1999 - 93 minutes
Directed by: Lin Cheng-sheng 林正盛, born March 31, 1959
The Chinese film title „Tianma Teahouse“ is quite different from the official English one, letting the viewer know that the film is located at a historic spot in the Datong District of Taipei City. It was there that on 27 February 1947, a female cigarette vendor was beaten by official agents of the provincial government’s Tobacco and Liquor Monopoly Bureau. The attack instigated the 228 Incident that lead to random killings by Republic of China army of the Taiwanese elite. At Tianma Teahouse, a stray bullet killed a bystander (A Jin in the film), the first victim of the 228 protests. Now February 28th is celebrated as a national holiday, and the „Tianma Teahouse“, which opened in 1934 under Japanese rule and was long a place visited during previous 228 memorial walks, has recently been restored and reopened.
The Chinese title, unlike the English one, immediately contextualizes the film historically. The film also memorializes the famous film narrator and owner of the Tianma Teahouse, Chan Tianma 詹天馬. Furthermore, 天馬, Flying Horses (horses with wings, part of the Chinese script name) are holy creatures in Chinese tradition.
The film tells two stories:
The first is about a theatre group that meets, practises and performs in the teahouse. They must adapt their plays to the respective ruler, from the Japanese to the Republican Chinese, and must always confront necessary restrictions. There is no free theater possible under any of the rulers, and all governing officials suspect the stage as being potentially illegal. The film describes the modern and progressive youth of the 1940s, full of hope for the future (under Chinese rule) that is smashed.
The second story is a family one, depicting the local patriarchal society against a Romeo and Juliet couple in love. The young lovers decide to elope, because A-Yu’s father has arranged her marriage to a doctor's son, whom she does not love. The parents arranging – forcing – their children's marriage has a long tradition in Taiwan that obviously the modernization under Japanese colonial rule could not change.
The date of their elopement is the notorious 27 February, and A-Yu waits for her lover (who has been shot dead) in vain.
Text source and photocredit: Vienna Center for Taiwan Studies