Editor’s note: This piece is part of a series on the 2018 Taipei Film Festival, and it benefits from a post-screening Q&A with the director at this world premiere.
Our Youth in Taiwan (Women de Qingchun, zai Taiwan / 我們的青春，在台灣 2018) is a self-reflexive documentary putatively about student-led social movements in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China, but it’s actually director-editor-producer-subject Fu Yue’s memoir as a follower of popular leaders, and the whiplash that can arise. This main idea has been noted time and again in the literature, but the film dives into the experience, bringing us along with Fu as she goes from longing to sense of mission to loss to, finally, acceptance. She’s still very raw about it all, tearing up a few times during the post-screening Q&A.
The film focuses on two university student leaders: Chen Wei-ting, who famously scolded the then-education minister when invited to speak in parliament, and Cai Boyi, the only exchange student from Mainland China to participate in student movements and thus the focus of controversy. (Full disclosure: Chen is a friend of mine from high school.) Fu follows them around as they find their footing in social protest, which is an art unto itself, and her hunger to join them and do something more meaningful than observe is palpable. Her biggest regret is not being with the student protesters who storm parliament in the dead of night and occupy it for almost a month in 2014, an event known as the Sunflower Movement, the defining political event of this generation.
She follows them around during these protests, and afterward as they deal with various kinds of fallout, from condemnations from reactionary elements to media slander and the disapproval of family. Cai runs for student government but is outmaneuvered by the biased election committee; Chen runs for parliament but is brought down by his own history of sexual harassment. Having unwittingly transformed her documentary into a two-lead biopic, Fu is at a loss for what to do when both leads stop being the protest leaders her film needs them to be. In the end, she finds a fitting ending and her true subject matter when she compares her predicament to that of the parliament-storming protesters angry at their central committee for ostensibly abandoning the values of transparency and direct democracy. In one of the many humorous moments of the film, Chen admits: Democracy’s hard; like the government, I don’t want to engage with those protesting us either.