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Taiwan Film Days becomes a SF mainstay

Taiwan Film Days (TFD), the only yearly Taiwanese film festival in the States, opened its three-day program on November 1. Hosted by the San Francisco Film Society (SFFS), this year’s line-up included the island’s hit, Zone Pro Site: the Moveable Feast and seven other films.

Three filmmakers were also on hand at the 5th TFD to attend their film’s Northern California screenings and to participate in the Q&A which followed. They included Hou Chi-jen, director of When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep, Hsieh Chun-yi, director of Apolitical Romance, and Mimi Wang, producer of Ripples of Desire.

Starting from Cape No. 7

Since 2006, the Press Division of the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office (TECO) in San Francisco has worked with major Bay Area colleges and universities to hold the Taiwan Film Festival. During certain years, the program would extend to campuses in Utah, Nevada, Washington and Oregon. But, given the division’s limited staff and the extensive multi-state and campus coordination needed, the concentration shifted to partnering with the San Francisco Film Society and localizing the festival in the Bay Area.

In 2009, Manfred Peng, the new press director of TECO, began discussions with Graham Leggat, the then executive director of SFFS, regarding organizing an annual Taiwanese themed film festival. Leggat, both personable and an avid supporter of Taiwan films, agreed to organize a festival and Taiwan Film Days was born.

Founded in 1957, the SFFS holds the annual San Francisco International Film Festival, the longest-running international film festival on the West Coast. Each May, this highly competitive festival screens a selection of 150 films from around the world. SFFS, a proponent of Taiwanese cinema, has played a pioneering role in introducing Taiwan-made films to Bay Area audiences. Its San Francisco International Film Festival has shown over 40 Taiwanese films over the years. Works by leading figures—Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang and Edward Yang—have been featured, and prominent actor Lee Kang-sheng was a Festival guest in 1998.

With SFFS’s track record and its extensive mailing list of Bay Area film lovers, this collaborative effort allowed TECO to reach further off campus. Not only was the SFFS a prestigious and trusted institution, its staff members were also well-connected to the American film industry, giving visiting filmmakers from Taiwan a chance to learn more from their host. Also, since the films were selected by a third party with a sterling reputation, the films were given more legitimacy.

Five years ago, Taiwan’s movie industry also underwent a revival with the introduction of Cape No. 7, a local blockbuster. The first Taiwan Film Days was born in the wake of this Taiwanese film renaissance. Through the selection of SFFS, Cape No. 7 and six other newly produced feature films and documentaries tested the American market by selling tickets at movie theaters in San Francisco. The box office result of the three-day festival was good enough that Leggat renewed the festival for the next year. It is now a part of the SFFS fall program, along with more well-established festivals such as French Cinema Now and New Italian Cinema.

SFFS, seasoning Taiwan’s filmmakers

Most of Taiwan’s film companies are small, lacking in foreign language talent and international experience. In order to broaden the visiting director’s experience, SFFS would invite some directors of the participating films to meet American audiences, filmmakers, teachers and students at participating film schools. This allowed the visiting filmmakers to gain a better understanding of the US market.

Since the inception of the Taiwan Film Festival and Taiwan Film Days by the Press Division, it has welcomed more than 50 Taiwanese filmmakers/producers and screened over 70 movies since 2006. As a result, San Francisco has become the “launch pad” for Taiwan filmmakers to test how their movies will translate to an American market.

In 2012, when Taiwanese blockbuster Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale was screened at cinemas in the US, the box office in the Bay Area took top place among major US cities. In part, this can be attributed to the long-term marketing and steady cultivation of the local audience by TECO for Taiwan-made films.

Since the launch of Taiwan Film Days five years ago, many have come to known Leggat. When he passed away in 2011, Taiwanese directors joined a vast numbers of international directors in expressing their condolences. Since then, two subsequent executive directors have also renewed their support for Taiwan Film Days, with the festival growing each successive year. Inspired by the success of Taiwan Film Days, Hong Kong has also followed TECO’s model by holding its own festival in cooperation with SFFS starting 2011.

