Cape No. 7 (海角七號), a small-budget, independent production that has become the biggest-grossing locally produced film in Taiwan’s cinematic history, would not have been so successful were it not for several factors, including its meticulous art design.
Chiu Ruo-lung (邱若龍), a cartoonist-turned-movie art designer, did a tremendous job on the hit in designing, drawing and verifying the historical accuracy of the characters in Cape No. 7, which tells two parallel stories that occurred in Taiwan and Japan over a span of 60 years.
Chiu is now working on his second feature in cooperation with Cape No. 7’s director, Wei Te-sheng (魏德勝), a more ambitious project titled Seediq Bale (賽德克巴萊). The film is an epic account of an uprising by the Seediq Aborigines against the Japanese and requires even greater efforts in verifying the accuracy of the characters, their backgrounds and historical accounts of the event.
Despite the success of Cape No. 7, which so far has taken first prize at the Asian Marine Film Festival in Japan and won the best narrative film award at the Louis Vuitton Hawaii International Film Festival 2008, Wei is still preoccupied with his long-term ambition to make Seediq Bale, a story that examines the Wushe Incident (霧社事件), in which the Japanese military brutally put down a Seediq uprising in 1930.
The story centers on the Seediq hero Mona Rudao, who led an attack in Nantou County that resulted in the deaths of more than 130 Japanese nationals and two Taiwanese. In response, the Japanese sent more than 2,000 troops into the mountains and used poison gas bombs dropped from aircraft to quell the revolt, which ultimately lasted 50 days.
In 2004 Wei, then 35, spent NT$2.5 million — his entire life savings — to make a five-minute short about the incident with the aim of raising NT$500 million in sponsorship. The short was made using a script written by Wei, which was inspired mainly by a documentary on the incident made by Chiu.
However, the fund-raising encountered difficulties. The projected budget was too big and none of the potential sponsors were optimistic about the movie’s success, given the anemic state of the domestic film industry at that time.
Now Wei and his team are in a far better position following the unexpectedly strong showing of Cape No. 7, which had reached a record high of NT$450 million in box office takings in eight weeks as of late last month — a harvest that is now providing them with a much easier footing from which to begin making Seediq Bale.
Cape No. 7’s success has attracted swarms of offerings of sponsorship.
Wei said recently that Seediq Bale will cost more than US$10 million to make, with international investment and publicity and a projected release date of mid next year.
At a recent press conference held in Taipei to announce this year’s Golden Horse Film Festival, Wei said making a great motion picture was not just about how much money you spend but also about solid teamwork, because “every part of the team must be put into full play.”
Chiu will be Wei’s art designer and history consultant on Seediq Bale.
Although neither of them are Aborigines, both Chiu and Wei are intrigued by Aboriginal stories.
Chiu, whose father was a noted political cartoonist in the 1960s, first came into contact with Aborigines and their culture at the age of 18 after graduating from high school.
That summer, on a lazy, sultry day, an aimless Chiu road his motorcycle to the Central Mountain Range, where he eventually found himself in Wushe, a mountain township that is home to the Seediq people.
Chiu returned there many times, staying in Wushe on and off for six years, during which he found himself a Seediq girlfriend — now his wife — was given the Seediq name Bawan by the tribe’s elders, and finished his Wushe Incident comic book, considered Taiwan’s first historical investigative manga.
The deeper he dug into the history of the Seediq, the more urgently Chiu felt the need to preserve their culture. This sense of urgency prompted him to take up a camera and recording equipment and begin documenting Seediq culture, language and oral history, which led to the creation in 1993 of a two-hour documentary on the Wushe Incident that attracted the attention of critics at various film festivals around the world.
“The Seediq’s fading culture was being further lost on a daily basis, with research possibilities being reduced even more every time another tribal elder died,” Chiu said.
Chiu said the film will also serve as a witness to the Seediq people’s social rules, core values and tribal beliefs.
“All the so-called historical truths consist of differing accounts recorded by differing people from differing angles, which does not necessarily make them right or wrong,” Chiu said. “[A]ll I’ll try to do in the making of Seediq Bale is to represent the Wushe Incident from the point of view of the Seediq people of the 1930s who lived through the events.”
“For me, a people’s culture exists not in tourism promotion brochures, nor in products displayed at tourist attractions. Instead, it sometimes exists in a dying tribesman’s closet, where a worn-out hand-woven cloak could better reflect the culture,” Chiu said. “People in Taiwan lack a common memory. It’s sad that we’ve grown up under the influence of Mickey Mouse or Doraemon but have only vague knowledge of the original residents of this land.”
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