Formosa Betrayed

, a ho-hum college history lecture about modern Taiwan awkwardly disguised as a political thriller, has its heart almost in the right place.

Set in 1983, near the end of the dictatorship that had ruled Taiwan since anticommunist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek retreated there in the late 1940s, Formosa is about an FBI agent named Jake Kelly (James Van Der Beek) sent to the island nation to find the assassins who killed a Taiwanese American professor in Chicago.

To his horror, Jake learns - via long-winded expository soliloquies from Taiwanese friends and foes - that the prof was killed not by the Taiwanese mob but by the government because he criticized its strong-arm tactics.

Will Tiao, who cowrote and produced the flick, costars as Ming, a pro-democracy activist who guides Jake (and the viewer) through a tedious history of his native land, complete with archival photos. It's a sad tale, sadder still when we're told that Jake's boss, the federal government, which he says he'd die to protect, decides to sweep the assassination plot under the carpet.

Saddest of all, Formosa addresses these admittedly interesting and important issues in a most tedious, awkward, and artless manner.

- Tirdad Derakhshani