2020 Program: Live on the Scene: Taiwan’s Martial Law History
The year was 1945, and the Kuomintang had just taken control of Taiwan from Japan. Two years later, an investigation into contraband cigarettes outsid... (Read more)
The year was 1945, and the Kuomintang had just taken control of Taiwan from Japan. Two years later, an investigation into contraband cigarettes outside Tianma Tea House in Taipei caused civilian deaths and casualties due to the authority’s use of improper force. The conflict exploded into the “228 Incident”, planting the seeds of ethnic and cultural clashes in the island’s future. In 1947, martial law was imposed. Under government’s tight control, political discussions were silenced for nearly 40 years, and tens of thousands of people were imprisoned, disappeared, or were executed by shooting. It is only after having party alteration and a more open society that the “White Terror” history was finally able to surface. The ensuing discussions have since enabled the public to revisit this particular piece of history.
This program revisits films selected in past Taiwan Cinema Toolkit editions. They include post martial law feature film Super Citizen Ko (1995), literary short film adaptation Those Days When We Were Young (2015), and experimental short film Letter #69 (2016). Though different in forms, these films all distinctly make White Terror and political prisoners their subject. This program also attempts to look deeper into whether filmmaking and audience psychology during martial law was influenced and shaped by White Terror. One said film is The Best Secret Agent (1964), the first locally produced Taiwanese-language anti-Japanese spy film. The fear of having communist spies in our midst is also palpable in The Bride Who Has Returned from Hell (1965), a film with locked-room murder and haunted house at the center of the story. Dangerous Youth (1969), considered the most pungent Taiwanese-language film existing today, challenges multiple social taboos. It is dynamic, restless, but also suffocating. In these films, the deliberate silencing of the politics of martial law became a form of outcry instead. Mandarin-language film Typhoon (1962) is set in the Mt. Ali Weather Station. The tight but distant enclosed space resembling a total institute locks the characters’ relationships in a stalemate. Ironically, it is only after a break-in by a group of anti-communist organization, “The China Youth Corps”, that a little bit of air finally flows into the Station.
Towards the end of martial law from 1979 to 1983, a series of “Taiwanese Black Movies” boldly depicts crime, lust and revenge in the name of social realism. Documentary Taiwan Black Movies (2005) analyzes these films and juxtaposes striking scenes from Black Movies with actual political and social events to point out the eerie similarities, and affirms the repressed emotions and silenced expressions in the society at that time. This program also includes Woman Revenger (1982), the genre’s most famous work.