Fri, Jan 23, 2015 - Page 12 News List

FILM REVIEW: Kara-Orchestra

Part of an ambitious project set out five years ago, the film brings attention to questions concerning indigenous culture and Taiwanese identity

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

Led by Leon Dai and Youki, the cast of Kara-Orchestra features a troop of renowned indigenous musicians, including Kimbo Hu, Samingad, Hao-en and the Nanwang Sisters.

Photo courtesy of Activator Marketing Company

In 2010, a group of Puyuma Aboriginal musicians from Taitung’s Nanwang Tribe (南王部落) performed On the Road (很久沒有敬我了你) at Taipei’s National Concert Hall (國家音樂廳). Unusual for a musical performed at Taiwan’s top venue for classical music, it blended tribal sounds and dance with contemporary music and a Western orchestra.

But the ambitious project, a collaboration among record label Taiwan Colors Music (TCM, 角頭音樂), the National Symphony Orchestra (NSO, 國家交響樂團) and National Theater & Concert Hall (NTCH, 國家兩廳院), didn’t end when the curtain dropped. Kara-Orchestra (很久沒有敬我了妳), a cinematic complement to the musical, opens in theaters nationwide today.

Directed by Wu Mi-sen (吳米森) and produced by TCM President Zhang 43 (張四 十 三), the film examines topics — why and how Aboriginal music is altered or made palatable for a more sophisticated audience, what it means to be Taiwanese — that its theatrical counterpart only hinted at.

Incidentally, The Making of On The Road (很久), a 2011 documentary by Amis director Lungnan Isak Fangas, raised many of the issues addressed in Kara-Orchestra. That film featured interviews with artists and musicians who participated in the musical, including Hu, Hao-en, Pau-dull (陳建年) and music producer Cheng Chieh-jen (鄭捷任), and takes a deeper look into the question concerning indigenous music and its admission to the Han-Chinese centric system.

CONVENTIONAL STRUCTURE

Those familiar with Wu’s poetic and cinematic vocabulary, so eloquently shown in Fluffy Rhapsody (起毛球了, 2000) and Amour-Legende (松鼠自殺事件, 2006), will be surprised at the conventional three-act structure of this new offering. A young female musician, Feng Huo-yun (Youki, 侑紀), is appointed by NTCH director Chang San-lang (Tsai Chen-nan, 蔡振南) as the NSO’s new conductor. Conflicts erupt between Feng and principal violinist Tung jen-to (Leon Dai, 戴立忍) because Tung doubts the young conductor’s ability to lead the orchestra.

Kara-Orchestra (很久沒有敬我了妳)

Directed by: Wu Mi-sen (吳米森)

Starring: Leon Dai (戴立忍) as Tung jen-to, Youki (侑紀) as Feng Huo-yun, Tsai Chen-nan (蔡振南) as Chang San-lang, Yangui Yasiungu (安歆澐) as Shaya

Language: In Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles

Running time: 120 minutes

Taiwan release: Today


THE PRANK

During a rehearsal, an Aboriginal woman appears in the audience. She sings for a brief moment, and then disappears. It later turns out to be a joke by Tung and his friends, played by the legendary Kimbo Hu (胡德夫), Samingad (紀曉君) and Yangui Yasiungu (安歆澐), meant to show that Aboriginal music is as good as any show.

Tung’s mischievous prank, however, inspires Chang. Feng and Dai are then sent to the Aboriginal village to collaborate on a work. The two meet villagers and musicians such as Hao-en (昊恩) and the Nanwang Sisters (南王姐妹花). Feeling excluded at first, Feng gradually earns her place and reconciles with Tung.

Back in Taipei, Chang loses his job to a wealthy Chinese businessman, amusingly played by exiled Chinese dissident Wang Dan (王丹). It’s promptly replaced with a Chinese music production.

The makeshift group of musicians, however, are determined to retake the stage.

SOCIAL ISSUES

While promising, the film lacks structure and dramatic nuance. The initial antagonism and later reconciliation between the two leads are less narratively cogent. Japanese-Taiwanese actress Youki might be good for a role that metaphorically reflects Taiwan’s past and present, but there is little intensity in her portrayal of an over-achieving young woman searching for her roots.

The film succeeds when it adopts humor to tackle serious issues. The question of whether tribal music and dance should be performed in a national theater is playfully touched on in a sequence where tribal villagers, who have no understanding of musical notation, happily use a karaoke machine to practice.

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