For over four hundred years the pacific island we know as Taiwan was known by its Portuguese name, Ilha Formosa (Beautiful Island). Thus, the Formosa betrayed in this apply named film is the perpetually occupied island of Taiwan; at issue in this historically interesting but otherwise banal thriller is the identity of these betrayers. Turns out, it’s everyone. While it is captivating stylistically, and the primer on the China/Taiwan relationship is great fodder for political geeks, even in its deepest moments of intrigue and pathos this is a cable TV movie at best, and it will likely reap its rewards in that venue. Still, attention put on the film’s historical and political content should help boost revenues in theatrical.
The film begins with the murder of a noted Taiwanese-American professor on American soil; the killers escape to Taiwan. A young, idealistic FBI agent, Jake Kelly (James Van Der Beek, TV’s Dawson’s Creek), is assigned to the case and dispatched to Taiwan to observe the investigation of Taiwanese police and government officials. The history lesson(s) previously mentioned are ostensibly intended for Jake; but it’s the audience they are quite specifically directed toward. For buffs it’s a penetrating history indeed. The filmmakers want us to know the history of Taiwan as it relates to Mainland China, but it is the hidden history of the Taiwanese people’s oppression by the occupying government of Chiang Kai-Shek that is actually the film’s sore spot. It’s a gripping history that dates back to the communist victory on the Mainland during WWII, and includes betrayals of the Taiwanese people by their occupying Chinese brothers (including the massacre of 20 thousand Taiwanese people), by the interests of mainland China and by the United States of America, time and time again. The question of who killed the Taiwanese-American professor is hardly interesting in juxtaposition to those great and truly fascinating dramas, and pales in comparison.
The noted cast of Chinese actors, including Tzi Ma as a cop either in league with or working against Jake and Ming (Will Tiao), a Taiwanese activist who attempts to help Jake come to understand where he is and what’s really going on—are exceptional. The American cast, including veteran John Heard as a burned out FBI station chief; Wendy Crewson as a American diplomat with agendas; and, lastly, young Dawson himself, still earnest as the FBI agent seeking the truth—are each less than convincing. They latter all seem like they’re in this week’s episode of some American television series, adapted from a BBC television series, which was probably better, but still not a movie.
Distributor: Screen Media
Cast: James Van Der Beek, Wendy Crewson, Chelcie Ross, John Heard, Tzi Ma and Will Tiao.
Director: Adam Kane
Screenwriter: Charlie Straton, Yann Samuell, Ban Askew and Nathaniel Goodman
Producers: Adam Kane, Will Tiao and David Cluck,
Rating: R for some violent content.
Running time: 86 min.
Release date: February 26 ltd.