In 1895, the island of Taiwan was ceded to the Japanese under the treaty of Shimonoseki between Japan and China. The Japanese swept the island, subduing all resistance from the twelve native mountain tribes and bringing about civilization. Twenty five years later, that civilization has been firmly established with post offices, police stations, and the general offerings of a civilized community. While some of the native tribesmen joined the Japanese police and such, most were relegated to working low paying labor jobs that only paid them enough to stay drunk on wine, which many of them did quite frequently.
When the Japanese first came, a warrior from one of the tribes named Mouna Rudo (Lin Ching-Tai) who exhibited extraordinary endurance, strength and battle prowess, had just performed the blood sacrifice by killing some other tribe members. This typically involved decapitation and returning home with the heads of your enemies. Once this was done, you were considered Seddiq Bale (a true man), and received a tattoo on your chin and forehead to signify you as such. Now, twenty five years have passed, and he’s the leader of his tribe and respected by all, but he’s not the same man anymore, at least not at first. The tribal leaders had been taken to Japan to sit around a table together and work out agreements with the Japanese, who showed them their military abilities and troop strength in order to convince the leaders of the tribes that it was hopeless to resist. As such, Mouna Rudo did his best to keep the peace and to keep his people alive. Eventually however, every warrior must fight for his freedom, and Mouna sent word to the leaders of the twelve tribes to convince them to gather their warriors together with his so they could attack the Japanese on a day of sport when they would all be gathered into one place. Six tribes agreed to join, while one sided with the Japanese against their own kind. Thus, the rebellion was born.
John Woo produced this film, and it comes in at exactly two and a half hours long. I honestly wasn’t surprised at this, and I had a feeling why, which was confirmed when I saw the film. John Woo films tend to have a lot of overly dramatic, slow motion fighting shots in them. They also tend to really stretch out the battle scenes. The battle scenes in this film are both numerous, and very long. Therein lies the problem. This film was just way too long. Lay off the slow motion stuff, cut down the length of some of the battle scenes and leave out some other unimportant things in the story, and the running time could have been cut by at least a half hour, if not more.
Another problem with this film is that by the end, very literally the only name of any character you’ll probably remember is Mouna’s. There are a huge number of characters in this film, but no one other than Mouna that’s really important enough to stand out to the point where you’d remember their name, or even care about them. You’ll find yourself pulling for the tibes to succeed as a whole, but the tribes themselves are really entities rather than individuals. You’ll recognize faces of characters who are in it regularly, but you’ll be hard pressed to remember their names.
The title of this film refers to the belief that those who perform the blood sacrifice, will be welcomed by their ancestors into the ancestral hunting grounds on the other side of the rainbow bridge when they die. As I stated previously, this blood sacrifice involves decapitating your enemies, which is something you’ll see a lot of in this film. Most of the tribesmen carry they very large, very sharp machetes that they fight with when in close combat, and decapitation seems to be a common method of killing in battle, and also as a way of finishing off a wounded enemy who’s down.
The brutality of the battle scenes was expected. What I didn’t expect was the number of suicides. Whole families killing themselves off. A mother throwing her dead son, and then her live baby off a cliff before hanging herself. A tribesman who served as a policeman for the Japanese killing his wife (who died willingly), and then smothering his baby before killing himself.
While this film does have a serious length problems and a lack of characters you can really get into and identify with, it does excell in other areas. Visually, the film is absolutely beautiful. It’s shot in the mountains of Taiwan, and it’s really just stunningly beautiful. They made great use of the terrain and mountain paths for the battle scenes, and the battle scenes themselves were both exciting and well crafted, often leading to a massacre of one side or the other, and sometimes both. The suicide scenes as well, were very, very dramatic and well done. The mood in those scenes is palpable and it’s one of the few times where you really feel bad for these people. I mean, you feel bad for them in general, but those scenes are just sort of heartbreaking.
There are copious amounts of CGI effects in this film. Some look better than others. The decapitations often looked quite good, while some of the other visual effects, such as the Japanese planes flying overhead and some of the explosions were more obvious. This is the most expensive film to come out of Taiwan to date, and I’m guessing that a huge amount of the film’s budget went to CGI effects, props, village construction and paying cast members, because there were a just a huge number of people in this movie, on both sides.
The film, while slow paced at times and suffering from the issues I mentioned above, actually does a good job of protraying the real life events in a dramatic way. The film is based on actual history, and its presented in a dramatic way that puts you right into the middle of the lives of these people that have been forced to live under Japanese rule. I’m trying to think of who this film would appeal to. It’s kind of hard to say really. In a way, it’s a bit like a war film, but despite all the battles, I’m not sure I would describe it as such. It’s based on real events, so it’s more of a historical film, and yet it has so much brutal fighting in it, I’m not sure it would appeal to those looking for something historical specifically. People who really like to get into the characters would probably not find this film very satisfying, and yet, somehow this film works simply because it has some appeal in all of those areas. The quote on the cover says it’s like Braveheart with a nod to Last of the Mohicans. I’ve never actually seen either of those films, but from what I know about them, I would venture to say that if you liked either of them, you’d probably really enjoy this one as well.
The blu-ray of this film includes as special features, a making of featurette, a behind the scenes look at the film, and a featurette about the make up and visual effects.
In the end, this is a very well crafted film, with some issues that bothered me, including length and lack of intimate character development. Can I recommend it despite those issues? Yes, I can, but with the caveat that I’m not seeing much rewatchability in it. It’s good to see once, for the battles, drama and intensity of it all, but I doubt you’d be up for watching it again in the next year or two after seeing it the first time. It’s good to experience it at least once though, so on that basis, I can recommend it.
By the way, I was fortunate to have received the two and a half hour version of the film to review. Well Go USA has also released a four and a half hour international version as well.
If you’d like to find out more about this film, or to pick up a copy for yourself, you can visit its page on the Well Go USA website here, or you can grab yourself a copy of the blu-ray or DVD from Amazon, or any of the other usual outlets.