Fri, Dec 11, 2015 - Page 12 News List

Movie review: The Rocking Sky

The documentary offers personal insights into the Second Sino-Japanese war through the stories of China’s first generation of air force pilots

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

The Rocking Sky relies on animation to visualize the past.

Photo courtesy of CNEX Studio Corporation

Several documentaries made over the past year have examined the legacy of World War II. Song of the Reed (蘆葦之歌), for example, chronicles women who were forced into sexual slavery during the war, while Wansei Back Home (灣生回家) sheds light on the lives of Japanese citizens born in Taiwan during the colonial period from 1895 to 1945.

At first glance, The Rocking Sky appears to be just another version of the first generation of Chinese air force pilots who were trained to fight against imperial Japan’ superior forces.

On closer look, however, director Chang Chao-wei (張釗維) and his crew offer rare insight into the past through interviews with 40 surviving pilots and their relatives in Taiwan, China and Hong Kong. Personal narratives are brought to the forefront through letters, poems, photographs and interviews.

The filmmakers emphasize the role of women, revealing the cruelty of war through the eyes of female writers and academics who lived through the period.

While the choice of female writers gives the film a pronounced literary tone, actor Chin Shih-chieh (金士傑) brings further nuance to the film’s emotional core as the off-screen narrator.

The Rocking Sky begins in 1932, just after the Republic of China founded the Central Aviation School in Jianqiao, Hangzhou, in anticipation of an all-out war with Japan. Upon entering the academy, one would see the school’s motto, which reads: “Our bodies, planes and bombs shall perish along with the enemies’ troops, vessels and fortifications.”

“No other aviation school in the world would have a motto like this,” the off-screen narrator says.

During the Second Sino-Japanese war, 1,700 Chinese pilots took to the skies, and among them, every six out of 10 gave their lives during the early phase of the war.

Film Notes

The Rocking Sky

Directed by: Chang Chao-wei (張釗維)

Starring: Julie Kao (高友良) as herself, Liang Zai-bing (梁再冰) as herself, Tu Kai-mu (都凱牧) as himself, Li Chi-hsien (李繼賢) as himself

Language:In Mandarin with English and Chinese subtitles

Running time: 98 minutes

Taiwan release: Today

The film delves into the lives of celebrated pilots and their heroic deeds.

Through the memoir by Chi Pang-yuan (齊邦媛), a prominent Taiwanese author, the struggle of pilot Chang Ta-fei (張大飛) as he faced death on a daily basis quietly emerges. A close friend of Chi’s family, Chang once mentioned to the then young writer that he could never forget the expression of panic on the face of a Japanese pilot he shot down.

After a good friend went on a mission and never returned, Chang wrote to Chi, and said that he knew he would be next.

“I pray and meditate. I feel peace in my heart,” he said.

The pilot was killed during a mission at the age of 26.

By the end of the war, over 4,000 Chinese pilots had perished. Asking what this figure actually means, the film cites a poem by academic Lin Hui-yin (林徽因), who had become a mother figure to eight young pilots, all killed during the war.

Lin’s poem, spoken with real feeling by film director and actress Sylvia Chang (張艾嘉), ends with the following lament:

“You are still just a child but there is nothing that you haven’t given. Millions of people have already forgotten. For whom you have died for?”

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