Sun, Jun 17, 2001 - Page 17 News List

Standing against the tide

CMPC continues to pride itself on supporting the local film industry against the influx of imports, but without changes to stem the brain drain, its chances are slim

By Yu Sen-lun  /  STAFF REPORTER

It may have fallen on hard times in recent years, but the Central Motion Pictures Corporation (CMPC) has a proud tradition of movie making behind it, one, it insists, it will continue to uphold.

"Making movies will always be the fundamental business of the company. And we will keep going," insisted Chiu Shun-ching (邱順清), the CEO of CMPC in a recent interview.

When a CMPC film picked up a Golden Horse (金馬獎) at last year's award ceremony, similar statements were made by the company's production manager Lee Yu-ning (李佑寧). "We will keep making movies, until filmmaking becomes profitable again," he said.

CMPC is one of the very few film companies dedicated to investing in and producing local films. This perseverance in the face of a far from encouraging economic climate is somewhat ironic, given the company's background as a KMT property with a strongly political agenda.

But over and above this, its history is also a reflection of the ups and downs of Taiwan's film industry as a whole.

The glory days

"In those glorious days, the company's lights were never off. During the day we shot films in the studio and at night post production workers and printers were hard at work," recalls Chiu. "During that time [the 1950s], we produced 100 films a year," he added. This is in sad contrast to the six or seven it is likely to release for 2001.

During the 1950s, the most popular films were Japanese and Taiwanese-language films. Hollywood had not entered the market and the Hong Kong film industry was still learning about film production from Taiwan. Taiwanese product from Central Motion Pictures Studio and Taiwan Film Studio (台灣製片廠, which closed two years ago), were distributed across the entire SE Asian market.

All this took place not long after 1943, when CMPC was founded directly under the supervision of the KMT's Cultural Affairs Department (文工會). By taking over many independent cinemas and film studios of the Japanese occupation period, it became the largest and most powerful film company in Asia.

During its heyday, CMPC owed one studio, the Central Motion Picture Studio (中影文化城) located in Shihlin (士林), 14 cinemas and a post-production facility.

"It was a big monopoly that incorporated the whole industry from top to bottom," said Hsiao Yeh (小野), a former production manager at CMPC and currently a programming manager at Taiwan Television Corporation (台視, TTV).

As a company owned by a political party, the majority of films made in the three decades between 1950 to 1970 were made up of "healthy" dramas, family romances and war films. The last of these were especially numerous, many having stories set against a WWII Pacific theater background, or films of anti-communist propaganda. Titles such as 800 Heroes (八百壯士, 1975) and Victory (梅花, 1975) tell it all.

"At that time, senior posts such as chief mangers and above were always given to people with military or intelligence backgrounds. And we made our films according to policies from above," said Hsiao Yeh.

Fighting the flood

In the 1980s, Hollywood films began to flood major cinemas, and production and acting talent, as well as audiences, were drawn away by television. According to Chiu, production volume dropped as a result.

But the slump in the 1980s was a turning point for CMPC, causing it to change direction and indirectly giving birth to the New Taiwan Cinema. The films of this period are typified by their sympathetic look at Taiwanese society and a realist cinematic presentation.

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