Che Pai, MA student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The paintballs rain down in a multicolored shower onto the bronze statue of “the leader,” Chiang Kai-shek, making it look like a postmodern art installation. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” roars an old soldier.
This is the opening scene of the film War Game 229 (2013). “Honor and Glory,” a military dependents’ village is about to be demolished when the war-gaming team Sky Fighter come running through the alleys armed to the teeth, pretending to perform offensive maneuvers. But in one of the alleys they stumble across the genuine article – old veterans who live in the village and who are ready to protect their home by starting a real fight with these young war-gamers.
In 1949 the Chiang Kai-shek regime retreated in defeat from the Chinese Civil War and “relocated” to Taiwan. Soldiers and civilians arriving from the Mainland over the next few years numbered over 1.2 million. To house these teeming ranks, military dependents’ villages were built in large numbers across Taiwan, under the slogan “For every man, a family; for every family, a country. Village and country living as one.” In this way the villages became autonomous, self-contained units with their own unique space and culture.
In War Game 229 a series of intersecting episodes lead the viewer through the cracks of memory into the world of the military dependents’ village. Back in China, Old Kong has a fiancée, but they have to yet hold a wedding. As the “counterattack” against the Communists has become a fleeting dream, he too has become a solitary old man living in Taiwan. The image of the “old taro” is how many aged veterans in Taiwan are represented. 1 Old Mrs. Wang’s little eatery has become a base of operations for this crowd of old veterans, where they gather to play chess and shoot the breeze, holding forth, in their broad accents, on the commander who took a bullet for someone during the 823 Artillery Bombardment, on the chaos of the fighting, on this and on that…. Commander Li’s grandson, Xiaowu, grew up in the village and was looked after by a crowd of “grandpas,” but when he grew up and saw the place where they lived, he felt utterly defeated. When the government ordered that the village be torn down and the old men determined to stand their ground and defend their homes to the death, Xiaowu only became more confused by what this “home” really is.
Hacker, the Sky Fighter team leader, takes one look at the alleys of the crumbling, impoverished village and turns it into the battleground for their game. At work Hacker is a loser. It is only in the virtual world that he can turn himself into a somebody and grasp the ultimate power – the power over life and death.
The village means different things for different communities and generations: it is by turn “home” and “a ruin.” By telling these various life stories, the film focuses on themes that have become important in Taiwan. The lives of the old veterans, whose numbers dwindle year by year, are completely centered on their homes in the military dependents’ villages. As the villages fall into disrepair, should they be torn down, rebuilt, or preserved? How can we reconstruct, comprehend, and carry forwards the historical value of the villages, with all they reveal of Taiwanese history, and of the lives and memories of the veterans? Grandpa Li voices these questions in a solemn and powerful way: “Can you treat lives like playthings?” Although on the surface his words are about life, they also reveal something about the destruction of the villages—it is not merely a matter of whether to “tear down some buildings,” but also a question of whether the culture and life experience of these villages, a source of Taiwan’s historical identity, will continue to exist.
1“Taro” is one of the nicknames for waishengren (i.e. in general, the soldiers who came to Taiwan in 1949) and subsequently their children. The corresponding nickname for benshengren (i.e. ethnic Chinese whose families are long-settled in Taiwan) is “sweet potato.”
|Related Literary Themes：||Writings from Military Dependents’ Villages|