Cinema of Taiwan

Cinema of Taiwan

The history of Chinese-language cinema has three separate threads of development: Cinema of Hong Kong, Cinema of Mainland China and Cinema of Taiwan (or Cinema of Formosa). Taiwanese cinema grew up outside of the Hong Kong mainstream and the censorship of the People's Republic of China.

Taiwanese cinema is deeply rooted in the Taiwan's unique and rapidly changing history. Since its introduction to Taiwan in 1901 by the Japanese, cinema has developed in Taiwan through several distinct stages.


Early cinema, 1900 – 1945

The first film was introduced into Taiwan by Toyojiro Takamatsu in 1901. From 1900 to 1937, Taiwanese cinema was strongly influenced by the Japanese. This was during the era of Japanese rule, and many conventions in Japanese films were adopted by the Taiwanese filmmakers. For example, the use of a benshi (narrator of silent films), which was a very important component of the film-going experience in Japan, was adopted and renamed benzi by the Taiwanese. This narrator was very different from its equivalent in the Western world. It rapidly evolved into a star system. In fact, people would go to see the very same film narrated by different benshi, to hear the other benshi's interpretation. A romance could become a comedy or a drama, depending on the narrator's style and skills. Lu, a famous actor and benshi in Taiwan wrote the best reference book on Taiwan cinema.

The first Taiwanese benshi master was a musician and composer named Wang Yung-feng, who had played on a regular basis for the orchestra at the Fang Nai Ting Theatre in Taipei. He was also the composer of the music for the Chinese film Tao hua qi xue ji (China, Peach girl, 1921) in Shanghai.

"Other famous Taiwanese benshi masters were Lu Su-Shang and Zhan Tian-Ma. Lu Su-shang, is not primarily remembered for his benshi performances, but mainly because he wrote the inestimable history of cinema and drama in Taiwan, the bible of Taiwanese film history. The most famous of all was Zhan Tian-ma, whose story is told in a recent Taiwanese biographical film, March of Happiness (Taiwan, 1999, dir: Lin Sheng-shing)."[1]

"Benshi masters were intellectuals: they spoke Japanese, often traveled to Japan and/or China, and were poets writing their own libretto for each film. Since 1910, films had been distributed with a script, but these poets of the darkness would rather explore their personal style. Notable films during this period include The Eyes of Buddha (1922) and Whose Fault Is It (1925)."[2]

Then, with the Second Sino-Japanese War came the Japanization era and Taiwan was restricted to playing Japanese repertoire only. The Japanese strove to transform the locals into Japanese citizens, giving them Japanese names, a Japanese education, encouraging them to wear Japanese clothes and the men to cut their long hair. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's film, "The Puppetmaster" (1993), witnesses vividly this process of cultural annexation. In 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War interrupted the movie industry, and virtually nothing was produced until after the Kuomintang took over Taiwan in 1945.

Taiwanese cinema after 1945

Taiwanese cinema grew again after 1949, when the end of the Chinese civil war brought many filmmakers sympathetic to the Nationalists to Taiwan. Even then, the majority of films were still made in Taiwanese and this continued for many years. For example, in 1962, out of a total of 120 films produced, only seven were made in Mandarin; the rest were made in Taiwanese. However, the production of films in Taiwanese began to decline, due to a variety of reasons, ranging from limited scope and waning interest for such films, to the Nationalist government's promotion of Mandarin in mass media and its deeming of Taiwanese dialect as too "coarse". The last movie filmed entirely in Taiwanese was made in 1981.

The 1960s marked the beginning of Taiwan's rapid modernization. The government focused strongly on the economy, industrial development, and education, and in 1963 the Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC) introduced the "Health Realism" melodrama. This film genre was proposed to help build traditional moral values, which were deemed important during the rapid transformation of the nation's socioeconomic structure. During this time, traditional kung-fu films as well as romantic melodramas were also quite popular. The author Qiong Yao is especially famous for the movies made in this time period which were based on her widely-read romantic novels.

Taiwanese cinema of this period is related to censorship in the Republic of China and Propaganda in the Republic of China.

New Wave Cinema, 1982 – 1990

By the early 1980s, the popularity of home video made film-watching a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. However, the Taiwanese film industry was under serious challenges, such as the entry of Hong Kong films, well-known for their entertainment quality, into the Taiwanese market. In order to compete with Hong Kong films, the CMPC began an initiative to support several fresh, young directors. In 1982, the film In Our Time (1982), which featured four young talented directors (Edward Yang, Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, and Yi Chang), began what would be known as the rejuvenation of Taiwanese cinema: the New Wave.

In contrast to the melodrama or kung-fu action films of the earlier decades, New Wave films are known for their realistic, down-to-earth, and sympathetic portrayals of Taiwanese life. These films sought to portray genuine stories of people living either in urban or rural Taiwan, and are often compared stylistically to the films of the Italian neorealism movement. This emphasis on realism was further enhanced by innovative narrative techniques. For example, the conventional narrative structure which builds the drama to a climax was abandoned. Rather, the story progressed at the pace as it would in real life.

