Although Hollywood films still dominate the theaters on the island, Taiwan-made films are beginning to find a broader audience, both abroad and domestically. During Taiwan Film Days, Bay Area audiences will undoubtedly be delighted by the breadth and diversity of the movies screened.
This weekend, the San Francisco Film Society along with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, will showcase seven contemporary Taiwanese documentary and feature films. The films will screen at Landmark Opera Plaza Cinema (601 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco) beginning Friday evening, November 6th to Sunday night, November 8th. An opening reception at Bambuddha Lounge (601 Eddy Street, San Francisco) will celebrate the start of Taiwan Film Days.
When martial law was lifted in 1987, the island’s new-found freedoms energized the film-making industry. Writers and directors alike had much to say and their movies began gaining international recognition. Since then, Taiwanese directors such as Ang Lee, Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang are not only recognized in Taiwan, but have also gained a faithful audience abroad.
Still, Hollywood dominates the global box office and it is no different in Taiwan. From 1996-2006, Taiwanese films accounted for less than 2 percent of total ticket sales in Taiwan, with Hollywood movies taking more than 90 percent, and the rest going to movies from Hong Kong and China. Since 1990, the Government Information Office has promoted local films by giving incentives, in the form of a set grant and/or government-guaranteed bank loans of up to US$3.1 million. Although this has helped Taiwan films earn accolades at international film festivals, it has not always translated well into big box office receipts.
This changed in 2008 with Cape No.7. The film would go on to become the second largest grossing movie in Taiwan. This is also the opening movie for Taiwan Film Days with two showings on Friday, November 6th.
This movie really resonated with Taiwanese people of all ages. It is two stories entwined. After trying to become a singer in Taipei for ten years, Aga returns to his hometown a failure and takes a job as a mailman. He finds a cache of undelivered love letters, and pieces together a story of unrequited love from 60 years ago.
Starting off Saturday’s program will be Beyond the Arctic, a documentary about a three-man Taiwanese team on the 2008 Polar Challenge, an annual foot race to the North Pole. Endurance runner Kevin Lin, game industry CEO Albert Liu, and 22-year-old college student Jason Chen, come together to face temperatures as low as -41F, polar bear attack, frost bite, loneliness and the punishing trek towards their destination. Director Yang Li-chou and producer Michelle Chu will be at both screenings to answer questions from the audience.
Saturday’s lineup continues with director Fu Tien-yu’s Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, a sensitive story about Ah-guei and her equally restless and lonely cousin Ah-xian. With a big world map and a bookcase of traveling guides, they take imaginative journeys far beyond their small town. A coming-of-age tale that explores our sense of self and our place in the world. Director Fu will be at the screening to answer questions from the audience afterwards.
God Man Dog, a strange title for a movie, but appropriate when all three are thrown together. Lives are entwined and boundaries fall when three outcasts meet at the scene of an accident. Yellow Bull, gives shelter to deserted god statues, yet can’t afford to have his artificial leg fixed. Biung, an alcoholic aboriginal, transports peaches between a remote village and Taipei City, finds he is less valued than this merchandise. Ching, a depressed housewife mourns her dead child and hopes to redeem her marriage. These three lives collide in a fatal car accident caused by a stray dog. This movie shows at 7pm Saturday, November 7th.
Raised by her mother, Yang Yang knows neither her French father nor his language. She yearns for a family and believes she finally gets her wish when her mother remarries, only to be disappointed by her new family. She runs away to pursue an acting career, but discovers she cannot run away from family, friendship and love. Yang Yang will screen at 9:30pm on Saturday, November 7th.
Sunday’s program begins with What on Earth Have I Done Wrong? at 2pm. A mockumentary skewering local politics. Actor/filmmaker Doze Niu Chen-zer (playing himself) is trying to get money to make his movie. He hustles for actresses and drinks with potential investors, all the while his love life and career begin to unravel. He is left at a loss about what to do next.
No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti (I cannot live without you), is based on a true story about a father’s struggle to keep his daughter. Li Wu-hsiung is a poor and single father who works at dangerous odd jobs, living on the fringes of society. When his daughter reaches school age, he tries to register her, only to meet with bureaucratic quicksand. Eventually his daughter is taken from him by the government in a desperate showdown. Filmed in black and white, director Leon Dai does an exceptional job of portraying the striking grittiness of Li’s life. This film is Taiwan’s official entry to the 2010 Academy Awards. It will show once on Sunday, November 8th at 6:15pm.
Background on Taiwan’s cinema
The first movie to be seen in Taiwan in 1899 was only shown in Taipei, which at that time was predominately Japanese. As such, it is doubtful that the early glimpses of cinema were seen by many non-Japanese.
In 1924, director-writer Liou Shi-yang made the first Taiwanese movie called Whose Fault is it? According to Fountain magazine’s special issue on Taiwan Cinema, foreign clergy played an important part in bringing non-Asian films to Taiwan. In the 1950s, popular cartoons like Felix the Cat and the comedies of Laurel and Hardy were often shown in church and temple grounds.
In 1949, Chiang Kai-shek and his followers moved to Taiwan, but the military threat from China did not lessen. Chiang encouraged filmmaking and saw it as a tool for propaganda. Between the 1950s and 1970s, movies provided a form of escapism from the conservative and closed society.
In the early 1980s, Taiwan’s economic miracle began, increasing living standards and establishing a strong and stable middle-class. When martial law was lifted in 1987, a young generation of Taiwanese filmmakers, mostly educated in the United States, were ready to examine Taiwan’s history, society, and many of the subjects that were political taboos in the past. The bulk of the movies made in this era were called “New Wave.” Considered the Golden Age of the Taiwanese film industry, it was during this time that Taiwanese movies began to receive serious attention abroad.
In 1993, two Taiwan-made movies were contenders for the best foreign film at the Oscars. In 1994, Taiwan produced 29 feature films, which earned 54 nominations and 49 awards at international festivals. In as much as people in the movie business have received more media attention and appreciation in Taiwan, the late 1990s became a dark period for Taiwanese films, both internationally and domestically. However, in the last two years, the tide has turned once again for Taiwan-made films.
- 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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