Chen Boqing, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
10 + 10 was a project initiated by the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival in 2011, the hundredth anniversary of the Republic of China. Twenty film directors – including Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wang Xiao Kang, Zhu Yanping, Wu Nianzhen, Zhang Zuoji, Chen Yuxun, Dai Liren, Wei Te-shen, and others – were invited to make twenty short films of no more than five minutes in length. The movie’s wide variety of themes and subject matter showcase a cross-section Taiwan’s social and historical development over the past hundred years.
Among the twenty shorts are four that deal with religion. “Venerating heaven and earth, and revering the spirits and gods” is a Chinese tradition. Wang Tong’s “The Ritual” portrays an ordinary man who vows to express his gratitude to the gods if they allow him to win the lottery. The film’s first section shows the man arduously climbing uphill with a heavy load on his back; not until the end is it revealed that he has won only a modest amount of money, not the grand prize, yet the man still carries out his vow. Both audience and film characters feel that the fellow’s winnings are not commensurate with the trouble he goes to in keeping his promise, but his actions in fact show great respect and reverence for supernatural forces. In the past, people offered thanks to the gods by hiring dancers, opera troupes, or puppeteers to put on shows; characters in the film express their gratitude by showing 3D movies, even going so far as to provide idols with miniature 3D glasses. How do everyday people imagine the gods’ existence and then devise ways of repaying their blessings? The forms such offerings take not only embody ordinary people’s loveable natures but also show how folk religious practices change with the times. By contrast, in Zheng Wentang’s “Old Man & Me” and Chen Guofu’s “The Debut” feature not gods but ghosts. But these spooks aren’t really scary; on the contrary, they’re full of human warmth. The gods and ghosts in these three shorts highlight characteristics of human behavior.
Wei Te-sheng’s “Debut” also features communication with the divine. Wei’s short film shows Lin Qingtai praying prior to the international release of 2011’s Seediq Bale, in which he had a starring role. A member of the indigenous Atayal tribe, Lin is also a Presbyterian preacher. Taiwan’s aborigines had their own forms of spirituality – how are these beliefs integrated with Christianity? And how does a primitive hunter become a modern evangelist? Lin’s prayer embodies both paradox and understanding, and both humans and the divine have their places within it.
Finally, Zhang Aijia’s “The Dust of the Gods” is an adaptation of Lu Cheng Da’s epistolary essay. In Lu’s original, a pastoral counselor conveys a young killer’s sorrow and remorse to his victim’s family members, asking that they forgive the youth – who has been sentenced to death – so that he may find inner peace. Both essay and film examine questions of life, death, and life after death. Faced with the young condemned man’s unreceptiveness, the counselor tells him: “We must learn how to talk with the Bodhisattva” – thus, religion is the means by which the counselor seeks to open the youth’s heart. And when the young convict inquires “Can a bad person like me become a good spirit after death?” he is actually asking a basic religious question: Do a person’s actions define his or her essential nature? Can people be redeemed?
Before he is executed, the young man says, “The Bodhisattva has saved a place for me,” indicating that religion has eased his fear of death. Immediately following the report of the executioner’s pistol, the young man’s clothing is shown flying upward, as though it has wings, cinematically embodying a line in Lu’s essay – “In his eyes I see butterflies and light” – a symbol of the youth’s liberation. In the final scene the counselor sends the victim’s family a picture the young man drew of the girl that he killed, in which she is wearing the Bodhisattva Guanyin’s headdress. Thus the boy seeks forgiveness from both humans and gods – here mortals and immortals are as one, and all deities are present.
Film 10+10 trailer (Source: Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival Executive Committee)