Remember Me (金門留念, Hung Chun-hsiu, 2022)

Some way into Hung Chun-hsiu’s documentary Remember Me (金門留念) a woman takes part in a military reenactment firing large scale artillery from a now disused military base. What’s ironic is both that what was once a frightening reality of ongoing warfare has now been commercialised as an attraction for tourists, and the fact that the woman firing the gun pointed at China on this technically Taiwanese island is herself Chinese. As the opening graphics point out, the island of Quemoy (also known as Kinmen) is geographically closer to Mainland China though governed by Taiwan and for much of its mid-20th century history at the front line of an ongoing ideological battle between communists and nationalists. 

In the stock footage often employed by Hung, newsreaders can be heard uttering phrases about “vile communists” and eliminating communist “scum” along with impassioned sloganeering about taking back the “motherland” and freeing its people from the yoke of communism. The island was under near constant shelling until as recently as 1979 and consequently largely populated by the military many of whom were ordinary young men conscripted for national service. The island has obviously changed a great deal since then, though one unexpected casualty has been the gradual decline of the island’s photo studios. Less due to technological than demographic change, the first of Huang’s subjects explains that given the precarity of life in Quemoy soldiers would have their pictures taken as often as once a week, often full body portraits they would send home to their families as evidence that they had not been severely injured. Kuo-ming has been operating his photo studio for 46 years now one of only two still operating on the island. Like the gun show, the military portraits have also become a kind of costume play, Kuo-ming handing out army uniforms and prop weapons for people to pose with often against a painted matte backdrop of a local lake or else Japan’s Mount Fuji. 

Meanwhile, the photographs taken at the time hint at the loneliness felt by the men who were dispatched to the island, many of them opting to have pictures of their wives or girlfriends inset alongside them. Those who had no girlfriends sometimes used a picture of a famous model or actress as a personal keepsake though one photo which goes unexplained is inset with the photo of another man in uniform. It has to be said that many of these photos have a homoerotic quality, especially the ones featuring shirtless well-built men striking muscle poses, while others are unexpectedly feminine in nature featuring the soldier in soft focus and surrounded by flowers. The ones from later years are also sometimes playful, featuring soldiers sitting in a model speedboat in or in more relaxed, artistic poses. A man who had his photos taken there while on his military service reads a letter he wrote to a woman he loved promising a photo, one in which he later inset her portrait, little knowing that she did not return his feelings and only kept the correspondence up in fear he might harm himself if she turned him down. Though he discovered on his return she had married someone else, the couple found each other decades later and decided to have a “real” photo taken together at Kuo-ming’s shop dressed in faux army uniforms. 

Having married a local woman and decided to stay on Quemoy, former solder Shan-yung also used to have his picture taken at Kuo-ming’s to send back to his mother. He joined the army voluntarily as his family was poor and was shocked to be sent effectively to the front line. After leaving the service, he and his wife opened a karaoke bar largely catering to military personnel and though his business still seems to be doing well, bears out Kuo-ming’s description of the economic changes brought about by decreasing militarisation. Even so he feels a sense of guilt that his life has taken him so far away from his family that he is no longer able to care for his parents in their old age while taking care of his in-laws on Quemoy.

Chen-mei, the woman staging the live reenactment of firing the artillery gun, expresses something similar while explaining that she came to the island from the Mainland for an arranged marriage and now works as a civil servant. She concedes that it’s a little awkward for some of the Chinese visitors realising that their nation had been firing shells at the island for three decades, but suggests that it’s all in the past while espousing a well-meaning but possibility reductive One China philosophy that they are all one Chinese family who no longer need to care about labels like “communist” or “nationalist” because they live in an era of peace. The gun, and the remaining military garrison, may be a reminder it might be dangerous to take that for granted given the rising rhetoric on the Mainland in response to the desire for a recognition of Taiwanese independence. A father explains to his son that the artillery gun was a loan from the Americans to help resist communism, but when the boy asks him how long is left on the lease the man can only look confused and reply that he doesn’t really know. In any case, Remember Me seems to be keener on remembering the rosier side of life on Quemoy under fire as old soldiers look back on their youth if grateful that goats now roam their barracks and the only shells to be found are the ones commemorating a war that for now at least has ended. 


