"Formosa Betrayed" is a political thriller starring James Van Der Beek as a rookie FBI agent who gets caught up in Taiwan's struggle for independence from mainland China in 1983.

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When the events depicted in “Formosa Betrayed” took place in the early 1980s, politically charged thrillers like “The Killing Fields” and “Under Fire” were relatively common, attracting prominent stars and directors and stirring passions on their way to award-season accolades.

Even then, a film like “Formosa Betrayed” might have been seen as a riskier proposition. It’s a passionate labor of love that pointedly criticizes the U.S. government’s failure to recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation, independent of mainland China.

With a specific agenda to assert Taiwan’s independence (signaled by the use of the island’s former name in the title), this is a thriller that emphasizes political substance over generic thrills.

Which isn’t to say the movie shirks its genre obligations. It’s got shootouts, chases and complex intrigue as young, inexperienced FBI agent Jake Kelly (James Van Der Beek) is dispatched to Taipei in 1983 to track suspects linked to the murder in Chicago of a Taiwanese-American professor who was attempting to expose China’s oppressive reign of terror over Taiwanese advocates for independence.

Kelly quickly gets in over his head with a U.S. diplomat (superbly played by Wendy Crewson) and a Taiwanese official (Tzi Ma) who impede his investigation. While delivering clumsy chunks of plot-revealing dialogue, a Taiwanese activist (played by the film’s co-producer, Will Tiao) helps Kelly discover a web of conspiracy, including China’s campaign of political oppression and the U.S. brokering of an arms deal with Nicaraguan contras.

After covering more political history than it can efficiently summarize, “Formosa Betrayed” finds its groove when Kelly realizes how easily he’s been manipulated. Even his FBI boss (John Heard) knows more than he’s revealing, including why a rookie agent would be sent to Taiwan without being briefed about its raging political turmoil.

Jeff Shannon: j.sh@verizon.net