FEATURE: Ko reveals stories behind his anti-nuclear flash mob

By Tang Chia-ling and Stacy Hsu  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Feb 22, 2013 - Page 3

An anti-nuclear flash mob organized by film director Ko I-chen (柯一正) last year in front of the Presidential Office has given rise to a wave of opposition to nuclear power in the nation’s artistic industry, though most people are probably unaware that the idea for the protest originated during an otherwise casual chat.

On May 28 last year, Ko and several other directors staged a flash-mob event on Ketagalan Boulevard in front of the Presidential Office, during which about 60 people formed the Chinese character ren (人, human being) for 30 seconds while shouting: “I am a human being, I oppose nuclear power.”

The idea for the performance came about one day last year when Ko and fellow film director Wu Yi-feng (吳乙峰) were discussing the anti-nuclear movement on their way to a golf course.

“Because neither of us are experienced in writing slogans or delivering rousing speeches, we thought that performance art might be the best way for us to express our anti-nuclear stance,” Ko said in an interview with the Liberty Times (the Taipei Times’ sister paper) last month, adding that the pair were so engrossed in their conversation that they managed to take a wrong turn on the way to the golf course.

After exchanging a number of ideas, Ko said they settled on two possible scenarios for their protest: Either they stage a flash mob, or instead they would lay on the ground in front of the Presidential Office until they were carried away by police.

“Although the second option would guarantee more public and media attention, we decided to opt for the former as our main objective was to voice our opposition to nuclear power, not ignite a war,” Ko said.

To ensure a well-choreographed, uninterrupted performance, Ko had to draw on his experience as a producer and dispatched a number of his staff members to inspect the surroundings of the Presidential Office.

The exact area in which the participants should gather, ways to redirect traffic on Ketagalan Boulevard and a means of recording the performance were elements that needed to be thoroughly mapped out in advance, Ko said, adding that the performance was rehearsed more than a dozen times at Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall before being staged in public.

In addition to making detailed plans concerning the number of participants and the flash mob’s formation, Ko also had to keep the event off of the media’s radar until the day of the performance to avoid any unwanted attention.

“When the final day came, each of us was fairly nervous. Fortunately, most of the participating film directors were natural-born actors and they successfully blended in with the crowds on Ketagalan Boulevard by pretending to be either passersby out for a walk, or groups of friends chatting,” Ko said.

At the prearranged time, which coincided with the changing of the traffic signals, all of the participants assembled and formed the character ren, Ko said, adding that one participant nearly missed the performance because he was too preoccupied with talking to others on a walkie-talkie.

Following the conclusion of the performance, Ko asked three film editors to edit video recordings of the flash-mob performance and upload them to his Facebook page in the afternoon.

“After we uploaded the videos, they were followed by an influx of Facebook ‘likes,’ a fervent response that we were truly glad to see,” Ko said.

However, Ko’s well-received performance also drew the attention of the Taipei City Police Department’s Zhongzheng First Precinct, which asked Ko to come in for questioning on June 11 last year, regarding what it said were public-safety offenses.

After the police request was reported by the media, it triggered an outcry among artistic and cultural groups, and was lambasted by some netizens as being “measures very similar to those seen in a totalitarian society.”

With Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin (郝龍斌) also criticizing the police reaction as “making a fuss over a trifling matter,” the scheduled questioning was canceled at the last minute.

Speaking about plans for more protests, Ko said he plans to launch an “umbrella signature drive” through which people could show their opposition to nuclear power by signing their names on white umbrellas.

“This umbrella has so far collected about 15 signatures from my acquaintances and staff members,” Ko said, referring to a white umbrella in his office that features the slogan: “Stopping the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant for the next generation.”

Saying that film director Lee Lieh (李烈) also had an umbrella similar to his, Ko called on more people from the music industry and the cultural sector to take part in the initiative to make their voices heard.

Meanwhile, a group of directors, including Doze Niu (鈕承澤) and Cheng Yu-chieh (鄭有傑), have produced a number of three-minute anti-nuclear micro movies and posted them on Youtube, in a bid to inspire more people to follow suit.

“The umbrella signature drive is not initiated by an organization, nor does it carry any specific political affiliation, which in a way enables us to act more freely, ” Wu said.

However, Wu said that he and Ko would not rule out cooperating with organizations, “as long as they can help put a halt to the construction of the power plant.”

Citing an anti-nuclear statement recently issued by representatives from the artistic sector, Wu said it called on the government to scrap a budget proposal to invest several billion New Taiwan dollars more in the controversy-plagued plant, “for the sake of offering peace of mind to the many parents in the country and their children.”

“Granting the additional budget to the nuclear power plant is not only tantamount to [throwing money into] a bottomless pit, but could also signal the onset of a major, irreversible catastrophe, which the artistic community will spare no effort to try and prevent in a gentle, but firm manner,” Wu cited the statement as saying.

The statement also urged President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) to come forward and prevent the tragedy, saying that doing so could be the “greatest contribution Ma has made to society, helping him to create a positive legacy.”