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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Where's the forest?

There oughta be a law. Expat movie reviewers for English-language newspapers in non-English speaking societies should pass on giving their opinions on Hollywood films that have some kind of "local" angle (conflict of interest?). Remember the complaints about how Lost in Translation only portrayed a superficial image of the Japanese, or why Japanese actresses couldn't have had the starring roles in Memoirs of a Geisha? These people were so wrapped up in how the producers got it "wrong" that they completely missed the points of the films they were supposed to review. Guilty of this crime also is one Ian Bartholomew, film critic for the Taipei Times. His critique of Formosa Betrayed can be read in its entirety here. For those who don't know, Formosa Betrayed is a political thriller set in the Taiwan of the 1980's, and presumably presents a less-than-flattering portrayal of the ruling KMT 中國國民黨, and of American policy towards Taiwan. The film is being welcomed in some circles as "a movie that should be seen by every Taiwanese, American etc." I don't expect any life-changing epiphanies to take place while watching the movie, but Formosa Betrayed does sound intriguing, which is why I count on movie reviewers to give me a good idea about whether or not I should see it. Unfortunately, Bartholomew doesn't do that for me. Instead, he gets worked up by the fact the movie was shot in Thailand and not Taiwan, and complains about the "stilted" Mandarin employed for the Chinese dialogue. Well, Ian, I'm impressed your Chinese ability is that good, but sorry to tell you I don't really care if the scenery isn't an accurate depiction of T'aipei 台北 in the 1980's (I wasn't there at that time), or if the Mandarin is less than natural (I wouldn't see the film as part of a Chinese-language course I'm not taking). What I want is a good story, one that entertains both the eyes and the mind, and so I turned to the pros for their take on the movie - Roger Ebert gave it 2½ stars, while the folks at liked it even more, 3½ stars. Snippets of other reviews can be read here, and I'm sure they don't focus on the Bangkok-like scenery or the halting Mandarin. Based on what Roger and Blake et al have to say, I think I'll check out "Formosa Betrayed" when it comes out on DVD.

As for Ian, he should stop focusing on all the trees in front of him.

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