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Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale(2011)
The most expensive production in Taiwanese history (budgeted at approximately $25 million), Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale chronicles the true story of Taiwan's aboriginal people and their revolt against the Japanese colonizers in the 1930s.
For more about Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale and the Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray release, see Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on August 2, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Lin Ching-Tai, Ma Chih-Hsiang, Masanobu Ando
Director: Wei Te-Sheng
» See full cast & crew
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray Review
. . .and now, for the rest of the story.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, August 2, 2012
Is John Woo the new master of the "forced" double dip? Or is it only mere coincidence that two relatively recent films which bear the Woo imprimatur in one way or the other have been released simultaneously in two different formats, forcing consumers to either choose between them or buckle down on spending their hard earned cash on both? In 2010, Woo's hugely expansive historical epic Red Cliff was released in both an International Version which consisted of two parts, and a Theatrical Version, which was considerably scaled down and edited (which is not to say not enjoyable on its own quite different terms). Now some two years later a Woo produced (rather than directed) epic, the massive Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale follows Magnolia's release strategy and courtesy of Texas based Well Go USA has been granted the very same sort of release. I've already reviewed Warrior of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale's analog to Red Cliff's Theatrical Version, in this case the so-called Domestic (Single) Version. Now comes this much longer, two part version which is released as a two Blu-ray disc set featuring over two hours of additional supplementary material (along with a couple of the same supplements as the Domestic Version) on a second BD. Once again consumers will have to decide which version suits their fancy, though for those wanting to save reading (not viewing) time, if not a little money, the short answer is, this is the version to watch. Yes, it's longer and at times slower, but the additional background information and character nuance makes for a much more satisfying experience.
China has had a world of problems with its outlying territories, with Hong Kong and Taiwan both creating different sort of headaches for the massive nation at various times throughout its history. If the current Communist Chinese regime is still coming to grips with the rampant capitalism that is a major legacy of the century long British rule of Hong Kong, the Communist Party itself is wrapped up in the history of Taiwan even more strongly in a way, as it was to Taiwan (or Formosa as it was often called) that the anti-Communist forces fled once Mao came to power. The struggle between Taiwan and Mainland China was a decades long political ping pong match (so to speak), and it became increasingly absurd in a way that many Western nations (the United States among them) continued to recognize only Taiwan and not Mainland China, despite the fact that the population of China itself so completely dwarfed that of Taiwan as to make any comparison between the two "nations" ludicrous on its face. But Taiwan had another skirmish on the international stage a generation or more before Mao and his rebels sought to remake China in their own image, and few if any Westerners are overly familiar with this chapter. Many Westerners will know that Japan and China had a tempestuous relationship throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, with several skirmishes and a couple of outright wars with each other, but probably few other than specialists are aware that Taiwan was actually ceded to the Japanese in the late 19th century and the Japanese then ruled over the island for several ensuing decades. Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale is a massive 2011 Taiwanese epic that takes several real life people and events surrounding the Japanese occupation of Taiwan and gussies them up into a spectacular piece of nationalist propaganda, one that is sure to make Chinese hearts beat with pride, but which may leave Westerners feeling at least a little more conflicted about it all.
Seediq refers to an indigenous aboriginal tribe that has populated Taiwan for untold centuries, though the people has had a rough time establishing their bona fides, as it were, only receiving official Chinese recognition as an indigenous group as late as 2008. Seediq bale might be loosely translated, as it is in the film, as "real man" or "true man" in the sense that it refers to an individual who fulfills his potential in an almost moralistic sense. The hero of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale is Mona Rudao (played by Da-Ching as a young man and Lin Ching-Tai as an older man). (It should be noted that Mona's name is transliterated Mouna Rudo in the film's subtitles, but virtually all other online sources transliterate it as Mona Rudao, so that is the form that will be utilized in this review.) Mona is a highly respected warrior of his clan, and the film establishes him as a "take no prisoners" combatant in a visceral opening scene where he kills several rival tribesmen before making off with a boar the tribesmen have killed. (As mentioned above, the film was produced by action master John Woo and several of the action sequences approach the manic intensity of Woo outings.)
The basic plot of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale deals with the so-called Wushe Incident, which was the last in a long series of skirmishes between the aboriginal Taiwanese and their Japanese overlords. This edited Domestic Version of the film does spend about a half hour or so setting up the back story of the conflict, letting us see Mona as a young warrior in his tribal element, and then gets into the Japanese occupation and increasing encroachment on tribal lands. The Seediq people are basically consigned to a life of forced servitude and they are perhaps most disturbingly forbidden to practice their tribal customs. Mona manages to coax a number of other clans with whom he's normally involved in internecine warfare to band together to fight the Japanese, and against all odds, the natives are successful, at least at the beginning of their conflict.
