2009-10-14

Prince of Tears

Prince of Tears, a film set in 1950s Taiwan, draws on the experiences of two natives of Taiwan who have since made their careers in Hong Kong. Joyce Hor-Chung Lau saw the film in Venice last month and offers a detailed review this week in the New York Times.

Prince of Tears the film 'by Hong Kong-based director Yonfan (who goes by one name)... is the first major movie in 20 years to explore the “White Terror” that followed Taiwan’s separation from China in 1949. In Taiwan, the ruling Kuomintang, or Nationalist Party, staged anti-Communist witch hunts that killed thousands. The gorgeously crafted film, set in the 1950s, refers only obliquely to larger politics. Instead, it focuses on daily life in a remote Taiwanese village where anyone—a schoolteacher, a housewife, a soldier—could commit a political faux pas and be sent to the execution squad.

The project originated with the real-life story of the actress Chiao Chiao, a longtime friend and collaborator of Yonfan, whom she met in Hong Kong when she was a starlet there from the ’60s to the ’80s. The actress, who uses only her surname, grew up in Taiwan, but hid her childhood memories of the White Terror for years until she found a confidant in Yonfan, who also grew up in Taiwan in the 1950s. Several years ago, they decided to make a film based on her memories.

The story is drawn from tragic real-life events which, characteristically of this period in Taiwan, were kept secret for many years.

“I never spoke of my past until I found someone I trusted,” Chiao Chiao said of Yonfan. “I was so young when it happened and children back then were not allowed to ask questions.”

The film opens with a scene of a perfect-looking family in Taiwan: a handsome air force pilot, his pretty, doting wife and their two girls.

But, after Kafkaesque political complications, the parents are dragged off and the father is killed in a field. As the executioners fire their shots, his daughters hide in the tall grass in a desperate attempt to get one last glimpse of him.

. . . .

The younger sister — the character representing Chiao Chiao — is sent to live with an eerie and physically scarred government agent nicknamed Uncle Ding, whom she suspects is the informer who turned in her father. In a strange turn of events, her mother is released from a prison camp and—under pressure to resume a normal family life and support her girls—gives into advances by Uncle Ding, whom she marries.


The full review may be read at the New York Times site.

This year has seen the release of two films about the White Terror period, Yonfan's drama Prince of Tears and Adam Kane's thriller Formosa Betrayed. Both coincide with the 20th anniversary of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s City of Sadness, the highly acclaimed film that first picked up the subject of Taiwan’s White Terror only two years after martial law was lifted.

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