Due to its honest portrayal of life, New Wave films examined many of the important issues facing Taiwan society at this time, such as urbanization, the struggle against poverty, and conflicts with political authority. For instance, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's A City of Sadness portrays the tensions and the conflicts between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Chinese Nationalist government after the end of the Japanese occupation. Edward Yang's Taipei Story (1985) and A Confucian Confusion (1994) talk about the confusion of traditional values and modern materialism among young urbanites in the 1980s and 1990s. The New Wave Cinema films are, therefore, a fascinating chronicle of Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in modern times. Chen Kunhou's 1983 film Growing Up provides a nuanced perspective on the experience of a very young boy, from an ordinary family, getting into progressively more trouble.

Second New Wave, 1990 – 2010

The New Wave gradually gave way to what could be informally called the Second New Wave, which are slightly less serious and more amenable to the populace, although just as committed to portraying the Taiwanese perspective.

For example, Tsai Ming-liang's Vive L'Amour, which won the Golden Lion at the 1994 Venice Film Festival, portrays the isolation, despair, and love of young adults living in the upscale apartments of Taipei. Stan Lai's The Peach Blossom Land (1992) is a tragi-comedy involving two groups of actors rehearsing different plays on the same stage; the masterful juxtaposition and the depth of the play's political and psychological meanings helped it win recognition at festivals in Tokyo and Berlin.

Ang Lee is perhaps the most well-known of the Second New Wave director. His early films Pushing Hands (1991), The Wedding Banquet (1993), and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) focus on the generational and cultural conflicts confronting so many modern families. His Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) revived the wuxia genre successfully. Although not in the tradition of New Wave or Second New Wave, it is a commercial success which placed Asian films firmly in the international domain. The recent films Eternal Summer (2006), Prince of Tears (2009) and Winds of September (2009) have pushed the boundaries of Taiwanese film-making and broken the island's long-standing taboos about the depiction of controversial subject matter.

Taiwanese cinema is now facing difficult times competing with Hollywood blockbusters. Box office for local films is dwindling to less than 20 films annually and many Taiwanese viewers prefer watching Hong Kong or Hollywood productions, making the country's film industry dominated by foreign repertoire.[3] The once successful Taiwan's film industry went into decline in 1994 and collapsed in 1997 because of spiraling levels of piracy.[4] There have been a few bright spots though, as in the high box office takings of Cape No. 7 (2008), which had become so popular in Taiwan that on November 1, 2008, became her highest grossing domestic film, second in the country's cinematic history to Titanic (1997). Another recent popular local film is the gangster flick Monga (2010).

Revival of Taiwanese Films after Cape No. 7

In 2008, Cape No. 7 directed by Wei Te-Sheng was a huge success in the Taiwanese film history. Also, Cape No. 7 has won 15 awards to date such as the The Outstanding Taiwanese Film of the Year in the 45th Golden Horse Awards in 2008.

The record-breaking achievement of Cape No. 7 led the Taiwanese audiences and movie producers to regain confidence in Taiwanese cinema. Soon after Cape No. 7, several Taiwanese movies are produced and most have positive response. Some of the examples are, Monga (2010), Seven Days in Heaven (2010) and Night Market Hero (2011).

After the succession of Cape No. 7, the Taiwanese movie industry recovered from the depression that last for about 10 years. The head of the Government Information Office described, "2011 will be a brand new year and a new start for Taiwanese films".[5]

The movie industry boom after Cape No. 7 promised more Taiwanese movies in the future. The director of Cape No. 7, Wei Te-Sheng's new movie, Seediq Bale part 1 and part 2 was released in September 2011.[6] Which has been selected as a contender for nomination for the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011.[7] Some more examples are: The Killer Who Never Kills, which is based on a short story in the Killer Series from the famous Taiwanese Writer, Giddens Ko. Additionally, the popular TV series Black & White will be adapted into a movie.

Notable directors, actors and actresses

See also


  1. ^ Deslandes Jeanne. Dancing shadows of film exhibition: Taiwan and the Japanese influence
  2. ^ Deslandes Jeanne. Dancing shadows of film exhibition: Taiwan and the Japanese influence
  3. ^
  4. ^ "International recording industry discusses anti-piracy actions with Taiwan government". International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. 2002-10-17. Retrieved 2010-10-22. 
  5. ^ "中華民國行政院新聞局全球資訊網" (in traditional Chinese). 行政院新聞局. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  6. ^ "「賽德克.巴萊」殺青,分上、下集明年暑假上映". 台灣電影網. Retrieved 2011-03-27. 
  7. ^ The Hollywood Reporter Academy Releases Foreign-Language Oscar List 13 October 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-14

External links

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