Wang Xinyu, MA, Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Tsing Hua University
Faithball (2013) joins two disparate subjects – religion and baseball. Based on actual events of the 2003 Taiwan Golden Dragon Pennant National High School Baseball Tournament – Taiwan’s equivalent of Japan’s prestigious national high-school baseball championship games – in which Chiayi’s National Tung-Shih Senior High School baseball team made its way into the semifinals. The film’s Chinese title – “Empresses of Heaven Do Battle” – alludes to the goddess Mazu: the “battle” is fought between two teams, Tung-Shih High School and arch-rival National Pei-Kang Agricultural & Industrial Vocational High School, each of whom show up at the championship match in Chiayi County’s Puzi with Mazu effigies for spiritual support, the Tung-Shih team bringing Puzi’s Pei Tian Temple Mazu and Pei-Kang Agricultural & Industrial accompanied by Beigang Township’s Chao-Tian Temple Mazu. According to legend, it was only Mazu’s blessings that held the players of the Tung-Shih team together, allowing them to clinch the Golden Dragon Pennant and set outstanding new records in Taiwan high-school baseball.
Tung-Shih High School’s name has been changed to “Shih-Tung High School” in the film. On the surface, the story seems to be about baseball, but actually religion supplies the movie’s driving force. Without the support of Pei Tian Temple and Mazu’s auspicious omens the team might not have come together. A couple of the players actually served in the temple – in the script they are portrayed as Mazu’s bodyguards, “Farsighted Guardian” and “Well-informed Guardian,” and like the goddess’s legendary protectors, they are gifted with acute eyesight and ultra-sensitive hearing. During the play the two temples’ Mazu effigies are brought out to compete with each other, thus the baseball game is not simply a human competition but also a showdown between supernatural forces, highlighting the importance of religious belief in Taiwan.
Realism and a strong sense of place inform the film. Set in Puzi, a fishing port in Chiayi County’s Dongshi Township, the Shih-Tung team’s baseball field is a landfill packed with oyster shells. To raise money to cover team expenses, players work part-time jobs, form a boat-racing team that takes first place in the annual Dragon Boat competition, and festoon their uniforms with the names of local merchants and merchandise. Thus, the film realistically portrays Taiwan baseball’s unique and sometime unconventional development.
The film’s successful blending of localism and religion explains the goddess Mazu’s special significance to the people of Taiwan – to many Taiwanese, Mazu is a beloved guardian and a source of spiritual sustenance, a goddess who can be called on to intercede in matters great and trivial.
At the end of the film, “Faithball” raises its most mysterious veil; many people and events that seem to have been “fictionalized” are real or did in fact take place: for example, the 100 year-old “sacred tree” that is said to cure illness; the baseball team’s first-place finish in the Dragon Boat races; Uncle Babu, the ice-cream seller who goes on the run for a year after a gambling loss; and the appearance of the goddess Mazu’s holy carriage on the baseball field. Thus, the director shows audiences that truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, making for some of the film’s most inspiring and heartening moments.
|Related Literary Themes：||Religious Literature|