Saturday, January 5, 2013

From "City of Sadness" to Tourist Madness


Photo by Kevin Willett

A film about Taiwan's Dark Days shone spotlight on Juifen
Right after the 921 Earthquake that rocked Taiwan in 1999, I spent my first Moon Festival with my gf in Juifen (Chuifen), on the north-east coast of Taiwan. Far from the madding crowds in Taipei, it felt for a while like going to heaven. A little like Banff. A taste of Japan.

As you can see, this city in the clouds is a picturesque mountainside town. But during the height of the Japanese colonial era, it was a booming gold-mining town. "Little Shanghai." It went into decline when the events of World War II forced the mine to close.

But the collection of historical buildings made Jiufen the ideal location for the filming of City of Sadness -  the first Chinese-language film to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival in 1989.

Seen through the eyes of one family, City of Sadness was the first film to deal openly with the KMT's dictatorial reign of terror after Taiwan was "handed-over" from Japan to Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist China. 

The film was also the first to depict the infamous 228 Incident of 1947, in which thousands of people were massacred by Nationalist troops that Chiang sent from China to put down Taiwan's version of "the Arab Spring." Tens of thousands of Taiwanese and mainland Chinese were rounded up, shot, sent to prison or "disappeared."

As one war veteran told me, "Chiang's troops landed at [the nearby port of Keelung] and started firing at anything that moved."

Despite the dark and depressing story, the success of the movie had the odd effect of turning the almost forgotten town into a popular attraction full of tea houses, coffee shops, artisans and tourists. Legions. Myriads.

So - on a good day - Juifen is about one hour from Taipei by train or by car. On a bad day -  such as the last day of a Chinese holiday or a long weekend - it can take three hours or more of hellish driving. Trust me, I've done it.

Photo by Kevin Willett

1 comment:

Nuha Sultana said...

Taiwan is one of the most beautiful island in the world. Thanks for your great sharing.