‘Formosa Betrayed’: Thriller also a nice slice of history

  • By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, April 8, 2010 7:46pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

An unusual and sincere effort at combining social history with a thriller plot, “Formosa Betrayed” would very much like to call your attention to some underappreciated events that happened in Taiwan in the years after World War II.

In order to hold your attention while doing this, the movie has cooked up a suspense story loosely inspired by actual deaths in the early 1980s. The result always feels like a lecture dressed up as a movie, but it’s not without its merits.

If you want the entire history lesson, see the movie. The gist of it is to remind viewers that some suspicious deaths in the early ’80s were probably an effort to silence rebels speaking out in favor of Taiwanese independence from the Chinese.

Chiang Kai-Shek’s Chinese government came to rest on Taiwan (or Formosa, as it was then known) after being driven off the mainland by the Communist Chinese. To the anti-Communist West, Formosa became the Republic of China, a situation that did not always sit well with the Taiwanese natives.

And if that sounds like a dry recounting, believe me, there are scenes in “Formosa Betrayed” that go on much longer than that. This is the education of an American FBI man (James Van Der Beek) who’s been sent to Taiwan to “observe” the investigation of the murder of a Taiwan-born U.S. citizen.

Naturally, our hero can’t resist being a cowboy once he gets to Taiwan, especially when he realizes what a frame-up the whole thing is turning out to be. Will Tiao plays the local who feeds him the truth (he’s also one of the screenwriters and producers) and Wendy Crewson plays the U.S. liaison whose hands are, as they always say in diplomatic situations like this, tied.

The movie hints a bit at how America’s delicate game of global chess-playing has affected many different pieces, but that’s mostly left in the background. The film is especially keen on noting the violent Chinese put-down of a Taiwanese revolt on Feb. 28, 1947, which was left officially unmentioned in Taiwan for many years — in one scene, protestors referring to the massacre are shot at and arrested.

Directed with neat, handsome visuals by longtime cinematographer Adam Kane, “Formosa Betrayed” almost seems like a specialty film aimed at people who might already be interested in the subject matter. For them, the forceful tale of injustice in Taiwan will be a welcome gift.

What is the other audience for this movie? All those people who’ve been wondering what happened to James Van Der Beek since “Dawson’s Creek” went off the air. He’s pretty good in this mode and could restart his career as a more seasoned leading man.

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