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Taiwanese epic film draws lukewarm reception from China

2011/09/11 16:50:38

As Taiwanese enthusiastically flock to the cinema for "Seediq Bale," the biggest blockbuster this summer, reactions to the film from China had been far more muted and critical ahead of its release earlier this week.

Having been anticipated for years in Taiwan, the rare, large-scale war movie that was more than a decade in the making has provided renewed hope that the country's film industry can be revived and brought to new horizons.

The NT$700 million (US$24 million) film was referred to as Taiwan's national pride after being nominated for the Golden Lion Award at the Venice Film Festival, although it failed to win the award on Saturday.

The film was also selected as Taiwan's choice to compete for an Academy Award nomination.

All reports and comments of the epic film from Taiwan's mainstream media and critics were mostly glowing, focusing on the film's painstaking production process and its meaning to Taiwanese people.

"In terms of a film's production, Wei Te-sheng's whole process of making 'Seediq Bale' should become the textbook approach," said well-known novelist and radio program host Chang Ta-chuan.

After watching the original 4.5-hour film, Chang said it "introduces to us the attitudes and values toward life and death of the Seediq tribespeople -- a faith in reaching reunion and reconciliation through deaths."

But reports of the film's Sept. 1 world premiere in Venice from the Chinese press were a stark contrast to the film's hometown reception in Taiwan.

For instance, Taiwan's press reported the audience in Venice clapped at the end of the film for as long as 10 minutes, describing it as "a hit" at the festival.

The Chinese press, however, was far from impressed.

Headlines in Chinese online media included "Seediq Bale: Showy Pseudo-epic" and "Seediq Bale: Great Disappointment."

The Youth Daily described only a spatter of applause after the screening and that the international media appeared uninterested in the competition title.

"One of the widely-expected Chinese-language competition titles, 'Seediq Bale', drew cheerless reaction from the foreign media. Domestic press has endless negative comments on it," said the report.

Chinese film critic Zhu Xubin also called the film a "pseudo-epic that was big but empty and superficial."

The opinion echoed some international reviews on the shortened edition that showed in Venice to fit the festival's format. The director, Wei Te-sheng, admitted himself that a large part of the emotional buildup was sacrificed.

"The result is a watchable, visually detailed but uninvolving action drama that never spends enough time with the characters to engender any emotional empathy," the website Film Business Asia said.

But Wei, who said he did not set out to make a commercial film, has brushed off the criticisms.

In an interview with China's Nanfang Daily, he said, "In fact, you all worry too much (about whether audiences will like it or not). You come watch the film with a burden (of civilization) and (psychological) armament, so you are unable to get over it and reconcile."

He noted viewers can only understand the film if they leave behind their preconceptions.

"I dare to promise the Taiwanese audience would not have any problem accepting the film," Wei said.

The title took in NT$23 million (US$791,200) when it debuted at 68 theaters throughout Taiwan Friday, the highest opening-day record for any Taiwan-made film.

The storyline of "Seediq Bale" covers a 1930 revolt of the Seediq tribe against Japanese colonial forces.

The film will very likely be edited again before it can be shown in China, where no film rating system exists. Some of the violent battle scenes could be cut. By Kendra Lin, CNA Staff Reporter