Cinema of Taiwan

Cinema of Taiwan

Mingshen Theater
Number of screens 574 (2011)[1]
Gross box office (2011)[2]
Total $136 million
National films $23.7 million (17.46%)

The Cinema of Taiwan is deeply rooted in the island's unique history. Since its introduction to Taiwan in 1901 under Japanese rule, cinema has developed in Taiwan through several distinct stages. It has also developed outside of the Hong Kong mainstream and the censorship of the People's Republic of China.


Taiwanese Directors

In recent years, Taiwan's film industry has been supported by a group of internationally respected filmmakers. Hou Hsiao-hsien and Edward Yang have built solid positions as Taiwanese directors. In addition, the Malaysian-Chinese Tsai Ming-liang has gained the world's attention as a Taiwanese director.

Though a number of Taiwanese directors have chosen to explore themes of nostalgia and historical memory, Tsai Ming-liang has focussed his feature films on the lives of urban men and women. Rebels of the Neon God observed the empty life of young people, while Vive L'Amour touched on lonely urban men and women licking each other's wounds. Tsai's film gives a feeling of a modern fable, but it is at times difficult to understand.

In the 1990s, other Taiwanese directors such as Chen Kuo-fu, Tsui Siu Ming, and independent producer Huang Ming-chuan Lai, have created important work.

Influence of the Government

Since the late Japanese colonial period to martial law in Taiwan, the development of Taiwanese film has been dominated by the official camp studio development. In fact, the production of film at that stage is mainly news footage taken by the government-run studio (Taiwan film companies, the Central Motion Picture Corporation, China Film Studio) and the production of political commercials. Until today, the Taiwan government-funded "Film Fund" is still an important way to explore Taiwan's film talent; this film grant brings a lot of criticism. However, from the "creative, active point of view of Taiwan's film industry" point of view, it remains its subject certainly. In fact, many people believe that the grant is in fact a counseling structure of the Taiwanese culture.

The Government Information Office is in charge of the film grant. Grants are given to film uses "film" as a unit, and is divided into two groups of five million and 800 million. Amounts of money spent should be at least $120 million in 15 films. On the application, there are certain specifications. For example, the purpose of the group of five million grant is to encourage new directors directing a feature film for the first time.


In addition to the well-known directors and their film,Taiwanese documentaries are flourishing as well. The development of Taiwanese documentaries is primarily the result of the lifting of martial law in 1987 and the popularity of small electronic camcorders. Another success factor comes from the support and promotion by the Taiwan Council for Cultural Affairs. In fact, other government units and private organizations are also actively supporting. They have established a variety of film festivals and awards to encourage the production of excellent documentaries.

Recently, Taiwan has produced a group of young documentary filmmakers. They are from all sectors of the Taiwanese society; the themes of their works are varied.Themes arise from the subject himself or his family, and explore serious social or political issues. The documentary spindle also explores the social issues in order to explore the personal lives and problems. Overall, Taiwanese documentaries have gained international attention gradually, and there are many international film festival award-winning records.

Early cinema, 1900–1945

The first film was introduced into Taiwan by Toyojirō Takamatsu (高松豊次郎; see 高松豐次郎) in 1901. From 1900 to 1937, Taiwanese cinema was the first and one of the most important of Japan's colonial film markets. This was during the era of Japanese rule, and in 1905, Takamatsu raised 10,000 Japanese yen in donations to the Japanese military from the proceeds of films screened in Taiwan about the Russo-Japanese War. By 1910, the Taiwan Colonial Government coordinated the efforts of independents such as Takamatsu and others to establish a more organized approach to the exploitation of film in the colony of Taiwan. Films played a vital role in enabling the larger colonial project of imperializing or cultural assimilation of Taiwanese subjects into the Japanese empire. Takamatsu noted that early films were produced mostly for Japanese audiences rather than for local Taiwanese. Hence, early films tended to be educational in nature, lauding Japan's modernizing presence on the island. Other films catered to Japanese audiences exotic desires for Taiwan as a place of adventure and danger such as Conquering Taiwan's Native Rebels (1910) and Heroes of the Taiwan Extermination Squad (1910).[3]

