echoes of a Historical Photograph in the Taiwan International Documentary Festival points to a broadening of the definition of documentary to a more conceptual state.

The piece, which screens tonight, was chosen to take part in the festival's "Death, Be Not Proud" section and is likely to stir controversy and emotions, much as it does when displayed in museums.

Over the past decade, Chen has emerged as one of Taiwan's leading artists, with an approach that is as disturbing as it is thought-provoking. Using computer-manipulated montages, he creates what appear to be historical photographs and videos of instances of obscene brutality that comment on recent history. Filling his images are dismembered bodies and laughing, disfigured humans against backgrounds of post-apocalyptic desolation.

As a video of the gory form of Qing-dynasty execution called the 10,000 cuts, Lingchi epitomizes these violent visual themes. Based on a single photograph taken by a French military officer in China at the beginning of the 1900s, the video is a silent, slow-motion, black-and-white movie of a man being slowly dismembered. Though the cuts are staged and stylized, they leave little to the imagination and make for some upsetting viewing.

Interjecting the execution scenes are shots of other locations of famous historical atrocities, such as Beijing's Summer Palace, where rampaging Western troops destroyed one of China's most ornate structures in 1900. And Green Island, where petty criminals and political dissidents were sent by the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) to languish or be executed during Taiwan's long period of martial law that ended in 1987.

FILM NOTE: Lingchi -- Echoes of a Historical Photograph

Running time: 24 minutes

Screening times and location:

Tonight, 6:10pm, Spot - Taipei Film House

The images link instances of human brutality through the ages to show that the potential for inhumane behavior remains a historical constant. It suggests that there is something within us as humans that leads us to brutality against each other.

The images also display the abuse of the subjugated at the hands of ruling entities, whether they be individuals, states or any other hegemonic power. This turns the film into a critique of familiar power struggles -- rich and poor, West and East, First World and Third World, etc.

To add an extra layer to the piece's themes of abuse, Chen chose as actors former employees of the American electronics company RCA, which once operated a television-manufacturing plant in Taiwan that was later proven to have sub-standard health conditions. Many of the former employees contracted cancer.

The issue of compensation from RCA has lingered as a controversy ever since, while the factory has come to symbolize in Taiwan the predatorial manner of global capitalism. The RCA case is further complicated by the implicit political and racial element of the American company's abuse of cheap labor.

These various tensions are brought into stark focus in the filming of the execution, as the powerful take apparent pleasure in the slow killing of a helpless man.

Film festival notes:

What: The 4th Taiwan International

Documentary Festival.

When: Until Friday.

Where: Showtime Cinema (欣欣晶華影城),

247 Linsen N Rd, Taipei (台北市林森北路247號).

Spot-Taipei Film House (光點台北),

18 Zhongshan N Rd, Sec 2, Taipei


Shih-ming Hall of Taiwan Cement

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