Oscar-winning director Ang Lee (
`"There is such glamor in movies ... there is tradition and there is future," Lee told a group of art workers and students in Taipei. ``People are exhilarated when they talk about movies. There is a cohesive force for the human heart."
Lee was making his first visit to his home island since his gay romance film Brokeback Mountain received four Academy Awards in March.
Among them was Lee's prize for best director, the first time an Asian has won the honor.
Lee noted that Taiwan's free, democratic society offered fertile soil for a local film making renaissance -- particularly if the island could make good use of its substantial creative class.
"You have culture that has nourished your taste, and freedom that gives you creative thinking," he said. "There are many talents but they don't have people to guide them."
Taiwan's film industry, which won world acclaim in the 1980s for its realistic portrayal of island life, has since been undermined by fading viewer appeal and growing columns of red ink.
Over the past decade, annual movie production has stalled at around a dozen titles, and the box office market share for local films has remained at a minuscule 2 percent.
Directors and film workers have left the profession in droves, or moved abroad, disheartened by relentless competition from American movie offerings.
Lee said Taiwan is not the only place to fall victim to Hollywood films.
"Like volleyball and basketball, the West sets the rules and we have to go along," Lee said.
He said China's rich language and culture -- transplanted to Taiwan over the past 400 years -- offered native film makers a treasure trove of marketable cinematic material.
However, he said, a lack of savvy scriptwriters was crimping the development of the Taiwanese film industry.
"You can't keep people in the dark theater without a good plot and good stars," he said. "When I select a script, I have to make sure there are enough elements there to make a two-hour film."
For years, Lee said, he had wanted to make a film of a Chinese subject but couldn't get access to good scripts -- a sharp contrast to the scores of high quality English-language scripts he receives in the West.
He called on Taiwanese to begin training talented young people, in the expectation they would reap the benefits in five or 10 years.
"Don't put the focus on me or people of my generation, but on the young directors," he said.