Chen Hsinchuan, MA, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Director Yin Qi’s Viva Baseball (2012) deals with gambling and game-fixing scandals in professional baseball, a rarity in Taiwanese cinema. Umi (Huang Shaoqi), the story’s protagonist, is a down-on-his-luck former baseball star whose involvement in betting scandals forced him to leave the game. Through a series of coincidences he returns to the ball field, coaching Taichung’s Qingtun High School baseball team. When he and team leader Nancy (Zhou Caishi) lead the squad to across-strait high-school baseball tournament, Wumi hopes to redeem himself and begin a new life.But a gangster named Bada has other ideas. Previously involved in professional baseball’s betting scandals, Bada now looks to corrupt high school ball. In cahoots withQing Tun High’s principal, Bada threatens and cajoles Umi and his players – at times resorting to actual violence – trying to coerce them into throwing the championship game so that he and his cronies can collect big on bets.In the end, Bada is killed by one of his underlings, a diehard baseball fan. Honest and incorruptible, Wumi makes good on his chance to start over again.
Unique among recent baseball films – Baseballlove (2012), Faithball (2013), and Kano (2014) – Viva Baseball delves into the betting and game-throwing scandals that have plagued the sport in Taiwan.For Taiwanese audiences, Wumi’s character and baseball uniform will undoubtedly call to mind the 1996 “Black Eagle Incident,” a game-fixing scandal, and “Baseball King” Liao Minxiong, a star player who left the game in the scandal’s wake, but later returned to coach high-school baseball.In looking back on the sport’s dark past, the film shines a light on game-fixing’s ever-deeper social and political layers, implying that the betting scandal was not simply an isolated incident, but a deep-rooted and complex phenomenon. For example, in their phone conversations with Bada, a gangland boss and the high-school principal mention a “bureau chief,” implying that high-level government officials were also involved in fixing games.
But Viva Baseball is also a film about growth – the Qingtun players learn about life by working, playing, losing, and winning together. A line of background narrationexpresses one of the movie’s themes: “I’m a baseball player; all I know how to do is play ball.”In the Taiwanese educational system those with superior athletic ability undergo elite training, but apart from the narrow world of sports, few other career paths are open to them. When a young person majors in physicaleducation or becomes part of an official “sports delegation,” it’s tantamount to announcing that he or she is incapable of doing anything else.As the film shows, dishonesty is endemic even in nonprofessional high-school baseball, creating a moral dilemma for teenage athletes. Other factors – family background, environment, and economic pressures, and even the rigid training system – either add to the difficulty of making moral choices or contribute to the repeated incidences of cheating. Viva Baseball ends happily for all. But in Taiwanese sports circles – both amateur and professional – betting and game throwing are still problems to be reckoned with.
|Related Literary Themes：||Young Adult|