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 piān-sū[4] by the Taiwanese. This narrator was very different from its equivalent in the Western world. It rapidly evolved into a star system but one based on the Japanese 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 for writing the inestimable history of cinema and drama in Taiwan. The most famous benshi of all was possibly Zhan Tian-ma, whose story is told in a recent Taiwanese biographical film, March of Happiness (Taiwan, 1999, dir: Lin Sheng-shing).[5] Benshi masters frequently were intellectuals: many spoke Japanese, often traveled to Japan and/or China, and some were poets who wrote their own librettos 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 Song of Sadness (哀愁の歌, 1919), The Eyes of Buddha (仏陀の瞳, 1922), and Whose Mistake? (誰の過失, 1925).[6]

Unlike Japanese-occupied Manchuria, Taiwan never became an important production market for Japan but rather was a vital exhibition market. Japanese produced newsreels, shorts, educational, and feature films were widely circulated throughout Taiwan from the mid-1920s through 1945 and even after decolonization. As in Japan's other colonial film markets, the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 marked the beginning of an era of enhanced mobilization for the Japanese war effort throughout Asia and Taiwan's film markets were purged of American and Chinese films as a result. 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. Films such as Japanese Police Supervise a Taiwanese Village (1935) illustrated how "proper" imperial subjects should dress and act as well as promoting their superior farming skills thanks to the Japanese overlords.[7] Taiwanese directors would vividly revisit the legacy of this process of cultural annexation in such films as Hou Hsiao-Hsien's City of Sadness (1989) and The Puppetmaster (1993), as well as Wu Nien-jen's A Borrowed Life (1994).[8]

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 Hokkien 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 Standard Chinese in mass media and its deeming of Taiwanese 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; see 中影公司) 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 Chiung 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 Taiwanese 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 Taiwanese Cinema.

In contrast to the melodrama or kung-fu action films of the earlier decades, New Taiwanese Cinema 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 Taiwanese Cinema 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. 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. 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. His nearly four-hour film A Brighter Summer Day (1991), considered by many to be his masterpiece and the defining work of the New Taiwanese Cinema, deals with Taiwan's struggle in the 1960s to find its identity after the Kuomintang invaded Taiwan and brought numerous Chinese immigrants to the new republic, who expected to return to China once the Communists have been defeated.[9] The New Taiwanese Cinema films are, therefore, a fascinating chronicle of Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in modern times.

Second New Wave, 1990–2010

The New Taiwanese Cinema 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 directors. His early films Pushing Hands (1991), The Wedding Banquet (1993), and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) focus on the generational and cultural conflicts confronting 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. The once successful Taiwan's film industry went into decline in 1994 and collapsed in 1997 because of spiraling levels of piracy.[10] 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 box office success in Taiwanese film history. It raked in 530 million TWD (17.9 million USD) domestically, setting an all-time box office record for a Taiwanese film, and is currently the highest grossing Taiwanese domestic film of all time.[11] It has won 15 awards to date, such as The Outstanding Taiwanese Film of the Year at the 45th Golden Horse Awards in 2008. The record-breaking achievement led the revival of Taiwanese cinema, e.g. Monga (2010), Seven Days in Heaven (2010), Night Market Hero (2011), Love (2012) and many others.

After the success of Cape No. 7, the Taiwanese movie industry recovered from a slump that lasted for about 10 years.[12] The head of the Government Information Office described, "2011 will be a brand new year and a new start for Taiwanese films". [13] The director of Cape No. 7, Wei Te-Sheng's follow-up movie, Seediq Bale (comprising a part 1 and part 2) was released in September 2011, with part 1 (The Sun Flag) being the 2nd highest grossing Taiwanese domestic film of all time and part 2 (The Rainbow Bridge) being the 7th highest grossing Taiwanese domestic film of all time. [14] It was shown in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival and it was selected as a contender for nomination for the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011[15][16] and was one of nine films shortlisted to advance to the next round of voting for nomination.[17]

Some more examples are: The Killer Who Never Kills (2011), which is based on a short story in the Killer Series from Taiwanese Writer, Giddens Ko. Additionally, the popular 2009 TV series Black & White resulted in two feature films entitled: Black & White Episode I: The Dawn of Assault (2012) (a prequel to the TV series) and Black & White: The Dawn of Justice (2014) (another prequel to the TV series but a sequel to the 2012 film). In 2012, Giddens Ko's romance You Are the Apple of My Eye (2012) earned about NTD 425 million, making it the 4th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time, followed by Fung Kai's Din Tao: Leader of the Parade (2012) which earned NTD 317 million, making it the 8th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time. In 2013, Chiu Li-kwan's film David Loman (2013) earned NTD 428 million, making it The 3rd highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time.