A useful tool to promote soft power

Movies have become a tool for Taiwan’s diplomatic offices overseas to promote Taiwan’s soft power. Since the 1990s, Taiwan’s films have steadily appeared in international film festivals, promoting the international appeal of Taiwanese directors. Taiwan’s films showcase the island’s way of life in a manner that is easily assimilated into the general consciousness. And, film screenings required little overseas personnel and are not cost prohibitive to stage, unlike other forms of performing arts or exhibitions.

In October 2010, TECO held Taiwan Film Days as scheduled. About the same time, the Chinese Film Festival opened in San Francisco, screening the Founding of a Republic, one of the most costly films ever to be made in mainland China. In a review of the two festivals, San Francisco Chronicle commented that the two sides of the Taiwan Strait held their respective film festivals, but there were big differences between the topics of their films. “Mainland China makes films with a collective bent and Taiwan makes smaller, more independent and individualistic movies,” the article noted. Along with the review was a poster of Taiwanese film Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, directed by Fu Tian-yu. Fu and other directors invited to attend the screenings of TFD were proud to read that comparison.

An American couple was asked about their loyal support of the festival, buying a book of tickets and watching almost every film screened each year. What accounted for their enthusiasm for Taiwan films? The wife responded that her father was a missionary in mainland China and that is why she is so fond of Chinese culture. She believes that Taiwan’s movies highlight social issues and the humanitarian spirit, which is not seen in most mainland Chinese movies.

Ministry of Culture takes over film promotion

As a city with a high concentration of different ethnicities and cultures; San Francisco is a wonderful venue for TFD. Asians alone account for 30 percent of the city’s population. By and large, the city’s demographic is highly educated, well-traveled and economically comfortable, making it a fertile ground to promote Taiwan’s soft power.

Up to 1,500 people attend the festival each year, with half of them being ethnic Chinese or Taiwanese. And of that segment, half of them are American-born Chinese (ABC). They do not understand Mandarin, but are more economically and politically tied to America. This also is a particularly good group for TECO to nurture since they are also culturally tied to Taiwanese and Chinese culture – or would like to be – yet wield certain influences in the States. An example can be seen during the Q&A session of last year’s Joyful Reunion, when an English speaking ethnic Chinese writer complimented director Tsao Jui-yuan, saying that Tsao’s work gave her a better understanding of Taiwan.

This year, the main sponsor for the festival came from Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture (MOC), a newly formed government agency charged with promoting Taiwan-made films. In previous years, the festival’s main collaborator was the Government Information Office (GIO). However due to restructuring in the Taiwan government, the GIO was disbanded in 2012 and most of its work shifted to the MOC or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Since TFD is the only festival dedicated to Taiwan-made films in the States, the MOC is committed to continuing and growing the festival from their office in Los Angeles.

Many challenges for Taiwan films to break into US market

Each year, Peng and SFFS’s programmers, Sean Uyehara and Rachel Rosen, have sifted through Taiwan’s most recent films, narrowing it down to 20 to 30 films to watch. Once selected, Peng watches the selected films at the festival screenings again. In total, he has watched almost 150 Taiwan movies in the past five years, in addition to repeatedly watching certain movies at smaller venues throughout the Bay Area. With his clear mandate to promote Taiwan-made films, he had never watched so Taiwanese many movies before arriving in the States. Because of this, “Colleagues at other overseas offices have asked for my opinion. I’ve become a semi-professional movie critic, giving recommendations on which films are good to screen at the festivals.” Although Peng happily promotes the movies selected for the festival, he also has a sharp eye for movies that do not make the festival, but are noteworthy. One such film is The Soul of The Bread. Going on his personal instincts, Peng started promoting the light-hearted romantic comedy locally. It soon became a popular audience favorite throughout the Bay Area.

Peng said, “Working to promote Taiwanese films in America, I feel I have kept up with the growth of Taiwan’s film industry. My attitude has changed from being indifferent to one of enthusiasm.” Because of his work, he noted the following challenges for Taiwanese films in entering the US market.

