Wu Nien-jen’s remarkable directorial debut, <i>A Borrowed Life</i>, recreated his life with his Japanese-educated father. Although touched with affectionate humor, it was a deeply serious portrait of a conflict of culture and identity – a constant theme of Taiwanese cinema: what it means to be Taiwanese. In his new film, <i>Buddha Bless America</i>, Wu again returns to the past – the sixties – and to rural Taiwan. While the seriousness of his theme remains, Wu allows his comic sense to flower.
Brain, an elementary schoolteacher, has been fired for “improper” politics. His brother’s hand was crushed in a Japanese factory, and Brain learns that American microsurgery might restore it. The villagers are told a United States-Taiwanese military maneuver will take place in the area. The government promises compensation for any problems, and Brain convinces the locals to cooperate. Soon the land is rendered useless for agriculture, and bars, whores, and the usual GI supports turn the village into hell. The villagers begin to take revenge. Everyone gets involved, but that’s far from the end of the madness. <i>Buddha Bless America</i> could have been made anywhere – particularly in Asia, where the Americans have come to “help” – but it is still uniquely Taiwanese. One of the film’s joys is the gifted comic actor Lin Cheng-sheng as Brain
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