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A BORROWED LIFE

Taiwan, 1994 (MIFF 1995)

Director: Wu Nien-jen

Too often, children only understand their par­ents when it's all too late. First time director Wu Nien-jen was long established as Taiwan's top screenwriter before being moved to make this tender tribute to his father, a miner who eventually succumbed to black lung disease.

A Borrowed Life is an epic achievement. Begin­ning in the 1940s towards the end of Japan's colonisation of Taiwan, it immerses us in rich layers of daily life before smoothly negotiating half a century of history through one man's iife. The Japanese were harsh, but they built the island's transportation, health and education systems. Cultural cringe makes the old man admire them to the very end. But his son, brought up under the strict martial law regime of the "liberators" from China, cannot.

Just as Australians looked to the UK and then the US, so the Taiwanese have esteemed Japan, China and the US over their own island until recently. As screenwriter for Hou Hsiao-Hsien on such masterpieces as City of Sadness and The Puppetmaster, Wu stands at the forefront of the cultural movement to recover Taiwan's forgotten past. Until now, the focus has been on rethinking recent decades. But a Borrowed Life begins com­ing to terms with what the Japanese occupation meant for those who lived through it.

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