Poignant study of political idealism

Documentary maker Fu Yue’s Our Youth In Taiwan holds up a mirror, forcing audiences to articulate their own thoughts about speaking up rather than sitting in silence.
Documentary maker Fu Yue’s Our Youth In Taiwan holds up a mirror, forcing audiences to articulate their own thoughts about speaking up rather than sitting in silence. PHOTO: SINGAPORE FILM SOCIETY

The documentary Our Youth In Taiwan examines the implications of political activism in Taiwan, carrying the sting of urgency in view of current events

"There is a space between safety and danger. If you do not find out how wide that space is, it is a pity," says the charismatic Chen, a rising star in Taiwan's civil disobedience movement.

He is the man at the barricades, charging police cordons and speaking through a bullhorn at the pathetically small groups who show up at his protests.

But Fu's instincts about her subject pay off a couple of years later when Chen's Sunflower Student Movement, grown much larger, staged a dramatic takeover of Taiwan's legislative buildings.

Enter Cai, a young woman from China who seems dazzled by the social movements and Chen. She is no starry-eyed idealist. Despite her coming from a political culture that is the opposite of Taiwan's spirited form of democracy, she learns the value of slogans and sit-down protests.

Like Fu and Chen, Cai is intoxicated by the us-versus-them spirit, hours spent on the picket lines and, most of all, the feeling of liberating citizens from oppression.

Past a certain point, as the camera shows, the difference between camaraderie and cult is hard to tell.

Fu offers a running commentary over major portions of the footage. This is a risky storytelling choice and is the film's weakest area. There is a teenage earnestness in the way she measures her courage against the limitless amount of chutzpah Chen and Cai seem to possess.

Over the film's two hours, the self-flagellation gets tiresome.

  • REVIEW / DOCUMENTARY

  • OUR YOUTH IN TAIWAN (M18)

    118 minutes/Screenings on Saturday and Oct 26/4 Stars

    The story: Since 2011, Taiwan-based documentary-maker Fu Yue has been filming a scraggly group of activists who would later set off the news-making Sunflower Student Movement. One in particular - the passionate, articulate Chen Wei-Ting - would become a focal point of her videos. So would another student, Cai Boyi, who is among the first group of Chinese citizens allowed to study in Taiwan. Winner of last year's Golden Horse Award for Best Documentary.

But Fu's form of participant journalism, which consists of inventorying her feelings and ruminations on whether civil groups can effect change in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China, serves one purpose, at least.

It holds up a mirror, forcing audiences to articulate their own thoughts about speaking up rather than sitting in silence.

At one point in the story, the three of them make a trip to Hong Kong to speak to the leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. Today, with the former colony racked by violence every weekend, this film carries the sting of urgency.

• The screenings are organised by the Singapore Film Society. The first screening on Saturday (1pm, GV Suntec City) is for members (memberships are available at the door). The second screening on Oct 26 (2pm, GV Suntec City) is open to the public at $13.50 a ticket. For more information, go to www.singaporefilmsociety.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 17, 2019, with the headline 'Poignant study of political idealism'. Print Edition | Subscribe