Formosa Betrayed

We went to see the new movie Formosa Betrayed yesterday, unintentionally (although, I won’t say coincidentally because I don’t believe these things are by chance) on February 28. I’ll tell you more about the significance of that..

My head is still a jumble of thoughts from the movie. But I’ll start with what it’s all about. Formosa Betrayed is inspired by actual events that happened in Taiwan and the US during the 1940s and the 1980s, namely the US and UN sanctioned takeover of the island by mainland Chinese Nationalists after being defeated by the Communists. In the film, James van der Beek (remember him as Dawson, from Dawson’s Creek?) plays the idealistic young CIA agent trying to unravel the secrecy surrounding the government coverup, which spanned all the way until the 1980s.

One of the main — although little publicized — events of the era was the massacre of 20,000 Taiwanese civilians, mostly professors, journalists, intellectuals and civic leaders. It happened on February 28, 1947 and became known as the 228 Incident. Growing up as a Taiwanese American in the US, I only heard hushed whispers and little bits and pieces about 228, even though my own father witnessed it as a toddler, and some of my relatives were victims. You see, until the mid 1980s, Taiwan was still under martial law, and people on the island and abroad were afraid to speak about the atrocities for fear of their own lives.

We were privileged to have met producer/actor Will Tiao at a Q&A session after the screening. Tiao, a second generation Taiwanese American and former Clinton Administration staffer, wrote the screenplay from conglomeration of historical events, including 228, the Kaoshiung Incident, the murder of journalist Henry Liu in the Bay Area.

Besides being an overall excellent quality film, seriously — it will appeal to the action movie lover, the history buff, and the indie film afficionado — the movie has triggered a lot of thought about my own heritage and how to own it without it owning me. Having lived in a variety of places and travelling in different circles, I’ve had to “pick my battles” on when to identify myself as Taiwanese as opposed to Chinese: ie, working as a TV reporter in small town Idaho: ok to identify as Chinese (heck, I was glad when people didn’t call me Connie Chung), in the Bay Area, I identify myself as Taiwanese (unless Mormon missionaries are knocking at my door, and then I might pretend to be from China and not speak English).

This movie also happens to coincide with a week when I’ve been reading about the things we pass on (intentionally or unintentionally) through the generations, and it makes me think, how much of these experiences have I internalized… and how do I pass this on in a healthy way to my own children? Granted, my kids are only half-Taiwanese and take for granted, as I do, civil liberties and freedom and such. But to some degree is this fear of speaking out ingrained in us?

If anything, I hope Formosa Betrayed will open the doors for the healing process for Taiwanese Americans, especially the older generation who witnessed or were left orphaned by 228. And judging by the feedback Tiao has received as he’s travelled around the country promoting his film, the healing has already begun.


Formosa Betrayed is now available on DVD through Purchases made through this link may result in a commission for HapaMama.

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