What you need to know
The new film 'Metal Politics Taiwan' follows rocker-turned-politician Freddy Lim's first year in office. It was first shown at this year's Urban Nomad Film Festival.
"Metal Politics Taiwan," a film by director Marco Wilms of "Art War" (2014) fame, follows Taiwan’s most storied politician – metal vocalist turned legislator Freddy Lim (林昶佐) – during his campaign and first year in office as a New Power Party (NPP) legislator in Taipei.
While rough, the film marks a first in Taiwanese cinema, as it introduces an international audience to the island’s complex politics and international status through the lens of a deeply fascinating character. Lim is in many ways the perfect foil for this, given that his founding of the NPP in 2015 and subsequent entry into the realm of legislative Taiwanese politics, as opposed to the protest movements in which he cut his teeth, is just as new for him as for the average viewer.
The film's showing comes at an interesting time for the NPP, which is set to field about 50 candidates nationwide in the upcoming November local elections in Taiwan. Currently, the party has five seats out of 133 in Taiwan's parliament, the Legislative Yuan.
"This coming election has the potential to be a turning point for the NPP," Lev Nachman, a Ph.D student specializing in Taiwanese Politics at UC Irvine told The News Lens. "By fielding so many candidates all across Taiwan they are signaling their intention to become a larger, fully established party.
A tale of two men
Part documentary, part personal reflection, “Metal Politics Taiwan” is rife with intrigue. Despite being focused on the metal-vocalist-turned-legislator, and offering genuine insight into his character, there are two main characters in this contradictory movie: subject and observer.
The obvious protagonist is Freddy Lim – renowned for his straightforward attitude and unbending stance on Taiwanese independence. His bid for office and eventual victory drew attention from international media ranging from The New York Times to VICE to GQ. The film follows his transformation into a legislator of the capital city’s central district and his first year in office.
Our filmmaker and narrator, Marco Wilms, is the second character and his fingerprints are all over the movie. Raised in East Germany, Wilms is the colorist that illustrates the main character. A childhood raised under an authoritarian regime coupled with a rebellious nature and propensity for Western music branded Wilms a negativ-dekadenter Jugendlicher - a negatively decadent teenager. Yet as the wall fell and new ideas flowed into East Germany, Wilms found his calling in the arts, where he flourished.
"Metal Politics Taiwan" is very much Wilms' baby. "Art War," his proudest achievement to date, set the tone for this documentary. On a shoestring budget and with very little knowledge, Wilms spent 18 months chasing graffiti artists, rappers, musicians and activists through the streets of Cairo in the thick of the Arab conflict, before Franco-German TV network Arte finally backed the film.
In the process, the auteur developed the "guerrilla filming" method that comes pervades this film. Shots are rough – crass even – the camera shoved up against Lim’s face, or shot between the seats of a packed car.
A different lens
The film opens with a narration from Wilms’ point of view, reflecting on his decision to make the movie, and observations about Taiwan and its people and culture, which Wilms claims "valued order and politeness above all." Yet, as a question and answer session after the screening at Taipei's Urban Nomad film festival made clear, long-time residents of the country and Taiwanese themselves took issue with such the statement.
Later, a scene remarking on the orderliness of lines at the public transit draws parallels between Taiwan’s military past and its current strictly regimented government. Archive footage of R.O.C. soldiers' physical training is interposed with that of schoolchildren going through drills on a visit Lim paid to his elementary school.
The latter juxtaposition drew ire from the screening audience, prompting the director to respond: “It's my view as a filmmaker.”
Audience member Sean Xie, an MA film student at Taiwan National University of the Arts and himself a documentary maker, also noted the distance between filmmaker and subject.
“You can really feel that Freddy doesn’t want to be filmed,” he comments, “especially in the scene after the Trump inauguration, he’s kind of hiding from the camera. I wish he [Wilms] would have pursued that subject more, because it was a very potent scene, especially for Taiwanese – the conflict Freddy feels between representing Taiwan on U.S. soil and the Trump administration.”
Conflict and condolence
Lim had entirely different expectations. “I thought he [Wilms] was just a reporter. But then he kept coming back,” he says in the post-screening session. “Actually I didn’t want to be filmed,” he adds. “I’m not an actor, okay. Well, I am – I’ve been in a film. But I’m not an actor all the time.”
The legislator conceded reluctantly to the filmmaker’s request, on the condition that he wasn’t disturbed, but sparks flew after Lim visited the Dalai Lama in Dharamasala, India, an intimate experience for the politician, who views His Holiness as a spiritual leader.
In one of the movie's most potent scenes, after Lim extends an invitation to the Lama to visit Taiwan and gifts his Holiness CDs from Chthonic, the heavy metal band that Lim fronts, he submits a personal request: a blessings for his wife, four months pregnant with their daughter.
Lim said he didn’t want the scene in the movie but Wilms continued filming, and the situation came to a head backstage at the Gay Pride parade when Wilms insisted on following Lim backstage.
Lim was furious, he recalls. “You can’t just follow me all the time! These are my friends! All the organizers, they are my friends. The activists, they are my friends. You can’t just film my friends.” He later reconsidered: “I’m glad it was recorded.”
While Taiwanese were miffed by some factual inaccuracies, most international members of the audience were willing to gloss over the details and laud the film for its role as a vessel to introduce Taiwan to the world in its own right.
Jean-Jacques Chen, a Belgium film director currently residing in Taiwan, said: “Is it rough? Yes. Were there a lot of missing details? Of course: the omission of 228, oversimplification of the Sunflower Movement, the whole lot of it. But does that detract from the fact that this is a film that finally showcases Taiwan in a Taiwanese light? No, it does not.”
On the wider subject of soft power, blogger Jenna Cody suggested Taiwan still has work to do to bring itself to the world's attention. "There are non-Tibetans who care about Tibet. There are non-Palestinians who care about Palestine. But there are very few non-Taiwanese who don’t live here, who care about Taiwan,” she said.
"Metal Politics Taiwan" will screen Saturday, May 26 at 17:00 at Wonderful Theater in Ximending.
Read Next: FEATURE: Freddy Lim on Influencing the DPP, China, Missed Opportunities and Taiwan's Dodgy Media
TNL Editor: Morley J Weston