Since the late 1980s, a number of new Taiwanese directors have focused on targeting the metropolitan middle class, catering to international film festivals, and not to Taiwan’s domestic market and the Taiwanese taste. However Cape No. 7 changed all of that. It reversed the direction of Taiwan’s producers, turning their eyes to the underlying theme of uneducated characters in the country side. Coupled with the Taiwanese government’s subsidy based on box office receipts, Taiwan’s filmmakers have readily turned to the domestic film market to seek topics and style, Peng said.

Ten years ago, Taiwan-made films accounted for only 3 percent of the total revenue of the island’s theaters. It now stands at 18 percent as of last year, showing a surge of people going to theaters to watch locally made films. With commercial viability of Taiwan-made films realized, movies have been targeting Taiwan’s young adults, who are the largest consumer segment for films. Recent film plots have included first love, encouraging stories of perseverance and hard work, youthful rebellion into crime, and stories centering on the lower middle class society found in night markets and rural villages, to the marginalized in Taiwan. Peng said it is rather difficult to select six to eight different styles of movies to reflect the different plotlines or not to repeat them during the festival.

Cultural divide still a barrier

Although movies are a universal language, the cultural barrier is still a difficult divide to overcome. It is not easy to attract Americans to spend half a day in a theater watching foreign movies. American theaters only screen a handful of non-English films throughout the year, mainly French and Italian movies. American television channels also rarely play Asian movies. This is the reality that TECO faces in promoting Taiwanese films in the US.

Furthermore, Taiwanese film budgets are far less than that in Europe or America, and usually lack a superstar cast or dazzling special effects. The key for Taiwanese films in standing out is the script. Like the US, there are many instances where a low cost indie film succeeds at the box office by touching on topics or stories that resonate with an audience.

Given this handicap, it is natural for Taiwanese films to localize its subject. However, by localizing the humor, storytelling and centering on Taiwan’s lower middle class, much of the meaning is lost in translation. And if you need to explain a joke, it’s not funny. After watching Din Tao, a very popular Taiwanese movie at TFD last year, some of the American audience were confused by why such a group would want to carry the load of a heavy puppet while traveling around the island, or even climbing the mountain?

After Edward Yang and Ang Lee

Last year, the SFFS specially screened A Brighter Summer Day, directed by Edward Yang, which was the only non-current film shown since the establishment of TFD. Peng was originally dubious of its attraction, since the movie was more than two decades old. But to his surprise, it played to a full house with the vast majority of the audience being non-Asian. It was a testament to the quality of the film since its running time is nearly four hours, and no one seemed bored or left early. At the invitation of the festival, Edward Yang’s widow Peng Kai-li also came to the screening and was deeply touched by the film’s reception. The packed house renewed TECO’s hope about marketing Taiwanese films to a US market.

In recent years, Taiwanese films have moved from “international” to “localization”, which seems too narrow in terms of topics for overseas film festivals. International selectors at festival films are fully aware of each work by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, Tsai Ming-liang, and Ang Lee. However, after a decade, will there be another group of new directors to carry on Taiwan’s cinematic banner in the international arena? Will the next classic hit at a prestigious international film festival be plucked from the screening list of TFD, asked Peng.

After enjoying the resurgence of its domestic box office, Taiwanese filmmakers need to assume the responsibility of taking Taiwanese films to global audience by telling stories that will captivate the hearts of an international audience. After all, Taiwan’s film industry is no longer as unseasoned, with local government assistance and overseas offices standing ready to help. And given Taiwan’s stature, it still remains the best tool to demonstrate Taiwan’s soft power worldwide.

Taiwan Film Days

Taiwan Film Days focuses on the best contemporary Taiwanese cinema and provides Bay Area audiences with a unique opportunity to view bold new Taiwanese films and engage with visionary filmmakers. Marking its fifth year, San Francisco Film Society’s (SFFS) programmer Sean Uyehara said that without a doubt, this year’s Taiwan Film Days is the most eclectic yet. Included in the line-up are films already screened at celebrated international film festivals such as Cannes, Toronto and Locarno.

The photos below are a sample from the TFD over the last five years. This year’s festival has relocated to the Vogue Theater in the Marina District. Despite the new location, the festival has grown and has proved to be the best TFD yet.


