Film review: Panay - Taiwan’s aboriginal communities take spotlight in earnest story

Story of a Taipei news reporter who returns to her indigenous village and joins a campaign to stop outsiders taking farmland for development is nothing new, but its setting is idyllic and the acting naturalistic

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 March, 2016, 4:00pm

3/5 stars

In the wake of critically and commercially successful Taiwanese films such as Wei Te-sheng’s period war epic Seediq Bale (2011) and Umin Boya’s feel-good baseball drama Kano (2014), there are obvious signs of a growing interest in the island’s indigenous aboriginal stories, and an emergence of indigenous filmmakers with stories to tell.

Co-written and directed by Cheng Yu-chieh and Lekal Sumi, Panay (released elsewhere as Wawa No Cidal) follows a rural Amis community in contemporary Hualien, whose land has been targeted for redevelopment by big city investors. Panay (played by Amis musician Ado Kaliting Pacidal) is a Taipei news reporter, who is forced to leave her job and return to her village home to care for her father.

Once there, she finds herself among the many local residents strong-armed into selling their neglected farmland to make way for construction of a luxury resort. Even after she takes it upon herself to fight for her community’s claim, she finds the local authorities reluctant to help and the village elders crippled by distrust and indecision.

The plot may be nothing new - essentially Local Hero in paddy fields - but the idyllic surroundings, naturalistic performances and overwhelmingly earnest message ultimately win out. While Panay also lacks a catchy Mark Knopfler score, fans of ’90s ethno-pop act Enigma will recognise the melodic chorus of hit single Return to Innocence among the traditional folk songs performed by Sunming Rupi on the film’s soundtrack.

Panay opens on March 24