New Generation of Taiwanese Directors

in 49th Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival

by Ernest Chan Chi Wa

After the huge critical and box office success of Wei Te-sheng’s Cape No. 7 (Hai chiao chi hao, 2008), the Taiwanese film industry has been having a renaissance in recent years. In this year’s festival, the creative energy and vitality of the new generation of Taiwanese directors could be seen. One of the opening films of the festival was Together (Tian mi mi), the feature debut of Hsu Chao-Jen, who has already established a successful career in television. In addition, at least eight films from new young Taiwanese directors were screened at the festival, ranging from Tsai Yueh-hsun’s big-budget Hollywood-style action film Black & White: The Dawn of Assault (Pi tzu ying hsiung) to Chang Jung-chi’s simple but affecting Touch of the Light (Ni guang fei siang).

Under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) signed between Taiwan and mainland China in 2010, Taiwanese films can now be imported to mainland China without quota restriction. Besides, more and more Taiwanese films have secured co-production investments from mainland China. Black & White: The Dawn of Assault is an example of this. It is a prequel to a popular Taiwanese television drama. Set in the fictional Harbor City, the film depicts the adventure of police detective Hero Wu and small-time gangster Xu Dafu. With the massive use of visual effects, the film is full of car chases, shootouts, explosions, conspiracies, and it even has a dramatic finale in a hijacked Boeing aircraft. However, the screenplay is rather weak and the plot is not well-developed.

Lin Shu-yu’s second feature Starry Starry Night (Xing kong) is also a co-production between Taiwan and mainland China. With its splendid use of CG effects, the film brings to life the world of graphic novelist Jimmy Liao. The film casts mainland Chinese actress Xu Jiao as the female lead, and she is convincing as an introspective 13-year-old Taiwanese girl. Lin, whose debut film was the high school drama Winds of September (Jiu jiang feng, 2008), successfully captures the loneliness, helplessness, love and pain of teenage years.

Hero Lin’s animation series Wood Man has been popular on the internet, and his feature debut Silent Code (BBS Xiang min de zheng yi) combines live-action drama with animation. Focusing on youth and internet subculture, the film uses a lot of CG animation to visualize online chat, cyber bullying and computer hacking, but there are too many clichés in the story itself.

Yang Yi-chien and Jim Wang’s Cha Cha for Twins (Bao mi qia qia) is a small but sweet film. With a lovely performance from actress Huang Pei-jia, who plays both the sisters Poni and Mini, and with outstanding special visual effects which make it possible to have both Poni and Minion onscreen at the same time, the film deals with the identity crisis of identical twins. The story is much ado about nothing, but in their eyes it is the most important story of all.

Tsai Yin-chuan’s debut feature Stilt (Hou niao lai de ji jie) tells the story of two estranged brothers. The film uses migrant birds as metaphor. It deals with issues such as rural and urban disparity, migrant brides, marriage crisis, sterility and child adoption, as well as the conflicts between the two brothers and their families. Although the music is a bit too infectious and dominating, the screenplay is well-written and the editing is nice.

Veteran television director Fung Kai’s feature debut Din Tao: Leader of the Parade (Zhen tou) is based on the true story of the Jyou-Tian Folk Drum and Arts Group. It combines the inspirational genre of the sports movie with Taiwan’s traditional grassroots culture, sketching the conflicts between the younger generation who want to reform the drumming troupe and the older generation who want to preserve their traditions, as well as the competition between drumming troupes. However the conflicts are resolved too easily and several subplots remain undeveloped.

Yang Ya-che’s second feature Gf*Bf (Nu peng you nan peng you) is an ambitious film attempting to look back on the history of Taiwan from the martial law period in the 1980s, to the Wild Lily student movement of 1990, to the present day. The film tries to examine the friendship and love relations between three schoolmates during these tumultuous years. Although the story is not explored enough, the acting of the three leads is convincing.

Chang Jung-Chi’s Touch of the Light is a very simple film; its plot is developed from the director’s short film The End of the Tunnel (Tian hei, 2008) and features the same leading actor and actress. It is inspired by the true story of blind pianist Huang Yu-siang, who plays himself in this fictional story. Both the performances of Huang and actress Sandrine Pinna are impressive. The cinematography of Dylan Doyle offers beautiful images; by making use of extreme close-ups, shallow focus, over-exposure and backlighting, he gives the film a visual style that ties in closely with its subject matter.

Although mainland Chinese and Hong Kong films dominated the 49th Golden Horse Awards, leaving Taiwan with two major winning films (Touch of the Light won Best New Director and the FIPRESCI Prize, Gf*Bf won for Best Leading Actress and Audience Choice Award), the potential of the new generation of Taiwanese directors should not be ignored.

Edited by Lesley Chow
© FIPRESCI 2012

New Generation of Taiwanese Directors

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