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Din Tao: Leader of the parade (陣頭)

"Din Tao: Leader of the Parade” (陣頭) is about renewing the spiritual credibility of “Din Tao” by filling traditional symbols with new inspirations, and about reconciling rifts between generations, between rival troupes, and between cosmopolitan and homegrown cultures.

First, a primer. Din Tao in Hoklo Taiwanese, or zhentou (陣頭) in Mandarin, refers to a formation of personas derived from Taiwanese folklore, often as part of a “temple assembly” (廟會), the festive gathering of believers and revelers. The film is named with reference to the more martial variety of Din Tao, where the procession of divine generals ward off, drive out, capture, or punish evil influences, protecting the believers and the main deity they guard.

As such, Din Tao is often mysterious, solemn, and formidable. Mirroring the tribunals of Imperial China, the generals often carry weapons, or tools for torture — represented by props today. “Initiating the face” (開臉) is the transformation of one's identity from being human to being divine through costuming and rituals. Once this is done the medium should refrain from frivolous or pedestrian acts until the end of the ceremony.

Din Tao has been a force of communal bonding and mobilization in Taiwanese society, allowing people to communicate with and participate in the divine if they can muster tight teamwork, technical proficiency and physical and mental stamina.

Not to say that its past was ideal, today Din Tao has become associated with gangs, crimes and drugs. Hybridity with rave culture — including electronica and the use of ecstasy (MDMA-related drugs) — has also given rise to “Electronica Nezha” (電音三太子), where individuals attired in the persona of Nezha dance to electronic beats. First popularized in Southern Taiwan, Electronica Nezha has been promoted internationally as a cool Taiwanese icon before its cultural significance can be put into words.

The Rundown

After studying music and drumming in Taipei for some time, A-Tai (阿泰) returns to his home in Taichung as a recuperation stop before heading off for the American dream. His father runs Chio-Tian (九天), a Din Tao troupe constituted of dropout students, and has all but given up on A-Tai; their relationship has been strained ever since A-Tai's childhood.

Once again under the same roof, the two can hardly stand each other, and while other troupe members view the junior with suspicion, A-Tai's mother tries to put out their short fuses.

To save face following a rash bet, A-Tai takes authority as the troupe leader in his father's place and must prove his worth within six months, defending his family's name and earning respect from existing members.

On the other side of the bet looms quick-tempered protégé A-xian (阿賢), who threatens to sabotage Chio-Tian, being jealous that A-Tai gets to lead a troupe with no prior experience while he can only watch eagerly under his own father's shadow.

Having lived away from home, A-Tai wants to bring unorthodox elements to Din Tao. He rejects traditional deities and their tainted connotations of unwholesome gangster culture. He wants the troupe to be unique, but not avant-garde in a way that the crowd wouldn't understand. He takes Chio-Tian on a journey over various terrains around Taiwan, attracting media attention and raising his father's conservative eyebrow.

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“Din Tao: Leader of the Parade” renews the spiritual credibility of “Din Tao” by filling traditional symbols with new inspirations. (Courtesy of 20th Century Fox Taiwan)

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