Wang Liru, PhD student, Department of Taiwan Culture, Languages, and Literature, National Taiwan Normal University
Director Wang Yemin’s 2008 Tea Fight places Taiwan’ tea culture in the context of an imaginary history of tea in China, Japan, and Taiwan. The film interconnects and interprets the origins of modern Asian tea consumption, creating legends that trace tea’s culture’s transmission from China to Japan and Taiwan. In Tea Fight tea gives rise to familial, romantic, and ethnic conflicts, depicting hatred, disappointment, and regret, but also brings about liberation, relinquishment, and forgiveness.
The story begins with an imaginary tea-tasting competition in ancient China. “Black Golden Tea,” a variety of incomparably excellence from the golden age of Chinese tea cultivation, comes in two types, “Male Black Golden Tea” and “Female Black Golden Tea.” The former makes drinkers violent and aggressive, while the latter induces calm, soothing the soul. According to legend, combining the two is the key to attaining immortality. At the tasting competition, proponents of the “male” variety fall out with advocates of the “female variety” because Saemon Yagi, a Japanese tea connoisseur, favors the female variety. Enraged at losing the competition, the “male” tea-tribe goes on a rampage, slaughtering the “female” tea-tribe and torching all of the Female Black Golden Tea. Yagi fortunately escapes with his life and manages to carry “female” tea sprouts back to Japan, saving the variety from extinction, but at the same time bringing the legendary “Curse of the Female Black Golden Tea” down on his family. From there on the plot revolves around modern-day family conflicts (against her father’s wishes, Mikiko, a beautiful young Yagi descendant, travels to Taiwan to learn about tea) and the ongoing feud between “male” and “female” tea-tribes (in Taiwan Mikiko meets Yang, a handsome young gangster who just happens to be a descendant of the “male” tea-tribe). Narrated by Lu Yu, China’s legendary “Sage of Tea,” the story centers on conflicts of kinship, romance, and ethnicity, all of which are caused – and ultimately resolved – by tea. The film’s core message is unveiled in the final scene – the “tea fight” – where competition is not about brewing the best tea or having the best tealeaves, but about finding inner peace and gaining self-understanding.
Tea Fight focuses on the East Asian tea culture. Although it’s an imaginary story about legendary “tea-tribes,” the film follows the historical path of tea culture’s growth and evolution, tracing the route of tea’s dissemination from China to Japan, where the “Way of Tea” (Japanese tea ceremony) was born, and on to Taiwan, where the Male Golden Tea tribe put down roots and “pearl milk tea” is ubiquitous. Today tea is the preferred beverage of connoisseurs and commoners alike, sipped by elites and guzzled by the masses. In portraying both ends of the tea-culture spectrum, Tea Fight illustrates the drink’s historical transmission and transformation, reflecting the complexity and diverseness of food and beverage in human civilization.
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