The San Francisco Public Library, in conjunction with TECO, hosted a reception for Envision Taiwan with Films and Photos on May 23rd. Kicking-off two weekends of Taiwanese films and a monthlong photo exhibition, librarian and access service manager Marti Goddard welcomed the attendees. Afterwards, TECO Press Division director Manfred Peng gave a brief history of Taiwan’s cinema.
The photo exhibition will be on display until June 25th in the Chinese Center located on the third floor of the San Francisco Public Library near the Civic Center.
Highlights of Peng’s talk about Taiwan’s cinema history are as follows:
The 80s and 90s were the Golden Age of Taiwan’s film industry. In 1993, two Taiwan-made movies were contenders for the best foreign film at the Oscar Awards. The following year, Taiwan produced 29 feature films, which were entered in 55 international film contests in 51 countries, earning 54 nominations and 49 awards. This was a remarkable achievement. Since then, Taiwan’s filmmakers and their films have become common sights at major international film festivals.
Taiwan’s movies have received much international recognition. There are several reasons for these successes.
1. In the past, movies provided our people with an outlet for escaping. From the 50s to the 70s, the political atmosphere on the island was conservative, fostering a closed society. Stories of chivalry, Kung Fu action, and romances were conceptually escapist.
2. Taiwan’s film industry had been well established during the Japanese occupation, before Chiang Kai-shek moved to the island in 1949. Faced with China’s military threat and political infiltration, the Chiang government encouraged the development of the film industry and used it as a tool for propaganda. The state-owned “Central Motion Picture Co.” recruited the best talent for filmmaking and cultivated the “New Wave” movies in the late 80s.
3. In the early 80s, Taiwan became an “economic miracle.” People’s living standards rose, thus establishing a stable, strong middle-class. Good-quality movies were increasingly in demand. Along with rapid democratization, the young generation of filmmakers, the “New Wave” directors, utilized the ever-growing space for development to create a diversity of materials in this newly liberalized environment.
However, Taiwan’s film industry entered into a dark age in the late 90s. Filmmakers pursued international recognition and catered to Western film critics, without consideration for domestic markets. Finally, filmmakers abandoned the audience; the audience, in turn, abandoned their products. In the late 90s, the number of Taiwan-produced movies released dropped from over 200 a year in the early 80s to less than 20.
Last year, the movie Cape No. 7 turned the tide. It was an uplifting film without abstract, artistic language. It has earned over US$17 million at the box office so far – the second best in Taiwan’s movie history behind Titanic. In order to encourage this new trend, our government took the opportunity to amend its policy and stipulated that every feature film that makes US$1.5 million at the box office could be eligible for government sponsorship equal to 20 percent of its revenue. This will hopefully spur filmmakers’ orientation from artistic films to commercially successful ones.
In retrospect, the film industry epitomizes the modernization of Taiwan’s society.
- Beginning in the 80s, people moved away from the great-China consciousness to a Taiwanese identity.
- In the 90s, the film industry changed from a tool of political propaganda to a forum to study social issues.
- Today, filmmakers are catering to the interests of the local audience, instead of chasing international recognition.
Taiwan’s film industry has walked a unique road and experienced different lessons from other Chinese communities. We cherish this experience, because its growth and development is the story of the whole Taiwanese people.
- The Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco represents the Government Information Office (GIO), Executive Yuan, Republic of China (Taiwan). GIO maintains nine Press Divisions in the United States, including the San Francisco office. The Press Divisions are in charge of promoting Taiwan's public relations and cultural exchanges. This blog is updated by the Press Division, TECO in San Francisco.
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