Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau is part of the Huai Mo Village Project, a five-year endeavour of research, fieldwork, and production in Chiang Rai, Thailand, that Hsu began in 2012. The project focuses on a chapter of Cold War history and sheds light on how ordinary lives drifted with the uncontrollable forces of geopolitics. This is a recurring topic in Hsu Chia-Wei’s practice, which seeks to unpack the history of Taiwan in a global context. The Huai Mo Village Project centres on the remnants of the Chinese Nationalist forces who retreated to Burma (now Myanmar) after their defeat by the People’s Liberation Army during the Chinese Civil War. In the years that followed, the soldiers and their dependents were essentially abandoned by the Nationalist government in Taiwan but ordered to continue the fight against communism. Huai Mo later hosted intelligence operations by the Thai government and the United States Central Intelligence Agency.
With a blend of documentary and fictional techniques, Ruins of the Intelligence Bureau presents both a personal narration of the village’s tangled history and a traditional puppet performance that relates the legend of the monkey god Hanuman, drawing suggestive parallels to the soldiers’ fate. The narrator speaks in a recording studio, watching a projection of the puppets’ dance, while the camera moves fluidly between studio and landscape. It gradually becomes clear that the site of the performance is the demolished intelligence facility itself. Atop the ruin, the puppeteers complete their dance for an audience of masked elders and youths in military uniform.