Except here is exactly where a lot of Westerners are going to pause for a moment and say, "Well, that's actually a good thing." For the Seediq are not exactly "noble savages", something that rather strangely the film doesn't even attempt to portray them as. The Seediq are a vicious clan that engage in what seems to be the island's favorite "sport", namely decapitating one's enemies. This head hunting was evidently one of the most abhorrent things that the Japanese invaders tried (successfully) to stop, and for Western audiences at least, most people are going to side with the Japanese. Even beyond this singular phenomenon, though, the Seediq are shown to be stubborn, uncompromising and rather brutally insensitive, even to their own children, and it casts the supposed "good guys" of the film in a decidedly peculiar light.
Is this International Version of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale a slower viewing experience than the edited Domestic Version? Undoubtedly, but in this case the slowness actually works toward the benefit of the film. The tribal world of Mona is much more fully developed and perhaps somewhat surprisingly (given the film's Taiwanese genesis), so are the motivations of the Japanese. What this does is make both sides of the conflict more fully fleshed out, with (again, perhaps surprisingly) the Japanese being portrayed as less cartoonish villains than they are in the edited version. This version is more forthright in its depiction of the brutal violence that is part of the Seediq tradition, with more graphic portrayals of the beheadings that were part and parcel of the various tribes' traditions. There's also more time spent in the actual bloody conflict that Mona leads against the Japanese, with a more visceral main battle.
While the pull quote on the front of this Blu-ray compares Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale to both Braveheart and Last of the Mohicans, a more apt comparison might in fact be to Apocalypto, for we are witnessing the death of a culture, and a primitive tribal one at that. Director Wei Te-Sheng occasionally lapses into self-parody, with at least some depictions of the Japanese that verge on the two dimensional even in this more developed version, and with too literal references to the "rainbow bridge" that a properly murderous warrior is expected to cross over if he fulfills his earthly duties appropriately, but the film is overall remarkably well balanced and modulated. This version has the benefit of moving more smoothly between sequences than the edited version does, and perhaps even more movingly than the edited version cartwheels to a devastatingly tragic conclusion that will probably have most viewers feeling a real sense of regret, no matter what the obvious failings of both the Seediq and the Japanese.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray, Video Quality
As with the Domestic Single Version, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.34:1. This is a huge, expansive film that glories in the jungles of Taiwan and it retains a suitably lush, even spectacular, look in this high definition presentation. The DI has been tweaked in post per the usual contemporary practice, with lots of color grading and filtering that alternately cast warm golden or cool blue hues on entire segments. Fine object detail is extremely sharp and pleasing and fine grain levels are also consistent. The one recurrent problem in this transfer is unsightly flicker and instability in many of the jungle scenes. It's quite normal for some reason that many transfers just can't quite seem to handle heavy foliage very well, with a resultant breakdown in resolution, but in this case the entire frame flickers rather badly in several sequences. The only other niggling process is some less than consistent CGI, including several rainbows that arch across the sky and look like they were ported in from some ancient Hanna-Barbera enterprise. It should be noted that this longer International Version spends quite a bit more time in very misty or cloudy forest sequences, which adds a gauzy ambience to a lot of the film that some may mistake for inherent softness in the elements themselves.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Again as with the Domestic Single Version of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, both the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and standard Dolby Digital 2.0 mixes included on this International Version are labeled with the generic "Chinese" (not even Mandarin or Cantonese), but some cursory research seems to indicate that the actual languages being spoken in the film are the native Seediq tongue and Japanese (one member has also PMd me to indicate some of the film is actually in Korean as well). Since I am certainly no expert in Eastern languages, I have set the specs above to mirror what the labeling on the disc states. One way or the other, the 5.1 sound mix here is unusually impressive, with beautifully nuanced ambient environmental sounds creating a near continual sense of immersion (sometimes literally, when the camera delves beneath the water). The battle scenes are appropriately bombastic (and the final showdown in this International Version is considerably longer and more sonically developed than in the Domestic Version), and rather interestingly we get a variety of nice foley effects, from gunshots to the slice and dice of heads being removed from bodies. Dialogue is clear and well prioritized. The very Western sounding score, which some may find anachronistic but which I personally found quite moving at times, also spills into the surrounds during virtually every cue. Dynamic range is exceedingly wide.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
This International Version of Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale is a much more developed and at least somewhat more nuanced take on a fascinating subject matter that probably very few people know much about, but this longer version also has the same basic issue that the shorter version did, namely that it's hard to root for supposed "good guys" who exhibit such appalling behavior. This version does have the benefit of showing some of the relatively "kinder, gentler" life of the tribal peoples of Taiwan, though it also depicts their brutality much more graphically than the edited version. The Japanese actually come off quite a bit better in this version, no less brutal in their own way than the Seediq peoples, but at least partially understandable (if not exactly laudable) in their motivations. This film is gigantic in scope and is lushly beautiful to watch, even with its violence. If see only one Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale this year, this is the one to watch. Recommended.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale: Other Editions
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Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale Blu-ray - June 3, 2012
Independent distributors Well Go USA will bring to Blu-ray director Wei Te-Sheng's epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (2011), starring Masanobu Ando, Umin Boya and Chi-Wei Cheng. Last year, the film was nominated for the prestigious Golden Lion Award at ...
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