This month, the San Francisco Film Society will host Taiwan Film Days, an exciting three-day showcase highlighting the best contemporary Taiwanese cinema. It will provide Bay Area audiences with a unique opportunity to see bold new Taiwanese films that are steadily taking market share away from Hollywood. The success of Taiwan movies can be directly attributed to government efforts to foster a new generation of filmmakers and to attract movie makers to the island.
TFC: Marketing the city through film
In 2008, the Taipei Film Commission (TFC) was established to help Taipei attract filmmakers to the city. Headed by Jennifer Jao, she joked, “The first person we have to thank for the establishment of the commission is Tom Cruise.” Before its establishment, the makers of Mission Impossible III came to scout out Taipei 101, then the “world’s tallest building.” The location scouts struggled with finding the appropriate authorities to obtain permission to film in Taipei and eventually gave up in favor of shooting in Shanghai.
Since opening its doors, TFC has steadily grown. Expanding by 150 percent in 2009 with a staff of seven handling more than 320 applications requesting assistance and working with 631 films. In speaking to Taiwan Panorama, Jao predicts her staff numbers will double again this year and expects to provide assistance to 200 films shooting in Taipei. Modeling themselves after the Mayor’s Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting in New York City, the commission offers a “Filmmaker’s VIP Card,” that provides quality half-price accommodation, hot meals, along with other discounts with over 100 businesses catering to production needs. This makes Taipei a more competitive option for scouts.
A current success story for TFC is Au Revoir Taipei, which has won many awards at foreign film festivals and also achieved box office success in Taiwan. The film received support from the Taipei Film Commission and also successfully applied for a NT$3.5 million (US$114,000) production grant from the Taipei City Department of Cultural Affairs.
Shown through the eyes of Director Arvin Chen, a young Taiwanese-American living in Taipei, the movie is set in the city and shows Taipei as a vibrant playground for the young. Filled with warmth and romance, the film has become the best marketing tool for the city, beckoning people to explore locations featured in the film, such as a night market, an Eslite Bookstore and to try the assortment of delicious foods seen in the movie.
According to Jao, “Everyone wants to see films about the place they live!” The appeal is not just aimed at foreign audiences, but also for the locals as well. For Chen, Au Revoir Taipei was not a deliberate effort to market Taipei, but simply an effort to put his Taipei onto the big screen.
Today, Kaohsiung City, Taichung City, Nantou County, Tainan County and Yilan County have all set up film commissions to attract and help filmmakers.
China provides a market for Taiwan’s fresh talent
Considering the growing China market, the government has encouraged Taiwanese filmmakers to form joint productions with film companies in Hong Kong, China and other Asian countries in order to spread the investment risks. Given Taiwan’s limited market, many filmmakers are also looking towards China for its inexpensive productions cost and growing ticket sales.
Despite the worldwide economic downtown, China’s box-office has continued to grow at 30 percent a year. In 2008, it took in four times more revenue than Taiwan’s box office. According to Taiwan Panomara, many are now predicting that China will be the world’s single largest movie market within 10 years.
Filming in China is also cheaper, costing about one-fifth of what it might cost in Taiwan. Added to that, in 1993, China’s State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) began allowing certain private sectors limited entry into the industry. In 2003, SARFT opened the door wider, permitting foreign companies to enter the country’s film-production business. However, a tight lid is still kept on foreign imports, with only 50 foreign movies allowed into the country a year and just 20 from the United States. Even with just 10 US films, Hollywood movies still dominated the Chinese box-office in 2001. This changed in 2003, as the Chinese film industry began to attract more talent.
According to Terence Chang, a Hong Kong producer of Red Cliff and other films, he does not see a wealth of new talent coming from Hong Kong. “We’ve had few new directors emerge in recent years, whereas Taiwan has an abundance of young directors,” he said. James Wang concurs with Chang. As the president of China’s Huayi Brothers Media, the company has seen their box office receipts rise steadily. “Twenty years ago, Hong Kong was the center of Asian film,” Wang said. But it is now too oriented towards gangster, martial arts, cops and silly comedies. “It lacks cultural dept and a sense of history.” The future of the market lies in China and Taiwanese filmmakers are close enough in their cultural background to best serve the Chinese audience.
Taiwan Film Days
This year’s Taiwan Film Days will highlight some of Taiwan’s fresh talent. The event opens on Friday, October 22nd with Monga. Set in the 1980s against a backdrop of brothels and violence, Monga traces the lives of a group of teenagers whose close bonds threaten to be torn asunder by their dream of gangster life. The top movie earlier this year, it surpassed Avatar at the box-office. There will be two showing, one at 6:15pm and the other one at 9:40pm, after the Opening Night reception at Viz Cinema at New People in San Francisco’s Japantown.
Bay Area audiences can also see Taiwan’s current box office hit, Seven Days in Heaven on Saturday (10/23) and Sunday (10/24). Directed by Essay Liu and Wang Yu-lin, it is based on the writings of Liu. It centers on one woman’s experience at the death and the funeral of her father. Mei, resolutely urban, makes her way back to her rural hometown where she and her brother must endure a series of arcane and elaborate funeral rites. This dark and poetic comedy takes a lighthearted approach to an otherwise grim theme. Both directors will be present for a Q&A session. This will be the final movie, and will commence at 9:10pm on Sunday (10/23).
The only documentary in this year’s TFD is Let’s Fall in Love. Filmmaker Wuna Wu delves into the tragicomic world of matcher Hellen Chen, who specializes in nudging notoriously difficult bachelors and bachelorettes to the altar. Far different from the romantic fairy tales of the West, the documentary is a riveting look at couples dealing with age old concerns found in any relationship. Let’s Fall in Love will also show on Saturday (10/23) and Sunday (10/24) with Director Wu Wuna and Hellen Chen present at the showings.
Hear Me, Taiwan’s most popular movie in 2009, is about a budding romance between a loveable young man who pretends to be deaf in order to gain entry into a girl’s life. Overflowing with charm, it is a story for the young and the young at heart. Shown on Saturday evening, the Director Cheng Fen-fen will be present for Q&A afterwards.
Taiwan Film Days is sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society, the Government Information Office (Taiwan), the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco and the Taiwan Tourism Bureau. The festival will be held the Viz Cinema at New People, 1746 Post Street, San Francisco. For more information, visit .