Inspired by the history of Greater Kaohsiung’s Chishan District (旗山), which was once the country’s largest producer and exporter of bananas, A Story about Banana tells the story of a poor farmer’s triumph over a greedy plutocrat. Though billed as an uplifting tale for the working masses during these tough economic times, the film never achieves any kind of social message due to its creators’ inability to tell a decent story.
Set in the 1960s, the film begins with A-tien (Huang Wen-hsing, 黃文星) and his friend A-da (Wang Hung-wen, 王泓文) returning to Chishan District after a failed attempt to make it in the big city. Like many of their fellow villagers, the pair find employment at a banana plantation owned by Uncle Wang (Chang Chia-nien, 張嘉年), who works with local big shot and banana dealer Chairman Chen (Wu Chung-chiang, 吳仲強).
Young, good-looking but callous, Chairman Chen soon hatches an evil plan to monopolize the lucrative banana business, trick local growers into signing unfair contracts and plot a political marriage with Uncle Wang’s daughter A-mei (Lee Kang-yi, 李康宜), who has no interest in diamonds and fancy clothes and is attracted to the kind-hearted, hard-working A-tien.
Determined to improve the life of his impoverished family and marry A-mei, A-tien starts his own banana business together with A-da. Their venture, however, draws opposition from Chairman Chen, but A-tien’s persistence eventually wins the villagers’ support, and good triumphs over evil.
Despite the film’s inspiring tag line, Nie Hua-hsun’s (聶華勳) debut is plagued with a litany of problems. The cinematography is dull and the art direction seems virtually non-existent. And audiences can be excused for mistaking the movie for a poorly produced television drama, where actors read out lines in a stiff manner.
Not only does the film flop in the technical department, it has done no better in its handling of the uneven cast of actors. An alumnus of the television talent show Super Idol (超級偶像), up-and-coming Hoklo-language (commonly known as Taiwanese) singer Huang does almost nothing as the leading man in the movie except for constantly flashing his toothsome smile. The same can be said for seasoned actress Lee, who is best known for her acclaimed work with director Chang Tso-chi (張作驥).
As the film’s villain, model and television actor Wu delivers a performance so over-the-top and cliched that it can only be described as kitsch, while veteran actors Mei Fang (梅芳) and Chang Chia-nien are seen struggling with their carelessly written roles.
All in all, director Nie forges an inane movie complete with an embarrassingly outdated plot. One reason to sit through A Story about Banana is to see how your hard earned tax dollars are being spent, as the film received NT$6 million from the government’s Subsidy For Film Production (電影輔導金).