Review of Finding Sayun [不一樣的月光] Directed by Chen Chieh-yao [陳潔瑤] Taiwan, 2011.
Good story-tellers from any culture tell stories through appealing to the emotions of others. Whether it is through humor, tragedy, or ever-lasting love, they portray a story through these strong emotions. With adding in emotion to the story, the story is often dramatized to attract the attention of the viewer. In the Taiwanese film “Finding Sayun”, a range of emotions are used to connect the viewer to the story. We see emotions from teenage love and rejection, loss of a family member, and the humor of the young. It is through these emotions that people, from any point on the globe, can connect to one another.
The film starts with a film crew accidentally capturing the death of a Taiwanese man falling off a car over a bridge. This immediately captures the attention of the viewer. The group filming decided to show the film to the man’s family and attend the funeral. Despite this man and his family not being the main subject of the film, we already connect emotionally to the family and the film. Continuing on their journey, the group of filmmakers follows the lives of a few aborigine families in a small village in Taiwan. They mostly follow the teenagers of the village so the viewer can then connect with the underlying theme of Finding Sayun and understanding her as a Taiwanese teenager. Sayun was the most beautiful girl in her class who tragically fell to her death in a stream while carrying her Japanese teacher’s belongings during the setting of World War II, when Japan still occupied Taiwan. How accurate this story is, is hard to determine. The story comes from the grandfather of one of the main characters who was a classmate of Sayun. It is hard not to believe the elderly man’s story of Sayun because of his affection toward the young girl, but at the same time, stories are often exaggerated. The old man changed his identification of Sayun throughout the film which does not make him a completely reliable source. The only other criticism of this fictional film is that an idea or phrase may be misinterpreted due to the indirect translation to English subtitles.
Fictional films are often times criticized when used in K-12 classrooms: for example, fictional films are not always accurate, therefore they may be considered a waste of valuable class time. As a future K-12 teacher, I do see learning opportunities in using fictional films. For example, students will be more engaged in the film if it is entertaining. If the film has characteristics like humor or teenage love, students will be more inclined to pay attention and learn the information being presented in this more creative approach. Students may actually learn more from a fictional film than from a non-fictional documentary simply due to the fact that they will pay attention to it more. Students will become immersed in the plot, characters, and setting. Since schools cannot bring their students to any place on the planet, film is a way to bring the world to the classroom. This may sound cliché, but after viewing Finding Sayun, I have a deeper understanding of not only Taiwanese aborigines but also the physically demanding landscape of the island. So once the students connect to the story, they will be able to use critical thinking skills to determine fact from fiction. Critical thinking skills are one of the most important life skills to have and it is also difficult to teach. Through fictional films, students will learn how to better use critical thinking skills to identify conflict, biases, and make inferences about the film. In a historical fiction film, students will consider the different types of interpretations of history. Studying different interpretations of history will allow students to reflect on their own role in history and the world.
The use of fictional films in the classroom teach students to identify with others from anywhere on the globe. Students will learn compassion and empathy through viewing fictional films. In Finding Sayun, I learned that no matter the hundreds of thousands of miles that separate Taiwan from Minnesota, human beings are very similar. Elders are respected, teenagers flirt, and children play hide and go seek. Fictional films connect the viewer to the characters through using emotions that anyone can relate to. Despite some inaccuracies, fictional film is beneficial to classroom use. [From Professor Liang’s Spring 2015 World History Seminar.]
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Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal, Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica, Duluth, MN, USA
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