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Memories of bloody past push Taiwanese arts forward

Documentary highlights efforts to make sense of the island's 'White Terror'

A former baseball player shows his batting form in this still from the 2021 documentary "Taste of Wild Tomato," about the 38 years in which Taiwan was gripped by the "White Terror." (Courtesy of Lau Kek Huat)

KAOHSIUNG, Taiwan -- Like the eye of a silent stalker, a camera follows several elderly Taiwanese as they talk about living through one-party brutality. Their faces do not hide the toll of age and pain. Born at the tail end of 50 years of Japanese occupation, they grew up under the iron fist of Chiang Kai-shek's nationalist Kuomintang, the party that took control in 1945 and brought all its forces to the island in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war against the Communist Party.

Using multilingual (Mandarin, Hokkien and Japanese) eyewitness accounts from people in the southern port city of Kaohsiung, the historical documentary "Taste of Wild Tomato" (2021), made by Taiwan-based Malaysian director Lau Kek Huat, is the latest in a series of films about life during the 38 years of the "White Terror." The period followed a popular revolt on Feb. 28, 1947, but is usually dated from a subsequent declaration of martial law in 1949.

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