The 5th Taiwan Film Days at the Vogue Theater in San Francisco (November 2013)


Fung Kai (left), director of Din Tao, takes questions from the audience. SFFS’s programmer Sean Uyehara at his right (October 2012)


TECO chief, Bruce Fuh (center), talks to Ted Hope (left), then executive director of SFFS, and Amanda Todd, SFFS’s development manager at the TFD reception (October 2012)


Tsao Jui-yuan (right), director of Joyful Reunion, is greeted by the audience (October 2012)


Manfred Peng, TECO’s press director (right), stands with Wang Chi-tsai (director of Formosa Mambo) (middle) and Huang Hsin-yao (director of Taivalu) (October 2011)


Long lines for TFD in front of New People Cinema in San Francisco (October 2011)


More long lines for TFD in front of New People Cinema (October 2011)

Taiwan Film Days, Nov 1-3

The 5th annual Taiwan Film Days (TFD) begins with Zone Pros Site: The Moveable Feast on Friday evening, November 1. This year’s films will all be screened at the Vogue Theatre on 3290 Sacramento (Presidio/Lyon), San Francisco. The initial showing at 6:30 pm will be followed by the opening night reception at the Paul Mahder Gallery on 3378 Sacramento Street, just a block away. The San Francisco Film Society will be hosting the opening reception with light appetizers and wine to kick off this three-day festival.

With eight films in this year’s line-up, it is a robust exhibition of Taiwan’s filmmaking talents. Among the directors and producers scheduled to appear at the 2013 TFD are Mimi Wang, the producer for Ripples of Desire, Hsieh Chun-yi, the director of Apolitical Romance, and Hou Chi-jan, the director of When A Wolf Falls In Love With A Sheep. Be sure to catch their films this weekend and learn more about their filmmaking process during the Q&A session that follows.

Zone Pro Site: A Moveable Feast (November 1 at 6:30 and 9:30 pm) – The film gets its name from a “zone pro site” chef – someone who shows up at a banquet with nothing but their skills and the tools of their trade – before coming up with an impromptu menu from the given ingredients. The film introduces several struggling chefs as they come up with winning recipes to advance themselves to a national cooking contest. It’s a romantic comedy, heavy with physical humor.

A Time in Quchi (November 2, 2 pm) – The story centers around Bao, a boy suddenly sent to live with his grandfather in rural Quchi, unplugged from his technology infused, bustling city life, he is left adrift in a slower and quieter pace of living. There he begins to find the simple pleasures in connecting with those around him. The film has drawn favorable comparison to Hou Hsiao-hsien’s classic film A Summer at Grandpa’s in its pacing and plot.

Taipei Factory (November 2 at 4:15pm and November 3 at 1:30 pm) – A collaborative effort between the Cannes Film Festival’s Director’s Fortnight and the Taipei Film Commission, the project pairs eight emerging filmmakers from Chile, France, Iran, and South Korea. Each pair then writes and directs a 15-20 minute short film based on their collaborative efforts.

Forever Love (November 2, 6:30 pm) – Growing up in Taiwan’s Beitou district, Hsiao-Jie is skeptical of her grandparents’ claims to cinematic fame until one day her grandfather tells her of the legendary love story that took place in the 30s in Beitou, then considered to be Taiwan’s Hollywood. The film infuses 1930s classic film genre in the retelling.

Soul (November 2, 9 pm) – Following a breakdown, A-Chuan is released from the hospital into his father’s care and taken to their home in the mountains. It soon becomes clear that A-Chuan is deeply disturbed, and his body might even be possessed. This darkly violent psychological thriller was a Toronto International Film Festival selection.

Ripples of Desire (November 3, 3:15 pm) – Set in 17th century Ming Dynasty, this movie enters around the life of two beautiful sisters who are courtesans at the Flower House. Deeply devoted to each other, their closeness begins to splinter with their differing attitudes toward love and illness. A darkly erotic and tragic film.

