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love story, Virtual Reality

SDAFF 2018: “What the?”, “OMG, it’s Dong Fang Bu Bai.” and “Hey, I know them.”

November 12, 2018

By Dr. Craig D. Reid

Since the Taiwan Film Showcase (TFS) partnered with SDAFF in 2012, where the program’s home affiliation is on the University of California, San Diego, each time I’ve attended the Showcase on the UCSD campus, it always turns out to be an 8-track flashback (popular tape player used in the early to mid-’70s) experience. This year not only repeats itself but also introduces another old technology that pre-dates 8-tracks…virtual reality. The difference being, that the virtual reality players of the 1950s have progressed into high tech equipment, which is becoming more portable and accessible to everyone (like computers)…including at this year’s 7th annual Taiwan Film Showcase.

I mark Sunday, November 11, 2018 as the first time I’ve donned virtual reality goggles and happy to share it was in the name of two Taiwanese short films, first up The Train Hamasen then Your Spiritual Temple Sucks. The best way to describe my experience would be two choice phrases I used during the early 1970s…,”It freaked me out man (in a good way),” and “Far out.” I never did drugs back then (and still don’t), yet somehow VR feels and looks like something one experienced when they were tripping out on LSD. Just watch someone using VR, it’s kind of trippy too.

From what I could gather from Train Hamasen, it’s a 10-minute time passage of Taiwan’s history as told, sort of, by a train station, train, movie theater and 360 degrees of separation from your reality to their reality that flows like circular water with a dizzying flood of characters that know you’re there but then again…they don’t. History is going on within you, without you and around you. It’s like teaching cross fit at a church, it makes sense but only if you get the joke.

Your Spiritual Temple Sucks is 10 minutes of psychiatric pseudo-spiritualism, with quasi-worlds of believability, where in Taiwan sidewalk temples and traffic islands in the middle of a busy road are always ready at the bit to tell you your future, how to become rich and when to do things or not. It’s the hope of guidance in a world so unpredictable, where holy sustenance might be as clear as the existential enigma of being a Buddhist priest reincarnated into a Catholic priest that begs the question…where do I go from here? Well, in this virtual reality, if you don’t look and see what’s going on behind then you’re missing half the picture, so then how could the advice on your love life be whole? Thus, you blue it…I mean blew it twice. Wink, wink, grin, grin, blink, blink, know what I mean? You’ll understand if you watch it.

I figured since I just went through something that a few times almost threw me off balance that I must regain my balance by returning to the planet earth of a seat in a theater watching a traditional movie. So here comes that old 8-track tape player in my friends red 1976 Chevy Vega, where the seats and floor were always covered in dust-collecting, clunky looking 8-track tapes in the form of soon to be UCLA film school graduate, Taiwanese director Richard Chen Yao-chi’s short The Mountain (1966). It’s about three Taiwanese students hiking a mountain in Xin Zhu, where it’s city has a touch of Chicago in it…not jazz, Bears or Cubs…it’s also in the Northern part of Taiwan, like Chicago is in Northern Illinois, and they’re both called the Windy City.

Part of the young students’ discussion revolved around how one of the males didn’t get into school because he didn’t follow the KMT party line (Kuomintang), which was also similar to the female student but she was also not accepted because she was caught in public holding hands with a man three times. When I was a M.S. graduate student at National Taiwan University (1979-1981), I’d get one F every semester for not being a loyal KMT supporter (What did they expect from a white American?) and avoided further scrutiny by not holding hands in public with my Chinese fiancée. It was also a time when mixed race love was vilified with forbidden fruit furor. We’ve now been married for 37 years. Right on man.

The short was followed by director Chen’s Moon Fascinating, Bird Sweet (1978) a genre of highly popular love triangle movies that ironically back then were considered to be pointless love stories, but high school kids and young couples loved them. Two of the biggest stars of that Taiwanese genre were the actress-actor team of Brigitte Lin Ching-hsia and her lover and ex-fiancée Charlie Chin Chiang-lin.

In Moon Fascinating, Lin plays a infant school teacher who takes it upon herself to punish the violent, whining Chu Chu, the young daughter of wealthy business men (Chin), who since he lost his wife had become a chain smoking alcoholic and the two of them get off on the wrong foot. Just when you think the right foot is about to land, two love triangles erupt in a way these kind of films were as wonderfully formulaic as a good chemistry set. Bottom line, these films worked. As I looked around the theater, folks were crying. The ending is so 1960s hyperbolic that even the weepers couldn’t help but to giggle.

If you’ve ever read my SDAFF blogs over the past 12 years, then you know I was an actor/stuntman in Chinese kung fu films and Chinese kung fu soap operas (lian xu zhu) on Chinese Television (CTV) and Taiwan Television (TTV).

Brigitte Lin as Dong Fang Bu Bai

Eight-track part two. I was in one of those love stories that starred Lin, a few years before she became an icon in Hong Kong fant-Asia films via Tsui Hark’s Zu: Warriors from the Magic Mountain (1983) and solidified her status in the genre in Tsui’s Swordsman II (1992) as the gender bending Dong Fang Bu Bai. Chin was the best friend of one of my best friend’s in Taiwan so we’d hang out, wrap in English and play ping-pong. Similar to my description of the VR experience, those times in Taiwan were just as far out.

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