A Film a Week - When the Dawn Comes / Liming daolai di na yitian

 previously published on Asian Movie Pulse

There are heroes almost everybody knows a lot about, and there are heroes that are simply not that famous. Sometimes, the difference is rooted in the types of acts those heroes perform, grand gestures can bring fame and glory, but the real heroes tend to simply do their work according to their ideals without giving up, risking failures all along their path and potentially ending up almost anonymous. One of those discreet heroes is the activist Chi Chia Wei, the main subject of Zhang Hongjie’s one-hour documentary “When the Dawn Comes” that was just screened at Taiwan Film Festival Edinburgh.

When we first meet Mr Chi in a barber shop, having his hair cut and complaining about getting old (and his hair getting gray), it is hard to assume that the man is one of the heroes of Taiwan, or at least some particular communities there. Back in the 80s, he was the AIDS patients’ rights activist, contributing for the removal of the stigma that the population had to carry. After that, he was one of the loudest gay activists, defending the cause of legalizing same-sex marriages. His fight was long, but successful, resulting in the act of May 17th, 2019 that made Taiwan the first Asian country to recognize same-sex marriages equal to the traditional ones.

Zhang’s documentary walks along two different timelines that move at different paces. The outer one, covering the extensive period of time, features Chi re-telling the anecdotes he collected during his years of fight for a more just system, newspaper articles that confirm his theses and stories and the testimonies of his friends, colleagues and comrades. In the central one, we follow Chi on his battles in the year 2017 that was crucial for the gay marriages activism in Taiwan. During that year, Chi visited a number of (maybe even all) Pride events in different cities in the country, always finding a strategically high spot to wave the rainbow-coloured flag from there, but also took part in debates and preparations for the referendums.

However, the fact that Mr Chi is a colourful and accessible character that has some important and interesting things to say does not automatically make the documentary about him a good one. “When the Dawn Comes” makes some sense in the Taiwanese context and could possibly serve as a waypoint how the things can be done in the certain types of social activism, but outside those circles, it could hardly find any audience.

The reason for that is Zhang’s pretty much textbook approach in which the structure is probably the most interesting thing albeit it was tried and tested times and times before. On top of that, we have some raw-looking footage from Chi’s recent actions, “talking head” interviews and a bit of archival photo-material and newspaper scans, with occasional textual cards trying to explain the complex context in a simplified manner. The production values are modest and, one could say, barely serviceable, which is the case with Zhang’s own cinematography and Liu Wenyao’s editing that teases the viewers with the idea that the longer the blackout between the scenes is, the more important the next one would be, as well as Thomas Fouguenne’s stereotypically “gentle” piano score. Sometimes the plainness of style puts the topic under the spotlight, but this time it is hardly the case.

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