Brief (Not Detailed) Historical Background: Warning Contains Spoilers
Warriors of the Rainbow is a movie based around the very tragic and violent WuShe Incident which was the last major uprising of Japanese colonial rule in Taiwan in the 1930s. In a very violent response to against Japanese oppression that would lead to a very violent bloodshed. The Seediq indigenous group leader, Mona Rudao, led over 300 Seediq people in an attacked in the WuShe village. The Seediq killed 134 Japanese, including women and children. The consequences of this incident would be lead to a bloodbath resulting in very harsh military action by the Japanese army against the Seediq indigenous, despite the superior numbers and firepower. The Japanese army was then force to use tear gas bombs which is the first recorded event of chemical warfare in Asia. Mona Rudao, along with over Seediq 290 indigenous, committed suicide and 644 were died in the uprising. The remaining Seediq were relocated to a new area in 1931 after the harsh action taken by the Japanese government, though another incident in WuShe by other violent indigenous group resulting led to the extinction of the Seediq people and culture.
Warriors of the Rainbow is one very detailed, very violent, and a very questionable movie. If this movie had a wide release it would be the topic of controversy and controversy it has already generated in its country. As with any violently heavy historical event, the filmmakers have the challenge of accurately representing the people, conveying a message of the event, and most importantly respect those involve in the incident. With such a difficult balance and a trouble production history which resulted in being one of the most expensive Taiwan film ever made, the end results it a great piece of history being told to audience. There's two version of Warriors of the Rainbow, one being the US version which is two and a half hours long which is the one I saw at the 68th Venice Film Festival (as well Johnnie To Life Without Principle). While the US version is good, you'll be satisfied if you watched the uncut four and a half hour version which is the version I'm reviewing.
The uncut version of Warriors of the Rainbows is divided into two segments, the first being The Sun Flag which contains most of the story. The Sun Flag segment concentrates the struggles of between oppressive Japanese and the oppress Seediq and the events leading to the WuShe incident. Despite its long length I'm surprise at the lack of depth in character development which mostly due to the movie having many characters both on the Japanese side and the Seediq side. What's amazing is that The Sun Flag segment summarized over 30 years of events and in depth setting up the second segment. It surely feels like the filmmakers did their research and with a passion to adapt this event into a feature film, this is most notable by the fact the director chose to keep the Seediq native language intact instead changing it. Though what's unfortunate is that the movie doesn't explain the Seediq culture which results in these people looking like savages unless you know your historical background. This doesn't accurately give the Seediq a fair representation for those who know nothing of the WuShe Incident thus making the Japanese look like the heroes. All in all, The Sun Flag segment sacrifices characters depth for a well thought out and detailed piece of historical cinema with detail to accuracy.
The second segment and easily the most violent is The Rainbow Bridge, which is literally in the movie. The Rainbow Bridge segment does not cover as much as the first segment, but focuses on the consequences after the Seediq attack on WuShe and the battle between the Seediq and Japanese. Now while this segment does not cover as much, it focuses on the people more and doesn't cram your heads with even more historical events. I should note that both segments combined have a lot of violence which works in case of the movie since it helps sends an unsettling feeling toward audiences. You know you're watching a good movie when it makes go through many emotions and this certainly has that effect on viewers. Unfortunately we also get some unintentionally hilarious effects as with a CG rainbow bridge and are at subpar level. I also found the women committing suicide to be both shocking (and unbearable to some audiences) as well as powerful. The story never sends a message of nationalism; it's a very detailed account of a violent piece of history. Audiences will in no doubt question the leadership of Mona Rudao and his actions which are cruel and can be interpreted as heartless in a desperate time when leadership is required in this battle. The ending will definitely leave audiences divided too, while I personally will never forget the ending some will find it to be disappointing.
With this already being a lengthy review I get straight to the point about the production. If you enjoy violence this movie have more than enough to satisfy anyone, this is produced by the legendary John Woo after all. Though I should warn the movie is graphic and could be a little more than some of us could handle, especially when the body count ranges in the triple digits with a lot of beheadings. You should carefully consider watching this since the movie budget is estimated to have been 700 million dollars which compensates the most beheadings you'll ever see in a movie and includes 1500 non-professional actors. The cast does have great chemistry; though the language was an issued considering the production involved people from other countries. Take this into account with the huge sets and many injuries and technical difficulties dealt in with this production. One of the biggest setbacks being the film's set, which cost 200 million, being destroyed by a typhoon. With so much money, obstacles, and so many actors to deal with it's an amazing feat that director Wei Te-Sheng even got this movie finished. The script alone needed approval by the government alone with director Wei Te having to raise money for the movie himself. Not to forget that Wei Te also needed to gain investors' confidence and made another movie which also delayed production. In the end, while it's far from perfect, the costly production was well worth it to bring a powerful historical piece.
Warriors of the Rainbows will provide the audience an experience that they'll soon not forget. It's bigger than any Transformers movie; it's as detailed as Carlos miniseries, and it's just as impactful and memorable with any passion projects. Warriors of the Rainbows is a difficult watch and no doubt very powerful piece of cinema that's definitely worth your time and should not be missed. At best, it's a very exhilarating flawed masterpiece.