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FORMOSA BETRAYED (director: Adam Kane; screenwriters: Charlie Stratton/Yann Samuell/Brian Askew/Nathaniel Goodman/based on a story by Will Tiao and Katie Swain; cinematographer: Irek Hartowicz; editor: Howard E. Smith; music: Jeff Danna; cast: James Van Der Beek (Jake Kelly), Wendy Crewson (Susan Kane), John Heard (Tom Braxton), Will Tiao (Ming), Tzi Ma (Kuo), Leslie Hope (Lisa Gilbert), Joseph Forunda (Henry Wen), Nirut Sirichanya (Dr. Huang, Wen’s mentor), Kenneth Tsang (General Tse); Runtime: 103; MPAA Rating: R; producers: David Cluck/Adam Kane/Will Tiao; Screen Media Films; 2008)

Formosa Betrayed works better as a history lesson than as a political thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Formosa Betrayed works better as a history lesson than as a political thriller. TV director Adam Kane might have had a more interesting pic if it were a documentary and began by telling us about the unique diplomatic reason that the United States has for not recognizing Taiwan as a sovereign nation–such as holding to a “one China” policy. But the Taiwan Relations Act, passed in 1979 after the United States established diplomatic relations with Beijing, guarantees the U.S. will come to the aid of the island if it is attacked by the mainland. Thereby by playing it this way the U.S. can still have these valuable countries as trading partners.

As a thriller it gets bogged down in talky explanations of the modern history of Formosa, now called Taiwan, and fails to be that entertaining. A team of writers that includeCharlie Stratton, Yann Samuell, Brian Askew and Nathaniel Goodman, base it on a story by Will Tiao and Katie Swain. The history lesson is validand worth reviewing, as the story was inspired by real-life events relating to gang terror sponsored by the corrupt police state of the Taiwan government back in 1983. It’s set at a time when Taiwan is still under martial law and was still not a democracy–that came 13 years later, as incidents such as those in this film paved the way for a democracy.

Young scruffy Chicago-based FBI agent Jake Kelly (James Van Der Beek) investigates the murder in Chicago of a Taiwanese-born professor, Henry Wen, shot in front of his wife by two assassins riding bikes. Agent Lisa Gilbert (Leslie Hope) comes up with the Taiwan suspects, but they kill her in a shootout at their motel and escape to Taipei. The professor’s murder is made to look like a mob hit, but by the time Agent Kelly gets to Taiwan he has enough information to believe the strongly anti-Communist Taiwan government arranged the hit to stop the professor’s book about government corruption from being completed. Kelly was assigned to be just an observer, with no legal jurisdiction in Taiwan, but can’t help getting mixed up in this highly charged international political murder case with big political implications for both the U.S. and Taiwan. The gung-ho agent finds that the FBI brass, the U.S. State Department, the Taiwan Government and the Chinese terror gangs, all are against him. His oily American embassy liaison person in Taiwan is a political animal named Susan Kane (Wendy Crewson), who has a different agenda than the Agent. The only help the agent gets on the island is from his earnest local underground independence movement activist contact man, Ming (Will Tiao, co-author), who is helpful in leading him to the murder suspects and giving the Agent lots of educational nuggets about the tricky political situation. But the poor chap is in a dangerous position, that makes him vulnerable to government spies and the government’s corrupt judicial system.The question becomes what about Agent Kelly surviving after searching for the truth and doing so by disobeying his FBI orders.

Van Der Beek gives a wooden performance in a role that called for a dashing James Bond type of performance. The rest of the performances looked like your typical lackluster TV movie performances that don’t generate any heat. It’s a colorless pic that never catches fire, lacks an edge, always seems strained and is shrill as it editorializes at every opportunity. Not only is Formosa betrayed by the vile Chiang Kai-shek supporters running Taiwan’s venal government after chased out of the mainland, but so is the viewer with such an unimpressive pic that deserved a better presentation.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”