Ke Chin-yuan's Long and Short Hands
Tony Lan Tsu-wei/ Film Critic
Conventional watches all have long and short hands. The short hand moves quickly within minute intervals, not tolerating a moment of laziness. The long hand goes slowly with grace in long intervals, carving time in all its profundity. Most people are driven by the short hand all day long, busy calculating the speed while ignoring the depth. Few people get into the interstice of the long hand, drawing the contour and also pointing out the essence by waiting and seeking.
Documentary filmmakers are racing against time. Some scenes and things are emerging or disappearing. If you miss them, they will not exist anymore. Certain events cannot be clearly contextualized right away. Hasty conclusions tend to bias. Known as Master Ke, Ke Chin-yuan collects the scenery in front of him under the pressure of the short hand while fills the details one by one in the gaps of the long hand’s slow motion, adding footnotes and better relief to the scenery. The mix of the long and the short makes his documentaries more attractive.
Using “attractive” to describe Ke Chin-yuan 's works does not imply any derogatory sense. Rather, the term attempts to highlight Ke's narrative approach of using images as scriptures and stories as latitudes.
Most documentary images are made on-site and by waiting. The first requirement is diligence (enjoying staying in the mountains or by the sea); the second is sensitivity (the ability to smell the core and the point); the third is reworking. Documentary narratives are mostly based on rational thoroughness and sensible delivery. The filmmaker sometimes hides behind the viewfinder; the camera refers to the places he/she records live. Sometimes he/she appears in front of the viewfinder, directing or speaking personally with great details. Such distinct signature and individual imprint are not to show off but to take on responsibility: being right there proves the trueness; explaining cause and effect confirms the verity.
Short Hand for Detailing Cause & Effect
Catching the scene relies on the long hand; detailing the cause and effect depends on the short hand.
The keenness and speed of his journalism background, as well as the pressure and space required by the media somehow contribute to Ke Chin-yuan's recording, sampling and sorting. His observation and following of ecological issues were already rooted in the years when he was a print reporter/columnist. Yet it was until he entered the Public Television Service (PTS) that his reports became more immediate and three-dimensional. Indeed, there was a group of people on PTS who refused to follow empty talks of politicians; it was with the resolution to move away from the mainstream that workers like Ke Chin-yuan gained a space of freedom. Thanks to their effort, ecological issues based in Taiwan with environmental concern gradually converged into a mainstream consensus.
The early years of PTS’s foundation saw various cable television news stations prosper. PTS’s microphone appeared at the locations of news. At its best, it passively followed the trends in the cacophony that brought nothing significant to the audience. Yet when PTS leaders dared to open up new paths and enrich the space of news interpretation through deep exploration, the mission of PTS as a public media no longer remained lofty yet empty words. Whether it is the daily “news” or the weekly “programs”, the concrete media “production/supply chain” both drives and urges Ke Chin-yuan to progress with greater diligence.
While news operation of commercial TV stations tends to be light, short and fast, the strength of PTS is to make things clear without adhering to conventional length and proportion. Ke Chin-yuan has to plan themes and produce Our Island (a program of in-depth coverage) and Viewpoints (a program of documentaries). Besides, depending on the topical demand of daily news, he also provides immediate reports with both images and discourses. With field research data accumulated from short-hand sampling, he plays the role of a powerful and “immediate” provider. Ranging from mountain and sea environments to human and animal issues, all first-hand live scenes were fresh and rather explanatory. They suffice to prove the gravity of the incidents; a report thus assumes the energy to extend endlessly and the weight to influence government’s decisions.
Irretrievable Fate beyond the Scope of Journalism Hopes for a Better Future
The most brutal and the most precious event should be Ke Chin-yuan’s recording of the “status quo” of “Amorgos merchant vessel oil spill incident”. Although Ke was not the first reporter to arrive at the spot, he was well connected and informed. With few clues, he already got to actions with PTS’ aid and recorded the unavoidable pollution incident on the fragile coastline of Taiwan. Although he could not “completely record” each detail of the “national disaster”, he took on a long-term residency there for a 6-month follow-up report. With his subtle and serious attitude of the short-hand sampling, he made scansions from all angles and provided updated images and progress from time to time. The bureaucrats could no longer hoodwink the public. Apart from perfunctorily responding with their measure (the most basic and the silliest way of collecting oil), they would restrict Ke’s interview with the excuse of safety, attempting at an alternative “damage control”. Yet they still failed to block Ke who knew the channels too well and always managed to penetrate cleverly.
