Any scene from Beyond Beauty can look like an opening scene straight out of an epic movie.

Director Po-Lin Chi
Duration 93 minutes
Language Mandarin Chinese
Release Date November 1, 2013

The Taiwan I’ve been to is an island country boasting one of the tallest buildings in the world, an inclusive recycling system, warm and generous people at every county and local fruit farms aplenty. This film, however, takes us on a different journey to Taiwan, to places even locals aren’t aware of.

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As if being seated on the wing of an eagle, Beyond Beauty brings us high up above the land of a carefully sculpted work of art as everything simply looks impressive and imposing from that height. But this movie is definitely not just a glossy tourism poster that moves. While the film celebrates nature’s beauties and takes pride in the picturesque space we all live in, it goes on to showcase the magnitude of destruction happening on the other side of the land, bearing witness to the worsening environmental degradation we are constantly surrounded by but don’t usually see.

Environmental degradation is not a new subject matter to talk about, Al-gore has been at it for decades now. But no one has ever argued the case so matter-of-factly and charmingly, until Beyond Beauty. The director’s desperate plea for environmental consciousness in everyday humans goes beyond mere warning and advocating. The simple straightforward method of showing the land from above allows us to see the big picture of our daily choices, thus giving us room to judge for ourselves.

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Atypical to any other documentary, this film has no dialogues, no interviews with experts – no sappy human drama. Its powerful images, accompanied with climatic background music, are more than sufficient in telling stories of their own. However, Beyond Beauty can start to get sterile after a while but don’t give up on the film just yet! Twenty five minutes into the film, we begin to hear the story through a narrator’s voice. A voice so everyday and ordinary yet so sincere it added a touch of humanity and intimacy to the otherwise impersonal film. At this point in time onwards, you will be glad that you didn’t give up before the 25-minute mark.

We humans, tend to assume that we are above nature, and that we should use our smarts to maximise whatever nature has given us without the intention of giving back to it. As a result, overconsumption has impeded nature of its ability to heal itself fast enough to serve our greed. From this movie, we saw that in our hungry attempt to increase productivity and consumerism we cut roads across mountains and hence disrupted the natural structure of the land; we uprooted soil-binding forest trees with deep roots for shallow-rooted cash crops like betel nut, teas and cabbages; we pumped water from the sea so much so that we have eroded the natural beaches that protected our homes.

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A result of such rampant tourism and consumerism is a blatant destruction to our planet. And yet, we always blamed nature for the very problems that we have created ourselves, like typhoons, heavy torrential rains and extreme weathers – don’t we always think of ourselves as victims of these disasters and never the culprit (be it directly or indirectly)? But director Chi neither pushes the blame, preaches nor lectures. What comes through is a genuine love for the land and the pain and indignation of seeing it thoughtlessly scarred. This film is not his avenue to lament about what is lost but rather how we should look ahead and make things better.

For city dwellers like us who have a distant relationship with our land, this film serves as a good revelation and reminder that modern life still very much depends on nature’s life support systems. That in fact, all subjects on Earth (plants, animals, science and humans) can live together harmoniously if there’s a balance. Beyond just beauty, we should all aspire for more understanding, compassion, respect and kindness for Mother Nature.