Remember Me screened as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

When the Dawn Comes (黎明到來的那一天, Zhang Hong-Jie, 2021)

When Chi Chia-Wei appealed to the Legislative Yuan for marriage equality in 1986, he was told that “homosexuals are perverted minorities that seek to disrupt social morals for their own sexual desires”. 33 years later in 2019, Taiwan became the first Asian nation to legalise same-sex marriage. Zhang Hong-Jie’s documentary When the Dawn Comes (黎明到來的那一天, límíng dàolái de nà yī tiān) follows Chi during the final days of the campaign amid a counter offensive from conservative groups who hoped to prevent the legislative change going ahead. 

Chi has been a literal flag bearer for the LGBTQ+ community, a familiar sight at protests and pride parades well known for climbing to the highest point available and waving a rainbow flag where no one can miss it. Indeed the documentary captures him doing just this despite his advancing age and the efforts of the authorities to prevent him. His campaign has been a long one, beginning when he was just a young man as the opening sequence points out with dark hair who held a press conference and came out publicly as a gay man becoming the first in Taiwan to do so. Now his hair is grey, and he is still fighting the same the battle though when this battle is done he knows there will be others still to fight. 

When he first began his campaign for marriage equality Chi was battling the stigmatisation of the gay community during the AIDS crisis, continuing to argue that advocacy for gay rights and AIDS prevention should be carried out at the same time. In some ways subverting the prejudice shown against him, Chi became a well known figure handing condoms out in the streets wearing a series of striking outfits as a kind of performance art. As another advocate points out, what made his approach different was that it refused to submit to internalised shame in normalising the idea of gay sex while encouraging safe practice and educating both the gay and straight communities about the importance of sexual health. 

Nevertheless, Chi was not uncontroversial. Though he took a hands on approach in AIDS activism, setting up a hospice for those with nowhere else to go, he was criticised for inviting the press to cover it leading some of the patients to leave resenting Chi for breaching their privacy. He then went on to sue three men whom he accused of hiding their diagnosis and going on to knowingly infect others, something that was also widely criticised in the community for essentially outing these men and their partners publicly and potentially setting a dangerous precedent when it comes to medical privacy. One fellow activist speculates that Chi may have justified his actions on the grounds of discouraging others from doing the same but points out that it in part had the reverse effect with some unwilling to be tested at all fearful that they might end up getting sued too if the test came back positive. On the other hand, he also regularly submitted blood samples on behalf of men who were too afraid to go in person lest their private lives be exposed. At one point Chi became such a thorn in the authorities’ side that they tried to frame him for a random crime and eventually sent him to prison for five months for “misappropriating waste”. 

As for himself, Chi is also in a somewhat difficult position in that his longterm partner (who is never seen in the documentary) is still in effect closeted and facing pressure from his family to marry. Asked if they personally plan to marry once the law goes into effect, Chi can’t really answer suggesting only that they may do once his partner’s father passes away explaining that he is an only child. In one of the hearings, a lawmaker brings up an anxiety about what to do with ancestral tablets while the question of the family line still seems to lie behind prejudice towards same sex relationships. Meanwhile, his partner has long been taking anti-depressants to cope with the pressure of his family’s lack of acceptance, while Chi too is also on numerous kinds of medication for conditions caused by the stress of his work. Even so, once marriage equality is fulfilled, Chi immediately files for a paper marriage with a Malaysian man to challenge the new legislation’s failure to account for international marriages, determined to continue fighting for fully equal rights. Zhang’s documentary never shies away from some of the more controversial aspects of his activism, but nevertheless celebrates the determination of a man who dedicated his life to a cause for which he was never afraid to stand out and proud.


