Chung Chihwei, PhD Student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
The Informer (1998), a popular television series, was adapted from author Li Qiao’s 1982 novel of the same name. Directed by Liu Yihong, the production stars Jiang Yemin and Zhang Benyu, who play the main roles of Tang Ruzu and Su Xiaomei. The tightly plotted and fascinating story unfolds over the course of an hour, the lead actors’ performances giving viewers a vivid and insightful look into their characters’ inner worlds. All in all, this is a marvelous example of Taiwanese literature brought to the screen.
First published in Literary Taiwan, Li Qiao’s “The Insider” is composed of flashbacks that tell the tortuous story of Tang Ruzu, a Kuomintang secret agent with the code number 3874 who was, at various stages of his life, a “rat” or “snitch” – i.e. the titular informer. Tang Ruzu grew up in 1970s Taiwan, a time when the country was under martial law and the state apparatus suppressed free speech and the right to assembly. In order to effectively control the populace, the Kuomintang regime had informers in all sectors of society, agents who were responsible for reporting “illegal” behavior to the authorities. Under this cloud of terror, with people constantly being watched, it was as if, as a folk saying goes, they “had a little Garrison Command in their heads.” However, the ones who watched and informed on others were acknowledged by the state machine and benefitted from their actions. Tang Ruzu was such an anomaly, a product of the twisted social structure.
The television adaptation replaced the novel’s third-person narrative with a first-person internal monologue by Tang Ruzu, giving the audience greater insight into Tang’s life and thinking. In the original, Tang Ruzu meets with setbacks while growing up, his lack of a sense of achievement giving rise to negative emotions, his cowardice hidden behind a law-abiding façade. Later on, Tang feels compelled to separate from his beloved Su Xiaomei because of their political differences. The subtleties of human nature and the intertwining fates of individuals and the nation are brought to the fore, which is also what gives the readers sympathy for Tang Ruzu, allowing them to understand or even forgive him for his actions.
At the end of the television drama, Li Qiao, the novel’s author, notes that Taiwan’s history since 1895 has been full of intervention by foreign powers. Informers were a particularly motive force in the fragmentation of Taiwanese society. For Li Qiao, the ability to look at this history of betrayal in a fair and even sympathetic way is the key to Taiwan’s dealing with historical pain and wounds.
TV Drama The Informer video clip (Source: Formosa Television Inc.)