Past “absurdity” and “confrontation” behind each report may become a reporter's “joke” in recalling his/her interview career. Yet Ke Chin-yuan’s work does not tend to such narcissist cheap sentiments. It may be hard to imagine his “heartache” in recording all this black oil pollution with his camera. But you may be able to realize his “impatience” in persuading the producer to make a series of report on the incident. Arguably, he was never worried about or proud of whether his images gave headache to the officials. He knew reports could not turn back the situations but only witness the stupidity of human beings. Yet he hoped these palpable evidences of images could form a pressure in policy-making and unite public awareness. Next time, right, when the next national catastrophe happens, we would not be all adrift anymore. It was also the humble prayer of most documentary filmmakers.
Works with Tremendous Energy
The accurate sampling of the long hand allows Ke Chin-yuan’s ecological reports to assume the tremendous energy of real-time report. Yet his work arouses unavoidable and irrefutable shocks coming from the short hand structure. With its wide strides, the short hand is suitable for waiting and sorting, which also renders the long hand energy more poignant and insightful, penetrating through the fog of debates.
For example, in recording the sky lantern event in Pingxi at the start of the millennium, only Ke Chin-yuan asked reporters to go deep into the forest and by the sea to look for remains of fallen lanterns while ordinary media was busy catching the spectacle of thousands of lanterns flying into the sky. Ke's long hand never falls behind. Yet he does not forget to use the short hand to open up a wider vision.
Another example: in Biographies of the Formosan Macaque, people tried their best to drive out the monkeys by using gunfire, firecrackers and hitting drums and gongs...From feeding macaques for pleasures to fighting with them to plunder foods, the film relates how the species (belonging to primates like men) kept on moving their residence into remote mountains under the impact of human’s development. But they also had to “invade” mankind’s land to find food. The deployment and narration of images exude a seductive charm like a dramatic plot, making it easier for people to read and accept the discourse.
Yet another example, The Squid Daddy's Labor Room made through 9 years of work explores whether it is the right way to use artificial reefs such as telephone pole reefs made with sunken ships or cement, or that the “bamboo grove birthing room” built with green bamboo clusters are better favored by neritic squids. Ke Chin-yuan dived into the depth of sea and shot images “contrasting” the sparse fish populations of traditional reefs with the thick bundles of eggs in the bamboo grove reefs. The film not only contains delightful underwater spectacles but also directly challenges the reef policy.
It can be said that considering both fun and environmental ecology is Master Ke’s inherent rule of filmmaking. Thus Paradise Way restages the drifts for the past 19 years of Xiao Li, Mike, and Handsome, orangutans featured in a popular local TV program, Naughty Family. The filmmaker even went as far to Indonesia to explore their hometowns, completing the whole picture with realities of trading protected species in Vietnam. This vision and ambition fully demonstrate Ke’s level of understanding of the incidents, reflecting what we mean by “No man is an Island”. The Earth's citizens will not attach to just a part of the world or regard an event from a single viewpoint.
Standing Where the News Lies Recording Stories of Taiwan
The recent passage of cold currents made many people retreat to warm blankets. Yet the man with the camera knew it was the beginning of another journey of conquest. On February 5, 2018, snow fell in Anbu of Yangmingshan in Taipei. There were traces of Ke Chin-yuan’s footsteps. On February 6, 2018, the Hualien Earthquake took place; on February 8, Ke Chin-yuan and the crew of Our Island also arrived on the scene While the progress of rescue preoccupied everyone, Ke and the crew turned their attention to architectural issues on the fault zone. The long-hand side was handed over to the daily news. Meanwhile, short hand was used to extend the depth of events, perhaps more getting closer to the mission of a public media.
In my eyes, Ke Chin-yuan is like the American poet Robert Frost who prefers paths that are rarely trodden. As long as his short hand continues to turn with the tic-tac sound, he will surly write a new chapter of Taiwan’s story through novel and intriguing views.
For his latest output The Age of Awakening , Ke Chin-yuan summoned the first generation of journalists and demonstrators on ecologic issues, re-investigating and comparing environmental events ranging from the early Anti-Dupont movement to protests against the creation of an incinerator in LiZe, Yilan and, more recently, the Forth Nuclear Power Plant and air pollution which still ravage the island into sadness. Is Taiwan progressing or regressing? The big question raised by Ke Chin-yuan remains to be answered by intellectuals.