Some preliminary thoughts on having just seen 太陽的孩子 Wawa No Cidal.
First of all, this is an emotionally charged film that shows some of the real issues facing indigenous peoples in Taiwan without reducing them to stereotypes. It also deserves credit for making extensive use of the Amis language. For all these reasons everyone should watch and support this film. Having said all that, I really wish they had spent some more time on the screenplay. There were a lot of scenes that were insufficiently motivated and several dramatic tensions that were never sufficiently developed. (e.g. A sixth grader looks at a medical prescription and intuitively knows that this would be a better cancer treatment than what her grandfather is getting? An Amis police officer gets scolded by a grandmother and looks sick but doesn’t really do anything other than look sick? An old school friend changes enough to help the local community but not enough to really do anything to help the community? etc.) These things matter because I fear they will limit the films appeal to a mostly local audience.
More importantly, the main motivation for preserving a particular way of life presented in the film is because of the father character and vague references to ancestors. (The fact that the irrigation ditches shown in the film were probably built during the Japanese era and that the Amis traditionally grew millet, not rice are are convienetly ignored.) The film’s efforts to show the problems facing contemporary indigenous society mean that we don’t really get much of a sense as to what about indigenous society is worth preserving. The film mostly speaks to those who already value what the film’s protagonists are fighting for, but doesn’t have much to say to those for whom these values are not self-evident. The largely indigenous audience I saw the film with absolutely loved it, and maybe that is good enough, but I wonder…
The way of life presented in the film is one that is already dying. We mostly see empty houses and old people living on their own. It makes one feel that any efforts to preserve the culture are just a stop gap until the old people have gone. There is little to make us see what value the culture holds for the younger generation. The screenplay tries to make up for this with a forced scene in which the young girl shouts “I am Pangcah” to gain courage before a race, but I didn’t feel this scene worked as intended. It felt forced and seemed somewhat out of place with regard to the rest of the story. (The entire subplot about joining a track team was introduced into the film rather suddenly, like an afterthought.) I feel that 不一樣的月光 Finding Sayun did a better job grappling with what indigenous culture means for today’s indigenous youth and the tensions between urban and rural life. These themes are not ignored in the film, but they have to give way to the central theme of land development and remain under-developed.
Finally, I feel that the film would have benefited from a more complex portrayal of the NGOs and government officials working with indigenous groups. It is interesting to compare the film to Court (one of the best films of the year) because of its ability to portray exactly this kind of complexity without loosing any emotional depth. But maybe it is wrong to want this to be the kind of film that would do well on the international film circuit? To the extent that the film is simply intended to be a popular film aimed at a local audience I think it has succeeded admirably and I expect it to do well when it opens in theaters later this week.