The plight of Su Chien-ho (蘇建和), Liu Bing-lang (劉秉郎) and Chuang Lin-hsun (莊林勳) began in 1991, when they were accused of brutally murdering a couple in Taipei County. Despite the lack of material evidence, the three men were sentenced to death based almost entirely on confessions allegedly extracted under torture.
Killing in Formosa I (島國殺人紀事I), a documentary by producer and director Tsai Tsung-lung (蔡崇隆), was filmed in 2000, when the three men — who came to be known as the Hsichih Trio — were in prison amid a lengthy legal process, with the Supreme Court twice returning the case to a lower court for reconsideration and the State Public prosecutor-general making three special appeals to the Supreme Court to review the case.
Tsai decided to film a sequel, Killing in Formosa III (Killing in Formosa II was about a separate case), last year after the Taiwan High Court in July 2007 reversed its 2003 acquittal of the three defendants and sentenced them to death.
Taipei Times: In “Killing I” the film focused on discussions about the evidence and the legal process, while in “Killing III” viewers saw more about how the Hsichih Trio live outside prison. What is the most important thing you hoped to achieve in “Killing III” that you were not able to do in the first film?
Tsai: In Killing III, we were able to focus more on projecting the three men as real people — not just prisoners with chains on their feet and hands. It was the closest we got to filming them as normal people. What if they are innocent? If they are not criminals but they are always filmed with handcuffs on, you create a tainted image of them. So I think in Killing III we were able to make them more human, whereas in Killing I their roles were predetermined to be prisoners because we could only film them in jail. We do not have those limitations in the sequel, so I believe the audience can view them from a better perspective.
Now that I've become friends with the three, some might think the film has taken on a warmer tone. If you get to know these men, you would know that they are not capable of committing such crimes. However, not everyone can get to know them, so I hope the documentary can serve as a platform for people to know them indirectly.
I hope the film acts as a bridge between the audience and the defendants, as well as a bridge between the victims' family and the defendants, because in real life, they would never have the chance to start a dialogue with one another, except in a framework where they play the roles of defendants or victims' families. I hope that through the documentary, they can take a good look at each other and listen to one another. The two sides are both victims, and it's very sad because the system oppresses them, and they in turn oppress each other.
TT: You have known the trio for about 10 years now. How do you think your interaction with them has changed over the years, and how has that change affected your making of “Killing I” and “Killing III”?
Tsai: When we filmed Killing I, we could only interview them in the meeting room provided by the prison wards and film some of their activities in prison, so our understanding of their lives in jail was very limited. We got to know them better indirectly by talking to their families and reading what they wrote. The Humanistic Education Foundation has volunteers who visit them every week, so we also interviewed the volunteers to hear what they had observed about them. If you were to compare Killing I and Killing III, you would see that we had more interaction and became more like friends in the sequel.