Film bids to save
nation by showing its marvels
By Tsai Yung-wen 蔡永文
On Sunday afternoon on Nov. 5, I went to see the new documentary Beyond Beauty —
Taiwan From Above (看見台灣) with my family. When we emerged from the movie theater,
I was left with an intense mixture of emotions. I found the documentary very
moving — it had an element of pathos, but also a sense of purpose.
The movie makes an emotional impact right from the beginning, when the viewer
hears the first line of Wu Nien-jen’s (吳念真) narrative: “If you have never seen
this before, it’s just because you were never tall enough,” as an impressive
view of the Central Mountain Range rolls across the screen, accompanied by
powerful music played by the Prague Symphony Orchestra.
It was quite an opening. This, then, is Taiwan, our beautiful island, our Ilha
Formosa. Thanks to the work of Taiwanese director Chi Po-lin (齊柏林), who flew
over these vistas to capture them on film, everyone is now tall enough to
witness the beauty, but also the pathos, of Taiwan.
This aerial documentary employs three elements that make it so special: aerial
imagery, Wu’s narration and a soundtrack that perfectly complements the visuals.
As the camera soars and swoops high above the nation, the elegant beauty and the
sheer majesty of Taiwan made my eyes well up with tears.
However, the viewer is then shown Mother Taiwan, the land that has suckled
Taiwanese and kept them alive, slowly but surely being bled dry as we Taiwanese
— transient guests with our technology and insatiable desires — run amok and
The aerial images show gouged out highlands, leveled ranges, coastlines clogged
with concrete wave breakers and gaping wounds left in the flesh of Mother Taiwan
along the east coast by concrete companies that sell a significant amount of
their products overseas, all of which causes her boundless suffering as her
cries go unheard.
How can one not feel the poignancy of these images when thinking about their
children and grandchildren, and what will be left for them? How can one not feel
despondent upon hearing Wu’s voice half-singing, half-saying: “We have taken so
much and yet given so little.”
However, the documentary then concludes with the camera swooping over a group of
Aboriginal children standing on the peak of Yushan (玉山), singing a song about
Taiwan, about the perseverance of life.
As the vigorous orchestral music plays and settlements nestled in the mountain
far below a vast sea of clouds swept across the screen, I was filled with
complex, yet reassuring, emotions and told myself that I had now properly seen
Taiwan, in all its beauty and pathos.
I was at the same time filled with hope that everyone who dearly loves this
nation can see it as it is and dedicate themselves to striving to preserve and
cherish Mother Taiwan.
Tsai Yung-wen is the dean of the College of Performing Arts at National
Taiwan University of Arts.
Translated by Paul Cooper