Film: Formosa Betrayed

Formosa_BetrayedFormosa Betrayed

Formosa Betrayed USA 2009
Dir: Adam Kane born 1968, USA, written and produced by Will Tiao (USA) (刁毓能)
103 mins. Original language: English
Settings: Chicago, Illinois and Bangkok, Thailand

Set in Chicago and Taiwan in 1983, the story follows a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent (James van der Beek) investigating the murder of Taiwanese economics professor Wen at a Midwestern college. The movie depicts early-’80s Taiwan as a repressive police state in which pro-independence demonstrations were brutally crushed and torture used.
The fictional story is inspired by two actual events, one surrounding the death of Professor Chen Wen-chen (陳文成) of Carnegie Mellon University in 1981, and the other the 1984 assassination of journalist Henry Liu in California by Chen Chi-li and his fellow Bamboo Union members.
Mathemacian Chen Wen-chen had returned to Taiwan for the first time since 1975, on a holiday from the US on 20 May 1981. His exit application for 1 July was not granted, although he had immediately applied at entry. The infamous Taiwan Garrison Command arrested him on 2 July. He was interrogated for twelve hours, and his body was found on the campus of National Taiwan University, where he had received his BA in 1972, the next day. The Garrison Command first assumed suicide, and later „an accident“, while the US investigation concluded murder. Chen had been spied upon by KMT students in the US, and had been reported as a supporter of Taiwan independence.
Taiwanese journalist Henry Liu, pen name Chiang Nan (7 December 1932 – 15 October 1984) had left for the US in 1967, and became an US-citizen in 1973/74. He published many articles critical of the Chiang family and an unauthorized biography of Chiang Ching-kuo.

In „Formosa Betrayed“ the search for the killers takes the agent to Taiwan, where he discovers there is more involved in this murder than he ever anticipated. Agent Kelly finds himself on a collision course with the U.S. State Department, the Chinese Mafia, and ultimately the highest levels of the Kuomintang, where this FBI agent discovers how a complex web of politics, identity, and power affects the lives and destinies of all the citizens. The film documents the luxurious living style of US expats in Taiwan, the dangerous life of Taiwanese activists, the decisive role of the ROC military, and the attempt of Taiwanese intellectuals to document injustices. The film even includes a demonstration and its violent suppression by military police. The US FBI is not interested in discovering the truth, and a disappointed agent finally leaves his American job.

„Formosa Betrayed“, repeats the title of the 1965 book by John Kerr about the 28 February 1947 Incident and the beginning of White Terror in Taiwan (till 1987). Although nobody, including Agent Kelly, understands „Formosa“ any more, the political relationship is obvious. The film is a political thriller in a Hollywood style, but without the common US focus. The film completely relies on actual events, although they are renamed or set in different times.

For non-Taiwanese (and many America-born Taiwanese) viewers, it has an agenda: It argues that Formosa, now known as Taiwan, has been the pawn of great powers for centuries. Occupied by Japan in the pre-World War II years, it was claimed by the Nationalists of Chiang Kai-shek after the war, and his army retreated there after its defeat by Red China. Although Americans have long been schooled that Chiang flew the banner of freedom, the film says he seized property, killed thousands of native Formosans, wiped out the leadership class and established a dictatorship. As in the recent novel „Green Island“ we get an introduction into Taiwanese history, and also on US American foreign policy.

See more:
INTERVIEW: Producer brings Taiwan’s history to the big screen [Taipei Times; 2010 Aug 02 ]
Formosa Betrayed [ Hollywood Reporter ]

Text source and photocredit:  Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies

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