When the Dawn Comes screens 16th October as part of this year’s Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.

Original trailer (English subtitles)

The Moon Represents My Heart (La luna representa mi corazón, Juan Martín Hsu, 2021)

Named for the classic song by Teresa Teng that connects the mother and son at its centre, Juan Martín Hsu’s documentary/fiction hybrid The Moon Represents My Heart (La luna representa mi corazón) sees the director himself making two trips from his home in Argentina seven years apart to see his mother in Taipei in part in order to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of his father when he was six years old. It may be a minor spoiler to reveal that the truth remains frustratingly out of reach though he perhaps discovers other, equally hidden, familial traumas in the complicated history of post-war Taiwan. 

Martín and his brother Marcelo were born in Argentina where their parents ran a restaurant but his mother later elected to return to Taiwan while they stayed behind. The earlier visit in 2012 is apparently the first in the 10 years since his mother left, the difficulty of obtaining visas and the expense being the reasons he gives for leaving it so long. His next trip, however, is not for another seven years, he and his brother instantly remarking on the various ways his mother may or may not have aged. Martín seems to want to talk about his father, but his mother would rather not drag up the past. In fact so averse is she that she’s developed a habit of cutting the faces of those she doesn’t like or want to remember out of her photos which is why the boys complain they don’t have any of their father. While chatting about that, she advances that their father was murdered because of an extramarital affair he’d been having with a local woman, later claiming that he may have had a drug problem or been involved with organised crime. 

Mostly what she tells her son is that she was unhappy, having left a previous marriage because her husband was intensely patriarchal refusing to allow her go on working after becoming his wife. She met Martín’s dad after persuading her first husband to allow her to work at a restaurant and left with him for Argentina pregnant with her first husband’s child, Diego. But in Argentina her new husband was little different, actively preventing her from learning Spanish while also discouraging her from associating with other Chinese-speaking migrants, especially men. The boys speak to her in awkward Mandarin with the assistance of smartphone dictionaries while she complains that her Spanish was never good enough even after she began running the restaurant on her own. “You two wouldn’t be able to spend “la vida” in Taiwan” she explains, “just like your mum couldn’t spend “la vida” in Argentina”. 

Martín’s mother keeps telling him to leave it alone, that he might not like what he finds he if keeps poking into his father’s death though as we find out later he has own traumatic memories of the night his father died along with a burning desire to understand why as if hoping to unlock the secrets of his history. In a raw hotel room exchange, his brother complains that he doesn’t feel part of this extended Taiwan family and is upset that Martín threatened to disown him if he refused to take part in the documentary, feeling a little tricked in having agreed to come only to be forced to participate while his brother seemingly ignores his discomfort. Yet while looking for his father Martín discovers a darker history of his grandfather’s suffering during the White Terror adding new layers to a legacy of familial trauma in the buried history of his maternal family as complicated as it already seemed to be. 

In between each of these difficult conversations and meetings with family members, Hsu splices brief fiction shorts along the theme of exile, the first featuring a returnee who emigrated as a young man leaving a lover behind who is now it seems about to marry someone else but carrying regrets, while another sequence follows a young woman preparing to go abroad but feeling terribly guilty about abandoning her mother. At times the sense of cultural dislocation seems unbreachable as the brothers accompany their mother and her partner to karaoke sessions and tourist excursions but then there’s the song and its universal ability to connect, Martín’s mother singing it firstly with a guitar and later a microphone almost like a long forgotten lullaby. Martín may not unlock the secrets of his father’s death, but does perhaps gain a new understanding of his mother, a resilient woman but also a perpetual victim of a patriarchal society, an oppressive regime, and finally of distance in the separations emotional and physical between herself and her sons. 


The Moon Represents My Heart screens in San Diego on Nov. 1 as part of this year’s San Diego Asian Film Festival

Trailer (English subtitles)

Teresa Teng – The Moon Represents My Heart