Apolitical Romance (November 3, 6 pm) –  A-Zheng, is a young bureaucrat with Taiwanese civil affairs. Charged with producing a manual on Taiwanese-Chinese cross cultural etiquette, he gets far over his head. He meets Chin Lang, a hip young woman from Beijing whom he charms into helping him with his assignment. In return, A-Zheng promises to use his connections to help Chin Lang to find her grandmother’s lost love. From there, a shaky partnership is formed with hilarious results.

When a Wolf Falls in Love with a Sheep (November 3, 8:30 pm) – Derived from a Taiwanese pop fable, it’s an unfolding romance amidst anonymous notes, animated doodles and community organizing. When Tung awakes to read a Dear John post-it note from his girlfriend, he is determined to win her back. He takes a job at a nearby copy shop, where he begins to come across intriguing drawings on the exams, and leaves a few of his own in response, thus beginning an unusual “pen pal” courtship.

To purchase tickets or to read more about the films, please visit: .

Taiwan Film Days, Oct 14-16

Celebrate the best of contemporary Taiwanese films by attending this year’s Taiwan Film Days at the New People Cinema in San  Francisco’s Japantown. The three-day event offers something for everyone, from soft romantic love to gritty gangster flicks and light-hearted comedies to thought-provoking documentaries. Join the opening night festivities at 9 pm on October 14 at the gallery of the New People Building (1746 Post Street, between Webster and Buchanan Streets).

Formosa Mambo opens the festival on Friday evening with screening at 7 and 9:45 pm. Although scheduled to be the first film in the line-ups, it was usurped by You Are the Apple of My Eye at 4:30 pm on Friday. The movie was a hit at this year’s Taipei International Film Festival and the movie has received a lot of press in the Chinese media since. Initially, the San Francisco Film Society scheduled only one showing on Saturday evening, but when the tickets quickly sold out, another showing was added on the opening day. Both showings are now sold out, with only a few rush tickets set aside.

This year, two directors from Taiwan will be present at Taiwan Film Days. Wang Chi-tsai, the director of Formosa Mambo, will be here for the opening night and be present to answer questions after his film. A Golden Bell award-winning director, he also wrote the screen play for this movie as well. Formosa Mambo, a comedy of errors about a kidnapping gone awry, is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

Along with Wang, director Huang Hsin-yao will also be present at the festival. Huang directed the documentary Taivalu about the impending plight of the island nation of Tuvalu, predicted to be the first island to be submerged due to global warming. The film won the Grand Prize and Best Documentary Prize at the 2011 Taipei International Film Festival.

This year’s line-up also include: Bear It, The Coming of Tulku, Honey Pupu, Pinoy Sunday, and Ranger. For more information about tickets, venue and the films, please visit this issue’s Photo Gallery.

Taiwan Film Days is presented by the San Francisco Film Society and sponsored by the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in San Francisco, Taiwan’s Government Information Office, Taiwan’s Tourism Bureau, and EVA Air. Its media sponsors are Hyphen Magazine and San Francisco Bay Guardian.

Vibrant film industry promotes national image

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 .

Taiwan Film Days

Cape No.7 — Taiwan’s all-time box office blockbuster. The story of a failed muscian’s return to his hometown is entwined with a postwar tale of unrequited love.

Beyond the Arctic — Veteran documentary filmmaker Yang Li-chou profiles a three-man Taiwanese team on the 2008 Polar Challenge, a multinational race to the North Pole.

No Peudo Vivir Sin Ti — A poor, single father has his daughter taken from him by the government. His desperation to keep her leads to a showdown that draws worldwide media attention.

Yang Yang — A intimate and beautifully acted drama about a half-French competitive runner for whom family, career, and love become a tangle of contradictions. The second feature by writer-director Chen Yu-chieh.

What On Earth Have I Done Wrong — A mockumentary about Taiwan’s film industy. A TV star (Doze Niu Chen-zer, playing himself) needs funding for his breakout film and tries to raise it by government and mob sources.

GOD MAN DOG — The tenuous place of human beings links three disparate stories in filmmaker Singing Chen’s thoughtful second feature.

Taiwan films to screen in San Francisco, Nov. 6 – 8th

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.