Documenting Environmental Protest: Taiwan's Gongliao Fourth Nuclear Power Plant and the Cultural Politics of Dialogic Artifice

  • Documenting Taiwan on Film: Issues and Methods in New Documentaries, edited by Sylvia Li-chun Lin and Tze-lan D. Sang

  • Author(s) / Creator(s)
  • The period of Martial Law in Taiwan (1949-1987) was clearly not a setting that encouraged much criticism of the government or public works. This began to change in the early 1980s as the global environmentalist movement took shape and concerns were increasingly being raised over such things as the use of nuclear power. Filmmaker Cui Suxin’s Gongliao, How Are You? (2004) endeavors to record the evolution of these events. Utilizing a mixture of archival footage, interviews, and footage recorded as events were taking place, Cui Suxin (Ts'ui Su-hsin) documents one aspect of the anti-nuclear movement in Taiwan as it pertains to the building of the so-called “Fourth Nuclear Power Plant” in the northern coastal village of Gongliao (Kung-liau). Cui melds together a variety of intriguing film techniques, such as a second-person narrative voice that addresses a “you” in the cinematic text, the mixture of historical and contemporary material, and a teletype style set of interstitial written narrative to create a complex, multi-layered documentary that is subtle but powerfully persuasive. Cui’s use of an extradiagetic narrative voice overlay that engages one of the principal protestors is an important step in the direction of the reflexive documentary mode. However, as I attempt to illustrate in my essay, rather than an avenue through which extensive self-reflection on the documentary process is carried out, this “dialogic artifice” actually serves to bring cohesion to her cinematic project, add a layer of suspense to the narrative, and develop a bond between her and her mysterious and silent interlocutor. One can also speculate that there is a further intertextual level, as the dialogic/epistolary method is one also put into practice by Wu Yii-feng in his influential film Gift of Life, released a year prior to Gongliao. My essay also analyzes the contrasting techniques of the highly subjective voiceover with the more journalistic style of “objective” interview. In comparing Gongliao to some of the classic examples of documentary and cinematic ethnography, I attempt to show how this film on the one hand appears to be a dispassionate attempt to merely document the subject while on the other actually serves as a means to incite the spectator to antipathy for the government and, ultimately and hopefully (in the view of the filmmaker), to activism against the nuclear power in Taiwan.

  • Date created
  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Type of Item
  • DOI
  • License
    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International