Fandor's Kevin B Lee on Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, which screened in Competition in Venice and was a Special Presentation in Toronto: "The most expensive film ever made in Taiwan, this 150-minute epic tells the story of Taiwanese Seediq aborigines fiercely battling the oppression of Japanese occupiers in the 1930s. It's an awkwardly timed project given the global sympathies directed this year at tragedy-stricken Japan, but this project was years in the making as an attempt to put Taiwan squarely on the map as a maker of global blockbusters. It's no coincidence then that its story of spiritually endowed forest-dwelling natives fighting technologically superior enemies has strong echoes of Avatar; even the dialogue is in subtitled aboriginal dialect."
The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Young sensed those echoes, too: "The action is set in the spell-binding Avatar-land of Mount Chilai and its lush rain forest, where waterfalls and rainbows, narrow paths and the ancient trunks and giant trees are embellished with bright green CGI work."
"Wei Te-sheng's film of the Seediqs' heroic resistance doesn't shy away from the violence, the darkness, and the moral ambiguity of the story," writes Shelly Kraicer in Cinema Scope. "The sometimes self-destructive ferocity of the Seediq warriors is balanced against fascinating characterizations of the Japanese policemen caught in the middle, who knew both Seediq culture and their homeland's militarized culture. Seediq Bale is true epic cinema: thousands of extras, large-scale battle scenes shot against the lush forests and mountains of central Taiwan, a multi-generational time span, and larger-than-life heroes create an unforgettable picture of a little-known society's life and death struggle to preserve their environment, their beliefs, and their values."
"In terms of recent epic cinema, the primitive warfare in Warriors of the Rainbow recalls that of Apocalypto, minus Mel Gibson's sense of pacing and technique," finds Variety's Justin Chang. "Impressive as the physical production is in terms of Wei's ability to marshal resources during a reportedly difficult seven-month shoot, it evinces little sense of discipline at any level. The chaotic combo of hard-slamming edits, gory mayhem and Ricky Ho's forever-hemorrhaging score makes the picture simply exhausting to watch over the long haul."
And yet the original is even longer. Derek Elley notes in Film Biz Asia that Seediq Bale was "released locally in two chunks with a combined running time of some 270 minutes." On Friday, Dean Napolitano, introducing a brief interview with Wei for the Wall Street Journal, noted that "the first part topped the box office there when it opened two weeks ago and the second installment is due next week." This Friday, to be exact.
At any rate, Elley adds the observation that the "international version" focuses "heavily on action at the expense of character and clarity. The result is a watchable, visually detailed but uninvolving action drama that never spends enough time with the characters to engender any emotional empathy, especially in the important middle section 90 minutes in. It's also shorn of any sense of wider politics, social setting and even pure geography."
As the Venice Film Festival was just getting rolling, Wei told the AP that Seediq Bale's inclusion in the Competition lineup "shows 'arts and culture can have a greater power than politics.' The comments are seen as a mild criticism over the Venice festival's listing of the film as coming from Taiwan, China — a reference that makes the self-governed, democratic island seem like it comes under Beijing's rule."
For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.