VENICE, Italy — Warrior cries and brutal decapitations colour the opening scenes in Wei Te-Sheng's "Seediq Bale," the fierce Taiwanese epic running against Hollywood favourites for the Golden Lion award at Venice this year.
With a record production cost of 24 million dollars, "Seediq Bale" brings to the big screen the true story about a rebellion of aboriginal tribes against their Japanese colonial rulers in Taiwan in 1930 -- at their ultimate defeat.
Produced by renowned Hong Kong-based director John Woo -- whose Hollywood films include "Face Off" and "Mission Impossible 2" -- the film alternates between fight scenes and moments of spiritual anguish for the proud tribesmen.
Stunning cinematography captures the untamed beauty of Wushu, a tribal township on Mount Chilai, where the concept of freedom is inextricably linked to hunting wild animals through lush undergrowth -- a ritual at risk as civilisation takes hold.
"The film tells the story of an encounter between a people who believe in rainbows and a nation which believes in the sun -- a heroic battle in defence of faith and dignity," Wei said about his most ambitious work to date.
Over 12 years in the making, "Seediq Bale" features a cast of 15,000, many of whom were hand picked for the part in a door-to-door search throughout Taiwan for people with the right characteristics: specifically, "hunters eyes."
Wei said he had researched the history behind the "Wushe Incident" thoroughly and had been very aware of not wanting to "exacerbate dormant tensions," but instead "effect some kind of reconciliation between the two opposing sides."
Wei and Lin Ching-Ta -- who plays tribal chief Mouna Rudo -- will be accompanied to the premiere screening on Thursday by co-stars Vivian Hsu and Landy Wen, who both made their names as singers before going into acting.
But it is pop-star Madonna who is expected to draw the screaming crowds on Thursday as she appears on the red carpet ahead of the screening of her second film as a director, "W.E.", which will be shown out of competition.
The diva landed at Venice airport late on Wednesday evening, looking glamorous in a black outfit, with a check shirt and sunglasses, and headed for the luxury Bauer hotel on Venice's Grand Canal.
Her film, starring British actors James D'Arcy and Andrea Riseborough, tells the tale of King Edward VIII's controversial romance with American divorcee Wallis Simpson -- through the eyes of a lonely modern-day New Yorker.
The US singer is expected to arrive on the Lido by speed boat, as are stars Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet, who will dazzle paparazzi on the red carpet for the highly-anticipated "Carnage," directed by the controversial Roman Polanski.
The French-Polish director will not be present. Wanted in the United States for alleged sexual assault dating back to 1977, he risks extradition should he travel to Italy.
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Twenty-two films -- all world premieres -- will compete for the prestigious Golden Lion award (AFP, Alberto Pizzoli)