Channel hop

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 November, 2011, 12:00am


It is the Republic of China's centenary, and Discovery Channel is launching a three-part documentary series looking at the history, politics and culture of the island it now calls home. This week, we have Taiwan Revealed: Cinema (Discovery Channel; Saturday at 7pm), which attempts to give an overview of a well-established but currently struggling movie industry through the making of its most expensive film to date - Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, a two-part epic that revisits the uprising of an aboriginal tribe against Japanese colonisers in the 1930s.

Lip service is paid to the 'golden era' of film in the 60s and 70s (169 movies were produced in Taiwan in 1968 alone) as well as the industry's decline after the end of martial law in 1987, which led to the domination of high-gloss Hollywood films - trends to which Hong Kong's own industry can relate. The rest of the hour-long programme, however, plays like a promotional 'making of' for director Wei Te-sheng's ambitious project. Not that Seediq Bale is uninteresting - there is a thrill involved in watching a young local director's first leap into the big league, especially so here because the documentary angles the future revival of Taiwanese cinema onto his slight shoulders.

Wei, who catapulted to fame with the low-budget 'little guy against the world' rock-band drama Cape No7, candidly admits he was out of his depth at the onset of realising his magnum opus. Taiwan Revealed: Cinema follows him as he raises the US$25 million budget; scours the island for aboriginal actors and teaches them the Seediq language; finds a crew among the 'insufficient talent' in Taiwan; and lands John Woo as executive producer.

We wonder whether Discovery Channel has a stake in the movie (which opened in Hong Kong on Thursday) given the promotion it is afforded. If there are broader takeaways besides 'look how hard Taiwan has worked to bring you this film', it is that the commercial future of the island's cinema industry lies in regional collaboration - again, a practice Hong Kong can identify with - and that local films deserve support - a practice we agree with.

Those of us familiar with Louis Theroux's more lightweight explorations into the subcultural eccentricities of prostitutes and Nazis might be disappointed by his latest offering: Law and Disorder in Lagos (above right; BBC Knowledge, Wednesday at 10.55pm). The gonzo journalist seems keen to present a more mature outlook by investigating corruption in Lagos. Nonetheless, the one-off documentary is as chaotic as the world it examines.

Theroux divides his time between Lagos' corrupt gang leaders and the task force that is trying to bring illegal traders into line. On paper, this should be an interesting show, but there is little structure and the endless scenes of fighting youths soon become tiresome. Poor Theroux spends much of the programme asking the same questions, presumably to establish a sense of what's going on. His characteristic frown is deeper than ever in his apparent confusion.

There are a few moments of comedy, when Theroux takes a welcome break from the hard questions - such as when he asks powerful street faction leader MC where he does his shopping.

'Madrid,' comes the reply.

'Where in Madrid?' Theroux probes.

'Italy,' MC shares.

It's a noisy, seemingly endless slog through disparate testimonies from gang members and evasive answers. If Theroux had such a tough time of it, it's unreasonable to expect us to keep up - or ultimately keep interested.