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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Taiwan's Political Turmoil
by Jeffrey Chen

Let's cut straight to the point: Formosa Betrayed is one of those public conscience movies about an international injustice disguised as a crime thriller. It's almost shameless in the way it presents itself -- there's a murder, yes, on U.S. soil, which leads FBI Agent Jake Kelly (James Van Der Beek) to Taiwan, and once he's more or less settled in, out come the dissidents from the woodwork to educate him about the atrocities committed by the ruling government against the original native citizens of the country.

The main person of sympathy who helps Agent Kelly is a man named Ming, played by Will Tiao, who also shares story credit and producer credit for the film. There's no question about the political motivations of this production, which seeks to bring awareness to Westerners about the internal turmoil of Taiwan that has lasted for decades. The murder mystery plot is purely perfunctory, though functional -- it's effective enough, but the story's weakness comes from its transparency. Obviously, the film wants to outrage you for political sympathy.

Once I figured this out, though, I honestly didn't mind so much, and since I already have some background in this subject, it held my attention. I found it fascinating that anyone bothered to produce this film -- its subject isn't as urgent as, say, Darfur or Tibet, and frankly after viewing Formosa Betrayed most Westerners will probably only hold the information within the margins of their memory. Still, it's interesting to me that the filmmakers gave it this honest shot.

Most Westerners probably aren't even aware of Taiwan's history being full of strife, which boils down to the native Taiwanese population's fight for independence from rule by either the Kuomintang party (aka the KMT) or the Communists on the mainland. Long story short -- during World War II, the Communists won China, and the losing side, the KMT, fled to Taiwan and took it over (from Japanese occupation, as it happens). The KMT, led by Chiang Kai-shek, ran the island under martial law, which is where this story, set in the '80s, steps in, showing us crackdowns on demonstrations and the outright torture and murder of any suspected dissenting citizens.

Because my lineage has direct ties to this history, I'd say Formosa Betrayed is worth a look for the history lesson. Just remember it is a history lesson, one naturally colored with a strong Taiwanese perspective (it would have no place, for example, for the innocent KMT-affiliated families who had to flee the mainland in order to escape Communism and just stay alive) -- but if its ultimate goal at heart is awareness, it's a goal I would advocate.

(Released by Screen Media Films and rated "R" for some violent content.)

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