Yang Fumin, PhD Student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
With executive production by Khan Lee and direction by Xu Mingchun, 2013’s Attabu mainly tells the story of the Lin family from Wufeng Township, who crossed the sea from China to settle in Taiwan. In addition to chronicling the family’s rise and fall in fortune, the film also portrays the latter part of the Qing dynasty, when large numbers of people living in dire straits in China’s southeast coastal region left to come to Taiwan, up until the First Sino-Japanese War, when the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki put an end to this chapter in migratory history. This type of historical documentary has rarely been seen from the hands of Taiwanese filmmakers in recent years. The film ends with the eve of Japan’s take-over of Taiwan; an epigraph informs the viewer that Lin Chaodong traveled to China and that Lin Wenqin “avoided Japanese officials at the home in Attabu,” hinting at the possibility of a sequel.
In fact, the rise of the Wufeng Lin family, who dominated central Taiwan during the Qing dynasty, was closely tied up with China’s misfortunes at home and abroad and Taiwan’s popular uprisings. The Lin family cast their shadow across the Lin Shuangwen Rebellion (1786–1787), Taiping Rebellion (1851–1872), Dai Chaochun Incident (1862–1865), and Sino-French War (1883–1885). Thus, the film’s biggest hurdle was taking a fixed historical narrative that has been recorded with reams of documentation and transform it into a series of images with a plot and a story. For most of its ninety minutes, the film focuses on the stories of two key characters, Lin Wencha and Lin Chaodong, with a peripheral interest in Lin Wenming’s execution and Lin Wenqin’s success in the imperial examination. What stands out in this story of the first settler families coming to Taiwan, from the scramble for water and land, to the warring period that has been recorded by history, is the sense of people trying to find a path through the chaos in order to settle down. The makers of Attabu made the decision that characters would be played silently, making each shot like a historical set piece, with stop-motion gestures and a still background. The only sound from an explanatory voiceover, but intertitles are also used to introduce new scenes and move the plot along. Because different historical viewpoints produce different historical interpretations, the off-screen explanation is only one of many possible versions, to the extent that the on-screen action itself calls into question the voiceover’s accuracy.
Thus, Attabu is no mere supplement to Taiwanese history. The immobility of the camera, the silence of the characters, and the design of the animation disrupt the inertia of a linear narrative and a linear historical awareness in an attempt to gradually provoke the audience and so de-construct, call into question, and reconstruct the meaning of Taiwanese history.
1Lin Wenming was wrongly convicted and executed by the authorities in 1870. Later, his story became a famous part of Taiwanese folklore.
|Related Literary Themes：||Histories and Historical Fiction|