Well Go Usa // 2011 // 150 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 15th, 2012
In the mountains of Taiwan, two races clashed in defense of their faiths.
In America, it's pretty easy to understand the Japanese involvement in World War II as starting with the bombing of Pearl Harbor and ending with the surrender after the atomic bombs were dropped. That is, unsurprisingly, a very simplified version of events. The deeper truth is that Japan was militarizing long before Pearl Harbor. The twentieth century is replete with examples of Japan attempting to expand its empire. Perhaps the most famous example is the invasion of China (leading to the Rape of Nanking). Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale dramatizes a similar effort, this time focusing on the Japanese incursion into Taiwan. It's a rousing story of indigenous peoples rising up against terrible odds, but this "domestic version" doesn't tell the whole story.
The Seediq peoples have occupied Taiwan for hundreds of years; they are essentially the natives of the island. They are not happy when the Japanese military takes over the island, since they are reduced to little more than slaves. A number of them rose up in what has become known as the Wushe Incident. After successfully attacking (and killing) a Japanese military group, the Seediq were forced to weather a brutal retaliation.
Warriors of the Rainbow fits rather neatly into the indigenous people versus their oppressors flicks. Braveheart and The Last of the Mohicans are two of the more familiar examples of the genre, but since most countries have invaded another country at some point, they're really a world cinema genre. Apparently the Taiwanese people are very much invested in this story being told. So much so that this flick is both Taiwan's biggest budget film and a box-office monster in its native country.
All that dough means Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Blu-ray) looks pretty amazing. It was filmed in the wilderness of Taiwan with very solid production values. Costumes look great, but more importantly there was the budget to get the kind of epic sweep that this story demands. There are numerous action scenes, fighting scenes, and the film does a really effective job convey a sense of the stakes of the conflict.
Much of the apparent budget went to practical effects. The Seediq people have a tradition of beheading their enemies, and Warriors of the Rainbow doesn't shy away from giving us pretty graphic depictions of this traditional form of fighting. While not quite Cannibal Holocaust gory, the film might turn off those just interested in historical material, though action fans will likely appreciate the extra dose of realism.
Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Blu-ray) looks impressive. The 2.35:1/1080p AVC-encoded high definition transfer is top-notch. Fine object detail is especially good, with black levels that are consistent and deep. Color rendition is similarly good, with numerous subtle variations of scenery throughout. The CGI can look a bit cheap and the jungle sometimes looks strange, but overall this is a very watchable transfer. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track is similarly impressive. It's in both the Seediq and Japanese languages (with English subtitles), and both forms of dialogue come through loud and clear. Battle scenes are impressively boom-y, and there is some good use of the surrounds during action scenes.
Extras start with 22 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage, and continue with a short making-of featurette and a makeup featurette. Both the "domestic" and "international" trailers are included as well.
This isn't supposed to happen anymore; fans or the curious being forced to choose between the two and a half hour "festival/domestic" cut of the film or the "international" version which brings an additional two hours of material. Though I haven't seen the longer cut (and can't comment on what others see as its superiority), I can say that from a consumer point of view, it's totally unacceptable to force viewers to choose. It's especially unacceptable with a less-well-known foreign film, where viewers might not even realize until it's too late that they've purchased one of two different versions of the film.
Just as significantly, Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale (Blu-ray) contains substantially fewer extras than the "international" counterpart. That disc contains a making-of documentary which is itself almost as long as this cut of Warriors of the Rainbow. Though the extras included here are fine, they're not nearly as substantial as those on the other version.
Also, the real kicker is that this cut has no indication on the packaging that it's the domestic cut. I'm not always opposed to multiple releases of the same movie, but I'm always against a lack of clear packaging.
As for the movie itself, it's pretty blatantly on the side of the Taiwanese. Just as many people objected the William Wallace's fey opponent in Braveheart, this is not a film that gives a balanced portrait of the Japanese. They're all but twirling their moustaches during the film. Surely the men who perpetrated the violence of the Wushe Incident were without a doubt not-nice people (at least where the Taiwanese were concerned), but making them one-dimensional doesn't make it easier for non-Taiwanese viewers to access the film.
Warriors of the Rainbow is an interesting film that presents American viewers with an aspect of world history not generally acknowledged. Though its accuracy isn't 100 percent (as the one-dimensional Japanese characters show), it's a fun (though a bit bloody) historical film. Action fans will also appreciate its more realistic scenes of violence. However, the disc is probably only recommended for rental, as the lack of the film's longer cut (and lack of advertising of that lack) makes a purchase hard to countenance. Those with full knowledge of both cuts can buy this disc with confidence, knowing the audiovisual presentation is wonderful.
The disc is guilty of misleading consumers, but the film is great.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Well Go Usa
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (Japanese, Seediq)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese, Seediq)
Running Time: 150 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated