Peng Yu-Ping, Ph. D. student, Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Blue Brave: The Legend of Formosa in 1895 is a historical drama set against the backdrop of the Yiwei War, a conflict named for the traditional Chinese designation of the year in which it took place, 1894. By the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, a defeated China ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1895. As Japanese military forces approached the island, the president and military commanders of the short-lived Taiwan Republic fled to China. Unwilling to surrender, three Hakka youths – Wu Tangxing, Xu Xiang, and Jiang Shaozu – organized an army of volunteers to resist the Japanese takeover. Armed with only crude weaponry – farm implements and bamboo staves – the volunteers pitted themselves against a modern Japanese fighting force.
The narrative is built around the love story of Wu Tangxing and Huang Xianmei. A member of the gentry, Wu owned land and operated a camphor factory in Taiwan’s Miaoli area. But to Wu the ground he himself had cleared and cultivated was more than mere property – indeed, it was his homeland, and resistance to foreign conquest a duty. Initially, volunteer guerilla attacks inflicted heavy losses on the Japanese. But the invaders soon adopted a policy of all-out war, slaughtering entire villages of men, women and children, and capturing Jiang Shaozu, the last surviving leader of the resistance. Short of provisions, their ranks decimated by superior Japanese firepower, Taiwanese forces ultimately suffered a tragic defeat.
More than a stereotypical tale of ethnic valor or bloody action film, Blue Brave questions the nature of armed conflict: What is war? What do people yearn for? What emotions surface in actual combat?
Jiang Shaozu’s inner turmoil provides some of the film’s most affecting moments. A hot-blooded youth, Jiang finds himself at odds with other leaders of the resistance. Disillusioned, he returns home briefly, confessing his fears to his pregnant wife, Manmei. Before rejoining his comrades-in-arms, Jiang leaves Manmei a jade pendant to remember him by, for he knows he will not return. Later, captured and soon to be executed, he writes a poem on the wall of his prison cell, his last words: A lone soldier on the frontier/ Intestines torn with dread/ A man’s duty is to his country/ Surrender? Better die instead. Thus Jiang places nation above self, choosing death before dishonor,.
Blue Brave: The Legend of Formosa in 1895 vividly recounts the Taiwanese struggle for freedom against the Japanese, and the collective trauma of submission to a colonial power. The film provides a factual portrayal of events, but goes beyond the documentary to explore the human drama of individuals swept up in the tide of history.