Filmmaker Wei Te-sheng: Living His Dream With Courage and Persistence

September 4, 2019 Updated: September 11, 2019

With a pristine smile, Wei Te-sheng walks into sight; though he is perhaps not always the most noticeable, he constantly radiates charisma. Just as his movies have touched the hearts of millions, his own journey is equally as inspiring—from the son of clockmakers in Tainan to one of Taiwan’s most influential film directors. 

Taiwanese director Wei Te-Sheng displays award
Taiwanese director Wei Te-sheng with the Golden Horse Film Award for Best Feature Film for his “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale” on Nov. 26, 2011. (PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Wei has directed two of Taiwan’s highest-grossing domestic films: “Cape No. 7″ and “Seediq Bale.” Over the years, he has poured his heart and soul into every production he leads, even if it means bringing himself to the brink of bankruptcy. In the face of every imaginable adversity, he has persevered as “it is a natural instinct,” he told Elite Lifestyle Magazine during an interview in New York.

Like him, Wei’s movies are passionate and sincere, sensational yet down-to-earth. “Cape No. 7″ captures the stories of ordinary people chasing their everyday dreams. This romantic musical drama was Wei’s first full-length motion picture, and it has become one of Taiwan’s most acclaimed movies. With “Seediq Bale,” Wei brought to light the often neglected tales of Taiwan’s indigenous people. 

A New Perspective

Wei has written the screenplays for his films himself, including “Seediq Bale.” “’Seediq Bale’ was an extremely crucial start; it established the way I view history and its values,” he said. Based on the actual events of the Wushe Incident, the movie recounts the conflict between Taiwanese aboriginals and Japanese soldiers during the Japanese colonial period. 

Wei strove to capture the tragic incident as accurately and realistically as possible. He spent nearly two years conducting research, delving into primary sources until he held a vivid grasp of every detail. It was during these two years that Wei came to the realization that “in history, it is important to understand the motives of the people involved, because everyone fights for their meaning of life, and the legacy of their souls.” Wei decided to make this newfound perspective the theme of “Seediq Bale.”

“As the Rainbow-believers (aboriginals) encounter the Sun-worshipers (Japanese soldiers) in the Taiwanese mountains, they fight and bleed, dying to protect their different faiths—somehow forgetting to embrace the same sky,” he said. From this perspective, Wei showed audiences that the figures involved in the Wushe Incident were only seeking dignity and freedom.

Another one of Wei’s works, “Kano,” chronicles the journey of a high school baseball team and takes place in Japanese Taiwan. The team was a mix of Taiwanese natives, Han-ethnic Taiwanese, and Japanese players. In 1931, Team Kano won Silver at the Japanese National High School Tournament. “A lesser-known team, comprised of three different ethnic groups, ended up achieving such an honor,” Wei said.

In “Kano,” the collaboration between different ethnicities resulted in friendship; whereas, in “Seediq Bale,” anger and hatred led to a tragic ethnic conflict—the Wushe Incident. With these two stories, Wei encourages audiences to view history in a more compassionate and reflective light.

A Fearless Heart

Just like with any dream, Wei’s first attempts were not always met with victories. In 2003, he personally raised the funds for the trailer of “Seediq Bale”—however, this wasn’t nearly enough. Thus, the movie was put in a six-year-long hiatus. It was one of the hardest times of his life. Wei said that he felt lost and weary, as if stuck in a dark tunnel with no light in sight. 

Feeling uninspired, Wei decided to focus on “Cape No. 7.” He hoped that if the film was successful, he would have better luck financing “Seediq Bale.” Wei gave “Cape No. 7″ his all, leaving no room for regrets. He even went so far as to mortgage his house to pay for the expenses. His hard work and dedication paid off. Although the movie attracted only moderate box-office success in its first few weeks, it spread quickly by word of mouth and eventually reached record-breaking success. 

Wei had finally earned recognition, and he was able to fulfill his dream of bringing “Seediq Bale” to life. However, the Taiwanese movie industry in 2009 was far from Wei’s expectations. Nevertheless, and despite having limited resources, he managed to pull in expert scene designers from Japan, computer artists from Korea, as well as the “influencer of the action genre,” John Woo, from Hong Kong. 

Yet even with everything prepared to Hollywood standard, the filming process for “Seediq Bale” encountered many roadblocks. Expenses piled on quickly, and anticipation and excitement soon turned into doubts and criticism. Nothing was going as Wei had planned; even his most trusted partner eventually left the team. However, Wei was ready to fight the battles, even if he had to do it alone. 

The Taiwan Dream

Wei worked tirelessly, running between his studio and various companies to try and find new sources of support. Eventually, his hard work came to fruition. He was fortunate to receive just enough funding for “Seediq Bale” to hit the big screen in 2011. Thinking back on the experience, he expressed gratitude. “I was so lucky to have been able to accomplish all that I’ve dreamed of without a single penny,” he said. 

As soon as “Seediq Bale” was released, it achieved overwhelming popularity, breaking the box-office record in Taiwan. As the result of its success, Wei began receiving invitations to work on productions all around the world. However, “that is not where my ambition lies,” Wei explained. “My spirit and dreams remain within Taiwan.”

For many, especially in the entertainment industry, happiness stems from fame and wealth. However, for Wei, happiness comes from having something to pursue. He is also looking forward to future projects and coming up with new ideas.

Just last year, he began the production of “Taiwan Trilogy,” which dates back 400 years to the era of colonial Dutch-Taiwan and chronicles the growth of his homeland. As with all of his productions, Wei doesn’t hold back—the intricacy and large scale of “Taiwan Trilogy” will make it his most expensive production yet.

Many have doubted the success of this project, and Wei has already faced many hardships regarding it. Nevertheless, he has persisted—Wei has never been one to back down from a challenge. As impossible as it might seem, the heavens will help those who are splendid.

This article by Minghui Wang, slightly edited, is republished with permission from Elite Lifestyle Magazine.