'Sunflower Occupation' ('Tai Yang, Bu Yuan'): Hong Kong Review

Courtesy of Hong Kong International Film Festival
  Gripping if uneven record of a revolution in bloom

Nine Taiwanese documentary makers join forces to produce a ten-part omnibus recording the genesis, process and aftermath of the student-led Sunflower Movement sweeping Taipei last spring

While much was said and filmed by the international media about Hong Kong's Occupy demonstrations last autumn, less attention has been lavished on a similar (and earlier) political seismic shift in Taiwan. It's natural, therefore, that the island's very vibrant independent documentary makers arrive and save the day with a ten-part omnibus outlining the roots, the progress and the aftermath of the Sunflower Movement, a four-week period of civil disobedience that shook the Chinese-speaking world.

Backed by the Taiwan Documentary Filmmakers' Union - the existence of which speaks volumes about the importance of the art form to the island's civil society - Sunflower Occupation makes for vivid viewing of a revolution in action as students stormed and occupied the Taiwanese legislature on March 18, 2014. While there's some overlap across the different segments and the imagery and analyses can be uneven, the project provides a useful primer on the pluses and pitfalls of political activism in a spin-saturated world.

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Making its bow at home at the Taiwan International Documentary Festival in November, Sunflower Occupation has since been shown at a smattering of special screenings in Europe and is now touring cultural centers and university campuses across the US and Canada. The film will make its theatrical, international premiere in, perhaps quite appropriately, Hong Kong in the documentary section of the city's annual international film festival. Given the explosive power of its content, more festival bookings are sure to follow.

As suggested by its original title - which translates as "The Sun Is Not Far" - Sunflower Occupation is unambiguous in its support for the protesters and its criticism of how the state fuelled and then suppressed the movement. But the partisanship is aptly complemented by extensive coverage of nearly all aspects of the campaign. Inevitably, there's the cinema verite stuff documenting students taking over the Legislative Yuan building, as seen in Fu Yue's "A Commander Made By Accident," which focuses on Chen Wei-ting, the chain-smoking, blundering brawn of the movement's three student leaders. Then there are the gripping accounts of the intimidation and brutality meted out to demonstrators in sections "The Night of Enlightenment" (by Chen Yu-ching) and "The Raid of State Apparatus" (Tsai Tsung-lung).

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While segments driven by vox pops of participants and volunteers offer an interesting glimpse of faces beyond the frontlines and headlines,  the sections positioning the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan's historical and social context are of more lasting interest: In Tsai Ching-ju's 1990, former leaders of the Wild Lily Movement of 25 years ago discuss the current developments in the first widespread student-led pro-democracy campaign since the lifting of the decades-long curfew on the island in 1987; Kevin Lee Hui-jen probes the movement's struggle to maintain a united front in Collapse and Rebirth. By mixing dynamism and contemplation, Sunflower Occupation provides much food for thought. It may be undercooked in some parts, but it's stimulating throughout.

Production company: Sunflower Movement Documentary Team, Taipei Documentary Filmmakers' Union

Directors: Fu Yue, Wang Pei-fan, Chen Yu-ching, Tsai Tsung-lung, Tsai Ching-ju, Huang Chao-hui, Li Chia-hua, Kevin Lee, Chou Shi-lun

Producers: Ho Chao-ti, Tsai Tsung-lung

Editor: Lin Kai-po

Music: Blaire Ko Music Studio

International Sales: Taipei Documentary Filmmakers' Union

In Mandarin and Taiwanese


No rating; 120 minutes


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