The award-winning documentary ‘Return of the Free China Junk’ follows the heart-warming story of a daughter’s efforts to honor her father’s memory. Dione Chen’s passion to save the rare old junk boat ‘Free China’ from imminent destruction in northern California becomes the catalyst for an inspiring international cross-generational mission.
The ‘Free China’ junk (which carried Dione’s father Reno Chen & five mates from Taiwan to San Francisco in 1955) is the oldest known surviving Chinese wooden sailing vessel of its kind. The dream of the six junk-mates in their late twenties (including Paul Chow, Loo-Chi Hu/Huloo, Marco Chung, Benny Hsu and Calvin Mehlert) — to sail across the Pacific in 1955 with no prior sailing experience — is rivaled by the dream of the next generation to bring the fragile boat ‘home’ nearly sixty years later.
The incredible 1955 maritime adventure of the ‘Free China’ junk, initiated by twenty-something Paul Chow in Formosa/Taiwan — and filmed in glorious color Kodachrome by the sixth junk-mate Calvin Mehlert (former US Vice Consul, Taipei) — is celebrated in Robin Greenberg’s award-winning prequel film ‘The Free China Junk’. (www.thefreechinajunkfilm.com)
‘Return of the Free China Junk’ chronicles the formidable challenges in trying to find a permanent home for the junk before it’s turned into firewood — and the magic that the junk boat seems to weave amongst the international team she draws together to bring her home.
‘Return of the Free China Junk’ also delves into such themes as the importance of dreams — and how material objects can contribute significantly to our past, present and future.
Intimate interviews with the junk-mates (including archival interviews with junk-mates the late Reno Chen and Marco Chung from Greenberg’s previous films ‘Huloo‘ and ‘The Free China Junk‘), and contractor Diane Shipway, are intertwined with unfolding events of trying to save the junk and the formidable task of transporting her back across the Pacific to Taiwan.
Lead characters from Taiwan include Ms. Lung Yingtai (historian and former Minister of Culture) Professor Laurence Lwo and Dr. Chiau Wen-yan, who also bring their passion and expertise to the international efforts.
“What does the junk see when she returns to Taiwan after nearly sixty years ?”, muses Ms. Lung Yingtai.
Along with excellent footage and photographs from Professor Laurence Lwo and Dr. Chiau Wen-yan, Calvin’s stunning 1955 footage of the voyage is intercut with his more recent footage of the junk on the move in California,
When the three junk-mates, now in their eighties, are finally reunited with the junk in Keelung, Taiwan it is somewhat bitter-sweet. The absence of three of their fellow junk-mates who’d already away (Reno, Marco and Benny) is strongly felt — and plans for preservation and restoration are still nebulous, yet ever hopeful.
A tale of perseverance, ‘Return of the Free China Junk’ explores how one old junk-boat impacts not only on collective family histories — but also on the psyche and aspirations of a nation.
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