Chen Xinyi, Documentary Director
In 2008, I made Life of Captivity, a documentary that focused on my own father’s story. I am grateful for the opportunity to reopen my heart to him; otherwise I would probably be stuck today with a sense of nearly unbearable and irreversible regret.
My father was once a member of the Communist Party of China. I’d never heard him speak about it before I started this documentary film, but there were always vague hints that he was one of the “communist bandits.” I didn’t think too much of it until I decided to propose a film called My Father was a Captured Communist Soldier 1 to the Mainlander Taiwanese Association. It was then that I learned just how hard his life had been.
The Association’s review committee was intrigued, but my father was nervous. He still had lingering anxiety from when he was persecuted and taken prisoner, and he was conflicted about the project. He knew that if he didn’t tell his story, nobody would know this part of history; but if he did, he might be the victim of even more persecution.
If my father was a captive of the Kuomintang for the first half of his life, he was a captive of his family for the rest, and in his later years he was taken prisoner by his daughter’s camera. Before we started filming, we hardly talked to each other except for the occasional argument. This tense relationship left me with a complicated set of emotions as I followed him around, camera in hand. But the truth shown in my documentary had a mystical power that changed our connection. From the other side of the screen, I was finally able to listen intently to my father’s story, and I was also able to accept that he was getting old.
Acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa once compared the filmmaker to a toad frightened by its own ugly reflection in the water. The alarmed toad exudes a stream of toxins from its poisonous gland, but those very toxins are used medicinally to treat injuries. Filming Life of Captivity was a similar experience for me. To my surprise, the “medicine” helped heal not only the emotional scars of our family, but also those of many others in Taiwan. That reward is enough to make me rejoice in being able to play the part of the ugly toad.
1The “New Fourth Army” was established by troops from China’s ruling Kuomintang and its rival, the Communist Party, in 1937 in the battle against imperial Japanese forces. The unit was made up of 10,000 soldiers who reported to the Communist Party. The New Fourth Army was ambushed by Kuomintang troops in the Wannan Incident of 1941, which left over 6,000 casualties. The survivors were taken prisoner.
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