In 2015, female director Yu Shan Chen (aka Frankie Chen) released a film entitled Our Times (2015), which ended up being the highest-grossing domestic Taiwan film of the year, grossing over NT$410 million ($17.1 million US dollars), thereby making it the 5th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time.[18] The film also starred Vivian Sung from another box-office success, Café. Waiting. Love (2014), the 11th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time. In 2014, Umin Boya directed a baseball film entitled Kano (2014), which ended up grossing over NT$330 million, making it the 6th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time.

The 9th-15th highest grossing Taiwanese domestic films of all time are, in order: Zone Pro Site (2013) (#9 with NTD 305 million), Ang Lee's Lust, Caution (2007) (#10 with NTD 280 million), Café. Waiting. Love (2014) (#11 with NTD 260 million), Monga (2010) (#12 with NTD 258 million), The Wonderful Wedding (2015) (#13 with NTD 250 million), Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (2013) (#14 with NTD 220 million), and Twa-Tiu-Tiann (2014) (#15 with NTD 210 million).

See also List of highest-grossing films in Taiwan.

Profit Sharing

Teng Sue-feng used Cape No. 7 to discusse how the profit is shared in Taiwan. Teng estimated the revenue to be NTD 520 million, and the production cost to be NTD 50 million. After the deducting the cost, 60% of the profit goes to movie theaters, 10% to the distributor. The director gets about NT$140 million.[19]

Notable directors, actors and actresses

See also


  1. "Statistics Of Taiwan Film Industry (1996-2011)". Taiwan Cinema. Bureau of Audiovisual and Music Industry Development. 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  2. "Collections Of Box Office Earnings Of First-Run Theaters In Taipei(1999-2011)". Taiwan Cinema. Bureau of Audiovisual and Music Industry Development. 2012. Retrieved 9 November 2013.
  3. Baskett (2008), pp. 13-20.
  4. 臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典 [Dictionary of Frequently-Used Taiwan Minnan] (in Chinese). Ministry of Education, R.O.C. 2011. #13170.
  5. Deslandes, Jeanne (1 November 2000). "Dancing shadows of film exhibition: Taiwan and the Japanese influence". Screening the Past. Archived from the original on 2012-03-16. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  6. Baskett (2008), pp. 14-5.
  7. Baskett (2008), p. 17.
  8. Davis, Darrell W. (2001). "Borrowing Postcolonial: Dou-san and the Memory Mine". Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities. 20 (2 and 3): 94–114. ISSN 0277-9897.
  9. Cheshire, Godfrey (22 March 2016). "A Brighter Summer Day: Coming of Age in Taipei". The Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  10. "International recording industry discusses anti-piracy actions with Taiwan government". International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. 2002-10-17. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  11. Wang, George Chun Han (2012). No Signs of Slowing Down: The Renaissance of Taiwanese Cinema. In Abraham Ferrer (Ed.) Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Program Catalog (pp. 24-29). Los Angeles: Visual Communications
  12. Lin, Hermia (2008-12-08). "Marketing helps "Cape No.7" shine in Taiwan film market". Taiwan Culture Portal. Culture Taiwan. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  13. 中華民國行政院新聞局全球資訊網 (in Chinese). 行政院新聞局. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  14. "「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.
  15. The Hollywood Reporter Academy Releases Foreign-Language Oscar List 13 October 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-14
  16. "'Seediq Bale' to vie for Oscars' best foreign film". focustaiwan. Retrieved 2011-09-07.
  17. "9 Foreign Language Films Vie for Oscar". 18 January 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  18. Boon Chan, Straits Times, Why these Taiwanese films are box-office hits,
  19. Teng Sue-feng (Feb 2009). tr. by Christopher J. Findler. "Biggest Production in Taiwan Film History-Seediq Bale". Taiwan Panorama. Retrieved 2012-02-28. [The Chinese version is more detailed]


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