In the United States, there have been many “small-time lawyer vs. big corporation” movies, but never one featuring a visually impaired lawyer. Nowadays, Taiwan — one of the top three countries in Asia for protecting the rights of the visually impaired — has produced a film adaptation of a real-world case. In INVISIBLE JUSTICE, as in Erin Brockovich, justice finally prevails.
From 1970 to 1988, the Radio Corporation of America (RCA) operated a factory in Taoyuan, Taiwan which produced household appliances. During this 18-year period, it illegally and freely discharged carcinogenic substances into the soil, thereby polluting the groundwater which was the main source of drinking water on the factory site and in the dormitory. As a result, workers suffered from cancer of various types, miscarriages, and infertility, which in turn led to numerous divorces and family ruptures due to traditional Taiwanese cultural expectations involving continuation of the ancestral line.
The resulting class-action lawsuit began in 1995. However, rather than pay compensation, the RCA at great expense hired one of Taiwan’s leading law firms to defend it. A total of 531 people joined the complaint, and demanded compensation of NT$2.7 billion. In 2015, a judicial panel finally awarded NT$500 million, to be divided among 445 plaintiffs. This was the largest transnational occupational-injury award in Taiwan history.
The director, Hong Cheng-chang, once made a short film, “I’m Fine, Thank You,” for Taiwan’s Ministry of Defense. He also produced the short films “She Is Not My Mother” and “My Whole Heart for You,” made without any commercial advertising and with an all-amateur cast, which attracted about 2 million views. So far he has made nearly 200 films (including full-length movies, advertisements, short films, music videos, documentaries, etc.), which have attracted the attention of academia and the local film industry, and three scholarly papers have focused on him.
Now he bravely shoulders the challenge of making a full-length film, INVISIBLE JUSTICE, with a release date of October 18, 2019. The son of a prostitute, Hong Cheng-chang is not a lawyer himself, but studied dozens of legal books as well as the 190-page judgment in order to make this movie. As Hong puts it, “I understand every word of the judgment, but they are difficult to understand when put together, let alone when read by a blind protagonist!” Drawing on his scrappy character molded by childhood poverty, he created the first “blind lawyer” movie by combining the legal process of litigation and defense with grassroots vitality.
INVISIBLE JUSTICE is Taiwan’s only movie to feature a visually impaired lawyer. The titular character is played by newcomer Zhang Zhehao, with other roles being filled by Asia-Pacific Film Festival award-winner Lu Yijing (who recently won Best Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Television Film at the 54th Golden Bell Awards), Golden Bell award-winning actress Ban Tiexiang, theater genius Chen Jiaxuan, and other high-quality actors. The courtroom scenes pitting “minnows” against “whales” are quite brilliant, and have even received praise from practicing lawyers. Viewers who do not understand law can easily follow the story, in which litigants with few resources win their case. Before the film’s release, 1.5 million advance tickets were sold at the box office!
Hopefully these pioneering efforts in the difficult environment of Taiwan’s local film and television industry will draw the attention of people worldwide to issues of occupational injury and regulatory adaptability. Let us also reconsider the role of voluntary Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in the course of pursuing economic profits. Will commercial considerations inspire companies to monitor themselves? A friendly working environment can help sustain corporate branding as well as the people’s livelihood.