In “Formosa Betrayed”, an FBI agent travels to Taiwan to investigate the murder of a Taiwanese professor that occurred on American soil. In his haste to make an arrest, the blundering agent stumbles into some thorny situations. Oblivious to Taiwanese customs, and relying on a possibly corrupt U.S. State Department employee, he solicits a local Taiwanese activist’s assistance. Besides keeping the audience guessing its outcome, Formosa Betrayed also delves into the still divisive issue of Taiwanese independence from China.
Taiwanese American actor, producer and writer Will Tiao elaborates:
Q: You switched careers from ‘White House Negotiator for International Trade Agreements’ to filmmaker?
A: I worked for the Labor Department under Clinton. When Bush came into power, Congress had to pass a resolution to give him trade promotion authority (TPA). Otherwise, no country would negotiate with us. During his first couple of years, Bush didn’t have that authority. My work came to a standstill, so I pursued acting. I took an acting class; then worked in a play and an agent saw me. There was a commercial, a TV show, then a film. I kept thinking, “Who said that acting is so tough?” I didn’t realize that not a lot of Asian Americans in Washington D.C.’s theater and film market worked.
Q: Were there Asians in Kansas where you grew up?
A: Well, there was me and my sister. Seriously, my father was an Agriculture Economics professor at the University of Kansas. A lot of Taiwanese that came to the U.S. for education went to Midwestern schools because they were cheaper.
Q: How is “Formosa Betrayed” inspired by actual events?
A: The basic storyline was an FBI agent investigating a professor being spied on by students hired by Taiwanese Chinese Mafia that the U.S. government knows about. We fictionalized the characters. Most of the events took place between 1979-1985, but we chose 1983 and created composites of characters.
Q: Was there really an assassination?
A: It’s a fictional film, not a documentary. We shot the film in Bangkok, not Taiwan. We’re not dealing with any specific cases. It’s pretty controversial material within the Chinese and Taiwanese communities. Most of those people are still alive that were participants.
Q: Why is the main character a white American?
A: This is an American film for Americans. We have a very Hollywood crew—and both the director and star are white. I wanted an American who is very ignorant, who doesn’t know anything about China or Taiwan.
Q: Why does China still deny autonomy to Taiwan?
A: The issue of Taiwan independence and identity is really misunderstood. In history books, people tend to pit communist Mao Tse Dong versus Chiang Kai-shek. From an American perspective, Chiang was a good guy who brought democracy and liberated people. There are holes in that story. What I always argue is that strong identity is formed through oppression. If you look at Jewish identity culture, it’s tied to thousands of years of persecution–particularly the Holocaust, and there’s African American slavery and ramifications of that. For Chinese people, all identities are social constructions. What is Chinese? Chinese have been pushed together through various conquering tribes. There are thousands of dialects.
Q: One character says, “Taiwan does not need China; China needs Taiwan.”
A: The government in China is communist in ideology only, but has a capitalist agenda. One thing Mao and Chiang always agreed on is that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it. Taiwan was originally Polynesian with a 50-year Japanese sociology from being occupied. The ancestors, Chinese nationalists, came from the mainland. From a Chinese perspective, it’s very insulting to call them Taiwanese and them not wanting to be Chinese.
Q: Another character says, “Kill the chicken to scare the monkey”.
A: If you want to control the population, you don’t have to kill the entire population. You just need to kill one and it will freak everyone out. It’s warning them to shut up.
Q: Anything else?
A: We could not have made this movie without Taiwanese American people. The community rallied behind this film. It’s the largest kind of budget Taiwanese ever raised for a single entity.
Formosa Betrayed opens at the Regal Meridian 16 and Regal Lakewood on April 9.