last payback of the seediq bale

I saw the Seediq Bale movie at the theater and wept. That’s two things I usually don’t do: go to the movies, and cry there.

Hey, it wasn’t just me. A friend of my mother said when she went to see Part 2, a full-grown, middle-aged man broke down and sobbed out loud right in the theater.

A Republican (ROC) friend in the film industry asked me, “So, was it good?” He was holding off on seeing it himself, holding out — for personal reasons, or maybe for the sake of the Republic.

I said, “Well, it’s Seediq Bale. You can’t really say it’s ‘good’, or ‘bad’, that wouldn’t make no kind of sense…”

And he was like, “Okay, so you’re just like everyone else now: afraid to come out and say what you really think about this movie.”

It wasn’t fear that held me back, though. It was this feeling that SB was not just entertainment, not “just a movie”. It was an event, an eclipse of our old way of seeing ourselves, a window into some undiscovered part of who we were.

These characters lived on Taiwan, island of the stars and diehards, in the same century that most of us were born into, yet they were nothing like the run-of-the-mill, workaday modern-day Pacific Asian. They had guts. They had athleticism. They had rhythm. They weren’t social drinkers — they drank to get drunk. They didn’t wear “the white man’s” clothing. And they didn’t nerd their lives away in unpaid overtime trying to cut each other’s throats in the high-tech widget business.

They just cut each other’s throats.

I prefer that time they wiped out a Japanese battalion with a flood of boulders, but that's just me.
I prefer that time they wiped out a Japanese battalion with a flood of boulders, but that’s just me.

These were not no “peaceful natives”. They collected each other’s skulls. They lived to kill. You had to kill a man to even grow up and “be a man”. I had to wonder, how long would I have stayed alive in that kind of environment? Would I have killed first, or been killed first?

It was madness, the way these guys hunted each other … but what if they were just being real? What if “civilized man” was a sham?

In the same situation as them, forced to choose between living as slaves and dying with pride, would I have had the guts to pick death, with a tall, cold glass of revenge as an apéritif? Or would I have used my IQ to find me an excuse to weasel out?

I didn’t cry for the dying Seediq. I cried for myself — because my gifts are limited. At times I’ve been forced to pick between “survival slavery” and “proud death” too.

I left the theater. It rained on and off for weeks, just like in the movie.

A month after SB, in a town on the Gulf of Thailand, a “Taiwanese-American” — a hyphen a là Jeremy Lin who hadn’t spent but a few weeks of his entire life in Taiwan — asked me to recommend some Taiwanese films for his long-time expat parents to see. I suggested Cape No. 7 and SB. I tried to explain what these movies meant to me and others. I wondered if he’d get it. He was basically a “foreigner”, except his identity was lightly tied to Taiwan … by a hyphen.

My words built focus as I spoke. Surprisingly, my voice started to quake with emotion. Before I knew it, tears started streaming down my face again.

The theater was different. I’d allowed myself to cry, in the theater. That day on the coast of Cambodia, though, the tears just came. Especially when I got to the part about Dakis Nomin committing harakiri.

Here was this Seediq dude with a Japanese education and a Japanese identity. He worked for the Japanese and wore Anglo-Japanese clothes. When it came time to snuff out his wife and kid and himself, it made sense to him to do it the Japanese way.

But at least he did it. He didn’t sell out. In fact, he bought in.

And here we were, Sino-Taiwanese-Americans with Anglo educations. My friend had an Anglo-American identity as well. I used to have one too, before I melted it down and re-smithed it. Lost men, in any case, in some sense.

I’d been anticipating SB ever since 2003 or four, when the trailer hit. I knew it was gon’ be a tale of revenge, and, as 2Pac put it, “Revenge is like the sweetest joy next to getting pussy.”

But it turned out that SB was not about the revenge of the righteous native. There was nothing righteous about Mouna Rudo and the Seediq. Before the Japanese arrived to strip the Seediq of their hunting grounds and their human dignity, that’s exactly what the Seediq were trying to do to each other, only on a smaller scale.

The Seediq would’ve used industrial-strength chemical weapons on each other for sure, at least once, except they hadn’t learned how to make them.

Seediq women played a key role in all this bro-cide too. What Seediq babe in her right mind would’ve opened her legs for a man who had yet to kill a man?

A damsel to kill for.
A damsel to kill for.

The Japanese lived by the sword. Did they deserve to die by it? I wouldn’t say nay. But the Seediq had lived by the sword too. SB was no Avatar, and this planet ain’t Pandora. We were yesterday’s hunters, hunted tomorrow.

Now that we’ve found the dry-eyed truth, what’re we gon’ do with it?

I don’t really know, but I bet 2Pac would’ve done the same thing as Cool James


Go see Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale in a theater near you, or get your hot little hands on the “uncut” 4.5-hour original release.

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