Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (2013)

Review #1,072

Director:  Chi Po-lin
Plot:  Documenting Taiwan from an aerial perspective offering a glimpse of Taiwan's natural beauty as well as the effect of human activities and urbanization on our environment.

Genre:  Documentary
Awards:  Won Best Documentary, nominated for Best Original Score (Golden Horse).
Runtime:  93min
Rating:  PG

This excellent documentary will be remembered for two things: its extraordinary aerial photography, and its strong environmental message.  I would like to urge viewers to also remember the score composed by Singapore's very own Ricky Ho.  I don't imply that you should learn to hum the music, but that without it, Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above might not have even been half as good. 

The talented Ho, who won Best Original Score at the Golden Horse Awards for Wei Te-Sheng's Seediq Bale: Warriors of the Rainbow (2011), brings to life the emotions associated with witnessing the grandeur of nature and life itself.  We experience joy, mostly awe, but in the second half of the film, we feel sadness and guilt.  We become angry.

Directed by Chi Po-lin, Beyond Beauty is a unique documentary in that it is sparsely narrated.  It is for most parts sights and sounds.  When the narration occurs, it comes in gently without being too imposing, though there are some instances when certain environmental concerns are being reiterated too didactically. 

Overall, the message remains clear and succinct.  We think we live in a beautiful space, but open your eyes and you might see something that is beyond beauty.  Pollution, erratic weather conditions, industrialization, and more, are contributions to and consequences of the fatal human attitude that we are above nature, that we can transcend the environment.

 If Terence Malick ever made a documentary, it would have looked similar to this.  Best seen on the big screen, Beyond Beauty is as film expert David Lee of the Singapore Film Society points out "a horror story".  I think this is a documentary of heaven and hell on Earth.  It is as much about the state of things in Taiwan as it is in many parts of the world.  Singapore is no exception, and while we might take pride in our 'garden city', we may only be a few steps away from an ecological disaster. 

Executive produced by the well-respected Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Beyond Beauty works not only as a potent message film, but also a visual (and touristic) showcase of Taiwan's natural beauty, one that is also increasingly ruined by its ignorant inhabitants and, yes, tourists. 

Verdict:  Perhaps the most beautifully shot documentary in many, many years, backed by an inspired score by the talented Singaporean film composer Ricky Ho.


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