Five years ago, in 2005, it was just an idea. A passion project being born.
Starting today, February 26, 2010, the feature film Formosa Betrayed is playing in select theaters across the country. The Taiwanese American community has done an amazing job emphasizing the importance of this weekend (everyone and their mother should go see it– twice– bringing friends each time), but I’m zooming out a bit further to describe what the journey has been like in the last five years– from my perspective as someone only loosely tied to the production but very strongly supportive of it. If you don’t know much about the film, scroll to the bottom for a better synopsis and links to more information. And if you’re in a major city, take it upon yourself to GO AND SEE IT TODAY!
Back in 2005, Politician-turned producer/writer/actor Will Tiao wanted to bring Taiwan’s story to the big screen via a Hollywood feature film. And so he began traveling around the country to drum up support in the Taiwanese American community.I remember my initial excitement (and skepticism) hearing him speak at the 2006 ITASA conference at Illinois. The initial synopsis that he circulated went something like this:
Inspired by the murders of Professor Chen Wen-Chen and journalist Henry Liu, as well as countless other Taiwanese democracy and independence activists and their struggles during the “White Terror” period, Will Tiao with his team of Hollywood screenwriters created a fictional story based on the real events.
In 1983, during a routine small-town murder investigation of a Taiwanese professor, a disenfranchised cop – suffering from an identity crisis and a loss of faith in the justice system – slowly unearths a spiderweb of international secrets that has been thriving within college campuses across America for decades. With the help of the outspoken widow and a Taiwanese spy, he finds himself on a head-on collision not only with his own personal demons, but also with the U.S. State Department, the Chinese Mafia, and ultimately to the highest levels of the Nationalist Chinese Government in Taiwan.
My initial reactions are mixed. If this guy can actually pull it off, well, the possibilities are amazing. On the other hand, he could be full of idealistic fervor, and this could turn out to be a sad little movie that no one wants to watch.
But in the next several months, Will hits fundraising hard. Before you know it, he’s raised over $6 Million for the project. It’s starting to look like this will really happen.
Early 2007, one of my good friends Jon Lee embarks on being an assistant to Will for the project. All possibilities still ahead of him, Jon reflects on doing something for the love, and the potential he has for making an impact.
I am actually very excited for this job. I look at it as an immensely satisfying opportunity to do what I want to do and staying true to myself while being paid for it and hopefully keeping the parents happy.
While working on commercials in Hollywood has been a great experience, the final product of my work lacks the positive impact on humankind that I wish my work to have… I remembered that one night and promptly wrote a post-it note on my desktop saying, “stay in california until formosa betrayed gets made.” And as fortune would have it, I ran into Will at a Taiwanese event that weekend, and we spoke about the possibility of me helping the project, and here I am now.
Over the next year, production gets underway. We (those of us on the outside) aren’t holding our breaths so much any more, but getting involved tangentially and keeping an ear on what’s happening with the film. Actual filming begins in Chicago and later, Thailand. We learn that the lead is James Van Der Beek. Dawson? Yes, Dawson.
Fast forward to last year, 2009. Word is, the movie has been cut. It exists! And critics are saying it’s actually pretty good. I get myself invited to the cast/crew/investors-only premiere in Los Angeles as an official photographer. It’s timed to coincide with the historically significant date February 28, known as 228.
Click to view my posting from last year.
It’s pretty surreal to be mixing and mingling with the cast on the red carpet: Wendy Crewson, James Van Der Beek, and Leslie Hope.
The audience settles in to view this passion project as it comes to fruition. For me, it was a mixture of awe and relief seeing the movie for the first time and realizing it’s actually good. Words cannot describe what it was like to see this story, so near and dear to my heart, projected on the screen.
And afterwards, with producer/actor Will Tiao, director Adam Kane, myself, and actor James Van Der Beek.
As amazing as the premiere was, and as gratifying as it was to see the movie, it was never made just for people like me who already know the story of Taiwan. The goal has always been to bring the story to mainstream America, and so here we are now.
2010. After buzzworthy attention at several major film festivals, Formosa Betrayed got picked up by distributor Screen Media Films and set out to get into theaters nationwide. Again timed for the weekend of February 28 (228), the film’s opening day was set for February 26, 2010.
Cast and crew set out to promote the film around the country. Last month, they were in the Bay Area for a Lunar New Year event cosponsored by TaiwaneseAmerican.org.
Actor Tzi Ma speaks about the film as Will Tiao looks on.
Two Taiwanese American actors in the film, Adam Wang and Henry M. Chu, play the killers.
Apparently, Adam is a very funny guy!
Again, I am the one tangentially involved as official photographer, and this time, I get to spend a bit of time with all of the cast and crew at the event: Adam Kane, Tzi Ma, and Will Tiao.
Ok, so it’s been a really long journey. But now, it’s the main event. From one man’s passion project to an amazing, collaborative production, this film has huge potential. From Will Tiao himself:
The Taiwanese people have suffered at the hands of many over the last century, but these stories have rarely been told or heard. As a second generation Taiwanese American, I feel it is my duty to educate my generation, as well as the world, about the struggles and suffering of the Taiwanese. We cannot allow our country’s history and our people’s hardships to be forgotten. Once that happens, it only becomes a matter of time before it is repeated. This is precisely why I spent the last five years of my life working on Formosa Betrayed.
As the turbulent reaction to President Obama’s recent arms sale to Taiwan shows, US-China-Taiwan relations are still a hot button topic that is greeted by fleeting interest, faint support, or –worst of all– indifference by the American media. I am hoping the release of Formosa Betrayed will help spur greater awareness and wider discussion about these important matters in the United States and abroad. The Taiwanese people deserve to have an equal voice in affairs related to our country’s future. We cannot sit quietly and allow others to decide our fate. This is why I am urging you to see Formosa Betrayed with your children, family and friends…
No one else is going to do this for us. We must do this ourselves and we must do this now.
Formosa Betrayed is out in select theaters today, February 26, 2010. It is a “political thriller” about Taiwan’s democracy movement in the ’70s and ’80s based on actual events. The film stars James Van der Beek (aka Dawson of Dawson’s Creek), an FBI agent who investigates a murder in the U.S. that leads him to Taiwan and a deeper understanding of the political turmoil there. It’s incredibly important for independent films to have a strong showing in their opening weekend, and with your help, we’re aiming to top the box offices for indy films this weekend. View the full list of theaters here (NY, NJ, Bay Area, LA, Orange County).
More information, visit the Official Website of Formosa Betrayed
View the official trailer here (Note: Rated R for “some violence”).