Film Review: Monkey War & Peace
Monkey War & Peace was shown during the 28th International Wildlife Film Festival in Missoula, Montana, April 30-May 7, 2005. A 50-minute look into the conflict between humans and the Formosan Macaque in Taiwan, this documentary features a narrative that reflects producer Chin-Yuan Ke's experience filming the monkeys over a ten-year period (sort of a filming the filmmaker approach). Individual and groups of macaques are introduced amid several story lines: macaques and the mountainside farmers and shop owners, macaques and tourists, and the macaques that have been captured and caged or relocated because of injury or aggressiveness. The scientists who study the macaque behavior introduce a matriarch monkey and her troupe, and Monkey Grandpa (a farmer turned monkey advocate) shares his philosophy on living an amicable life with the macaques. Other farmers aren't so understanding, while well-meaning but ignorant tourists risk their own safety and the monkeys' health by feeding them potato chips and other junk food.
Seeing the filmmaker, Chin-Yuan Ke, onscreen in Monkey War & Peace gives a viewer a sense of intimacy with the story as well as a feeling for how important the topic was for Ke personally. However, while Ke's spirit carries through the film via the narrative, he and co-producer Nick Upton wisely limit Ke's onscreen presence to a short introduction where he speaks directly to the camera. Timing keeps the action lively as Ke moves from the scientists to farmers to tourists, attempting to encompass the experiences of everyone who comes into contact with the monkeys. He succeeds well in this attempt (Monkey War & Peace was, in fact, a Finalist for Merit Award for Script and Balanced Perspective).
Any weaknesses in the film? A viewer who is partial to Taiwan (*ahem*) might have trouble finding some. The story is well-told and well-paced, with scenes that segue into new scenes seamlessly. The Taiwanese people featured in the film (even the foolish tourists) remind one of the warmness and well-meaning nature of many Taiwanese people. If the film lacks anything, it would be placement of the Formosan Macaque within the larger scope of Taiwan's efforts to preserve other vulnerable or endangered native species and sites. The monkeys are indeed a pest for many, but their status as a vulnerable species remained underemphasized. ("Vulnerable" status can be found on the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.) If anything, the animals appear overly abundant in the film; hence, their "war" with humans.
Awards and production information: Monkey War & Peace won Best Point of View and First Place in Best Television Program, Budget Under $250,000. The entering company was Taiwan Public Television Service with producers Chin-Yuan Ke and Nick Upton.
Many, perhaps most, of the films screened at the International Wildlife Film Festival held annually in Missoula, Montana are not shown outside the festival. If you?re interested in viewing Monkey War & Peace for yourself, please contact the International Wildlife Film Festival and Media Center regarding their policy on borrowing from their video library. Their URL is www.wildlifefilms.org.
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