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Charting Personal Growth Alongside Social Movement, OUR YOUTH IN TAIWAN 我們的青春,在台灣 Is a Documentation of Passionate and Unconventional Youths6 min read

18 October 2019 4 min read


Charting Personal Growth Alongside Social Movement, OUR YOUTH IN TAIWAN 我們的青春,在台灣 Is a Documentation of Passionate and Unconventional Youths6 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A star of the Taiwanese student movement, a celebrity Chinese student who loves Taiwan, and a Taiwanese documentary filmmaker passionate about politics. Each of them shared dreams of rebellion and building a better country. In the wake of the biggest social movement in Taiwan in recent years, they reflect on how close they came to realising their goals, how they were let down, and whether it is still possible to continue fighting for ideals.

Directors: Fu Yue

Cast: Cai Boyi, Chen Wei-Ting

Year: 2018

Country: Taiwan

Language: Mandarin

Runtime: 118 minutes

At 2018’s Golden Horse Film Festival, a controversial winning speech made by Fu Yue, the Taiwanese director of the documentary Our Youth in Taiwan, sparked off political tensions for expressing pro-independence views. This snowballed and resulted in the boycotting of this year’s Golden Horse by mainland Chinese directors and sponsors, an unprecedented scenario for this reputable festival that celebrates Chinese-language films. 

In light of all these and the ongoing student-initiated protests in Hong Kong, the issues and agendas raised in Our Youth in Taiwan become even more pressing and relevant. Shadowing young student activists Chen Wei-Ting and Cai Boyi and their involvement in the 2014 student-led Sunflower Student Movement, Fu Yue is frank about her intentions: she hopes that her documentary will be able to capture the beginnings of social movements and their resulting impacts. The film topic and genre is her activism. 

With a simple set-up and handmade banners, Chen and Cai both started out speaking to empty grounds and disinterested passers-by. Their efforts seemed so small and fruitless in the beginning, with Chen remarking once as he trailed behind a demonstration, “There’s only 70 of us. What can we do?” Cai’s nationality as a mainlander Chinese sees her facing doubts and opposition from both her Taiwanese and Chinese peers, further suppressing her activist efforts.

But in a scene that shows Fu breaking down over the uncertainty of her documentary, the convergence of these three figures and their ventures reveals that Our Youth in Taiwan is a personal journey as much as it is a social one. The documentary genre is made even more intimate with Fu’s interpolating voice-overs – her confessions of doubt, her feelings of regret. 

Our Youth in Taiwan seemed to be mostly filmed by Fu herself on a handheld camera, from within the small confines of private rooms to being surrounded by the rowdy affair of passionate protestors intruding into government buildings. The eye-level and close-up shots that pervade the documentary not only engage the audience in a direct conversation with the protagonists, but also shows how involved Fu is in the events. Fu is not telling a story from a far-removed position; she is smack in the middle of it, giving the documentary a true first-person account.

“Democracy is difficult,” Chen sighed when he found himself caught in a conundrum of unwittingly forming a governing body of his own, while he was opposing the very structures of the Taiwanese government. With the privilege of looking in hindsight, we know exactly how large-scale the Sunflower Student Movement was, how everyone depended on the leadership of Chen and another key figure Lin Fei-Fan, and how much controversy Cai stirred in her support of the movement. 

What we seem to forget, and what Fu herself only belatedly realises in her documentary diary, is that these ‘idols’ are mere humans who were learning and growing along with the social movements they started. Cai also shared, “You’re putting the burden on us. And that’s unfair.”

It’s not like there’s a class for students to learn about activism and about how to proceed with social movements, right? 

Our Youth in Taiwan is not this soul-stirring, galvanising documentary that hopes to spark people into action. Quite the contrary, in fact, because it shows exactly how all these ambitions and voices are quelled, and how these movements failed. As Chen and Cai slowly get overwhelmed by the forces that have grown larger than them and out of their control, Fu’s dependence on them to lead the progression of her documentary falls apart. 

But Fu’s concern over the lack of a proper ending for the narrative she had hoped to propagate becomes an open ending, a possibility which she suggested in her controversial speech. While Fu’s agenda and political stance is clear, Our Youth in Taiwan is less of a propaganda film than it is a close-up look that brings viewers right into the heart of the movement, the heart of youth. 

In just 118 minutes, the documentary is able to trace such an impressive spectrum of events while giving each segment their due screentime. We see how the protagonists start and end, and follow them from their emotional highs to their downfalls. Our Youth in Taiwan knows when to pick up the pace and when to let the weight of responsibilities linger, and all these should be credited to the conscious editing and piecing together of something as haphazard as a social movement. 

Rooting us right into its chaos, its confusion, its conflicts, and its frustrations, the documentary provides an upfront portrayal of the messy hopes and dreams of these three youths: Chen, Cai, and Fu. The film is necessarily biased and emotional, because how else would the turmoil and turbulence of activist movements be conveyed? 

Take a look at the trailer:

The Singapore Film Society will be having two screenings of this 2018 Golden Horse Award & Taiwan Film Award Best Documentary. There will be a SFS Exclusive premiere for members on 19 October 2019 and a public screening on 26 October 2019. Find out more information here

Always floating around, indulging in stories of all kinds. Please don't send me hate mail. I have low self-esteem.
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