Weng Chi-an, Ph.D, Graduate Institute of History, National Taiwan University
The film The Sage Hunter was adapted from Paiwan writer Ahronglong Sakinu’s 2000 novel of the same name. Critically praised, the book has won numerous literary awards. In 2005 Cheung Tung-Leung directed the film version, starring writer Sakinu himself.
Under the tutelage of his father and tribal elders, the young Sakinu learns to track and kill game, carrying on the venerable Paiwan hunting tradition. As an adult, he serves as a forest ranger, living a comfortable life in his native village with his wife and son. But the government plans to build a freeway through the region, a project that will destroy the area’s pristine tranquility, arousing fear and unease among the villagers. The village council votes to send Sakinu to the city to discuss the matter with government officials. Through a series of coincidences, the official in charge of the highway project accepts Sakinu’s invitation to visit the village, where he experiences firsthand a way of life in harmony with the natural world. Sakinu and the bureaucrat share stories of growing up, memories that symbolize the conflict between the traditional Paiwan way of life and modern urban society. The exchange also highlights Sakinu’s youthful dilemma – as a teen he was torn between the two worlds, uncertain of which to choose. Moved by Sakinu’s stories and the simple purity of village life, the official vows to halt construction of the proposed highway.
The narrative cuts back and forth between the men’s youthful memories and their present realities, viewing Paiwan culture and the difficulties facing Taiwan’s indigenous peoples from within and without. If the novel fired readers’ imaginations, the film provides a sense of actually experiencing characters’ conflicts and emotions.
Continuity of tradition is a theme that resurfaces throughout the film – whether Paiwan tribal lore or modern knowledge taught in schools, both forms of culture should be carefully preserved, for only through mutual understanding and respect can differences be reconciled and harmony achieved.
More than simply a film about aboriginal life, The Sage Hunter is a call for tolerance and respect between peoples of different cultures and ethnicities.
The Sage Hunter trailer (Source: Light House Productions Limited)