Occupying a small corner of the recently refurbished Martin Gropius Bau art gallery in central Berlin, also the temporary headquarters for the city’s 64th Berlin film festival, a team of Taiwanese film industry heavy-weights and sales agents were busily engaging a stream of visitors.
The nine-strong group had a mission on their hands: to sell the political docu-drama and festival selected-film The Rice Bomber (白米炸彈客) to the world.
“I just hope that audiences in Berlin can see something different about Taiwan,” explained the film’s director Cho Li (卓立).
Photo courtesy of 1 Production Film Co / Ocean Deep Films
The Rice Bomber is certainly different. Based on the life of self-confessed bomb-maker Yang Ju-men (楊儒門) the two-hour film carefully unpicks the events leading up to his politically-motivated 12-month campaign of 2003-2004 during which he planted 17 small bombs, packed with rice, to highlight the hardships faced by struggling Taiwanese farmers.
After Taiwan joined the WTO to much pomp and ceremony in early 2002, Taiwanese farmers were then forced to compete in an increasingly competitive agricultural market. It was from this anxious and uncertain period that Yang emerged and seared his mark on Taiwanese history. While his bombs, the first of which bore the message: “Against rice importing — the government should look after its people,” never killed or injured anyone (in fact only two detonated), he was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail in 2005. He was pardoned in 2007 after spending 16 months in jail.
“The Rice Bomber is the first film about the agricultural industry in Taiwan,” says Cho Li, her tiny frame dwarfed by the palatial and opulent hall of the once war-ravaged Martin Gropius Bau interior.
Photo: Taipei Times
“I am from Changhua, the same city as the rice bomber, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to make this film. He planted those bombs in 2003-2004, but he had seen farmer’s hardship for more than 20 years by then,” she says.
For lead actor Jag Huang (黃健瑋), who also attended the festival, playing the man who has become part of modern-day Taiwanese folklore had its own challenges, many of them physical.
“Yang had been in an elite unit of the Taiwanese army and so he was strong,” says Huang, “and that meant I had to get into shape for the role … at one point I cycled all the way around Taiwan.”
Huang says he felt sympathy with Yang, whom he met in person, for the task.
“He didn’t use nails or anything, it wasn’t really violent. I think it was more like an announcement to create awareness.”
The film is, at times, a somewhat overly sentimental portrayal of Yang, with music designed to pluck at our heartstrings, and a cast of victimized characters, which robs the film of some of its political punch.
However, it is a brave attempt to tackle a controversial issue and the film cleverly uses newsreel footage and dialogues between Yang and his alter-ego to provide both context and insight. Taiwan also plays a leading role with High Definition film portraying Taipei, Changhua and coastal areas in a beautiful light.
The film ventures into further controversial territory with the portrayal of ‘trouble-maker,’ the young woman who became Yang’s friend and confidante. Despite rumors that ‘trouble-maker,’ played by Nikki Hsieh (謝欣穎), was the daughter of a wealthy and influential family, she espoused revolutionary theories and ideas that, as is shown in the film, she uses to both goad, inspire and dismiss Yang.
For Hsieh the role she played required plenty of personal innovation.
“I was aware that the character was based on someone real — she was tough but attractive and also confident. I had to find that in myself,” she said.
For Hsieh, recently seen in the films Make Up (命運化妝師) and Honey Pupu (消失打看), the film fulfills another role, which is to lift Taiwanese movies into new territory.
“We’ve had a lot of commercial films but this allows Taiwanese to see the problems society is facing.”
Tapping into the realities of Taiwan remain a source of inspiration for the film’s producers Yeh Ju-fen (葉如芬) and Lee Lieh (李烈) who helped steer the kitchen-based comedy Zone Pro Site (總舖師) to commercial success.
“Although Taiwan is a very small country, people there are full of life,” Yeh says, adding, “this is more and more apparent in our movies. Though Taiwanese film-makers may be young, they are creatively vibrant and that’s why the Taiwanese film industry is booming.”
After Yang received a presidential pardon in June 2007, he has turned his attention to promoting organic farming and locally-based farmers’ markets.
Actor Huang, having just watched the premiere in Berlin explained: “I was nervous about it all, but now I think I can see Yang again and say, ‘it was an accurate portrayal — I didn’t let you down.’”
I sat down this week for a chat with Taiwan Internet stalwart T. H. Schee (徐子涵, @scheeinfo on Twitter). Schee’s career for the last two decades has been focused on Internet and public policy in Taiwan. At 24, in 2002, Schee became project manager at Yam.com for blogs. Since then he has been involved in the digital transformation of Taiwan, consulting for and participating on government, academic and private organizations and panels. He has built up a reputation for his work on the intersection of Internet and public policy. Schee was invited to a UN expert council in 2011 based
Nov. 30 to Dec. 6 The Hunan Braves (湖南勇) are famous for their ferocity in combat. It’s said that while defending Taiwan against the French during the 1884 Battle of Tamsui, they would rush back to the battlefield immediately after having their wounds treated. The combined forces of Qing Dynasty troops, irregular warriors like the Braves as well as local resistance fighters eventually fended off the French in a shocking victory. The Hunan Braves, who belonged to the Zhuosheng Battalion (擢勝營) under Qing Dynasty general Sun Kai-hua (孫開華), himself a native of Hunan, were no strangers to Taiwan. They first arrived in
Sasadre is a born performer. The energetic septuagenarian from the Aboriginal Paiwan community dandyishly presents himself with a scarf tastefully tied around his neck and a laurel adorning his crown — made from a plant I’m too distracted by his schtick to ask the name of. We are in the mountains of Taitung County, and Sasadre has been tasked to teach us about his community’s traditional slate houses and agricultural practices. He does so with panache. For the 60 minutes we are at the settlement, Sasadre variously scolds our party for using a hunter’s knife incorrectly, encourages us to dig up
China’s efforts to win an international certification for pao cai, a pickled vegetable dish from Sichuan Province, is turning into a social media showdown between Chinese and South Korean netizens over the origin of kimchi, a staple Korean cuisine made of cabbage. Beijing recently won a certification from the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) for pao cai, an achievement the state-run Global Times reported as “an international standard for the kimchi industry led by China.” South Korean media was fast to dispute such a claim and accuse the bigger neighbor of trying to make kimchi a type of China-made pao cai. The episode