Monday, December 01, 2008

Cape No. 7: A movie 'most offensive'

Taiwanese director Wei Te-sheng’s (魏德聖) hit movie Cape No. 7 is as inoffensive a movie as I have seen since, well, Disney’s Lilo and Stitch years ago. It is a gem of a movie, beautifully portraying the idioms and idiosyncrasies of Taiwan’s rich multicultural fabric, juxtaposed with echoes of its colonial past. In a nutshell, the story revolves around efforts by the town of Hengchun (恆春) to put together a rock band in time for the arrival of Japanese superstar Kousuke Atari and the lead signer’s developing love affair with Tomoko, a Japanese woman tasked with supervising the endeavor. Running parallel to the story are voiceovers from 60 years earlier, telling of a romantic relationship between a repatriated Japanese and a Taiwanese.

Romantic, hilarious, cute, honey-dripping — all would be proper ways to describe the movie. But offensive?

According to China, which had initially said it would allow the screening of the movie, Cape No. 7 could cause a “nationalistic backlash” and announced yesterday that the movie would not be available in China — at least not until it has been processed by the censors/cultural butchers. Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin, whose visit to Taipei last month resulted in massive demonstrations, called it the result of “colonial brainwashing,” ostensibly because the movie allows for the possibility of love between Taiwanese and Japanese, or perhaps for different ethnic groups to coexist peacefully.

Hollywood movies such as Spy Games can depict the US military invading Chinese airspace to rescue Brad Pitt with no problem, but a comedy with Taiwanese and Japanese loving each other? No way, this is unconscionable moviemaking, brainwashing, Japanese propaganda that would — to use Beijing’s favorite spin — “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.”

Cape No. 7 may just be a movie — the highest-grossing in many years in Taiwan at that. But it is as inoffensive as it is charming and, to anyone who bothers to watch, it offers a lovely introduction to the cornucopia of Taiwanese colors, dialects, habits and mores that make this land so fascinating. (In fact, I would strongly recommend it as a cultural icon for people abroad interested in learning more about Taiwan.) Offensive it certainly isn’t. In fact, it is so innocuous that paranoid Communist Party apparatchiks couldn’t even find anything “wrong” (from an ideological point of view) with it — that is, if they bothered to watch it in the first place.

At a time when ties between Taipei and Beijing are supposed to be warming, and with Beijing allegedly making a number of “goodwill” gestures to Taiwan, the banning of Cape No. 7 in China is undeniable, picture-perfect proof that China is far, far from ready for peace with democratic, multicultural Taiwan.

And Taiwanese, who (rightly) cherish the movie, are hearing Beijing’s message loud and clear.

1 comment:

jerome said...

The reason why the Chinese-on-both-banks find this movie repelling? Obviously because it is meant to. Because of the way it grows on its Taiwanese audience. It subliminally tells of missed opportunities, of an independent Taiwan whose Constitution would have been thought out and written in Japanese, of Taiwan-published Japanese language newspapers available at the news-stand. Of a Taiwan whose capital would have been spelled as Taihoku in the Lonely Planet guide, where an interesting east coast destination would still be called Karen-ko. Western language students would be able to learn Japanese at the Kokugo Center of the Taiwan Shihan Daigaku. Just imagine. Japanese with a Formosan twang…

While Japanese Taiwan is being thoroughly erased from the map by those US-supported-and-nevertheless-ungrateful-Chinks, the best of Japanese spirit is alive and kicking on Taiwan. And that Taiwanese truth sends those both-banks-Chinks in a blue funk.

But to my Taiwanese reader I would say that it is never late for paying your dues to a Formosan spirit steeped in Japanese culture. Turn to your mountains. Find in your ancestors' worship the balls to FIGHT, FOR TAIWAN’s sake.

To my western reader I’d say, learn Japanese and listen to those ojisans and obasans. Then we can talk about your perception of the Taiwanese reality.