A version of this review appeared in the online version of The Age, September 13, 2012.
Buffs who associate Taiwan with super-subtle art cinema may get a shock upon plunging into this big-budget battle epic – based on an actual incident from 1930, when an indigenous forest clan, the Seediq, rose up in doomed revolt agains the Japanese occupiers of their land. Given the still uncertain political status of Taiwan as a nation, it's clear why this story resonates today. Yet Warriors of The Rainbow remains essentially a brutal yet romantic action-adventure, as if the director Wei Te-sheng had seen Avatar and realised that he could do something similar without needing to send his characters into outer space. The camera swoops over lush green hills, swords clash and pan-pipes warble, while blood spurts in tasteful amounts.
If the film can be believed, the Seediq warriors were intent above all on gaining honour by decapitating their enemies (women could achieve something similar through weaving). At the most interesting moments, the martial code it celebrates seems bracingly alien: as defeat looms, suicide preceded by the slaughter of one's offspring is viewed as a noble if tragic gesture. More frequent are lapses into sheer kitsch, with digital rainbows shimmering above the forest at the appropriate symbolic moments. For the record, the theatrical cut of Warriors of the Rainbow discussed here is roughly half the length of the full version recently shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival; the missing scenes probably made the narrative easier to follow, but for this viewer two-and-a-half hours felt like quite enough.