Fountain is a new “arts and living” magazine from the National Cultural Association, and comes complete with enthusiastic introductory remarks from its chairman, President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁). Its Vice-Chairman is Vice-President Annette Lu (呂秀蓮). With such prestigious backing, hopes must ride high for new insights into Taiwan's arts scene, even if acerbic criticism or radical invective seems unlikely. What, then, do we find?
This first issue is devoted to Taiwan's film scene, hardly a success story, you might think, if viewed in terms of its current moneymaking capabilities. But then Taiwanese movies have met with critical success on the international arts scene, so if Fountain is going to follow the path of art-for-art's-sake, disdaining all commercial considerations, then film would clearly be an appropriate topic to get the ball rolling.
And anyway there's always Ang Lee (李安), a Taiwanese success story if ever there was one, with former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) taking his whole family to see Wedding Banquet (喜宴) all those years ago, and now Chen saying he'd like the relationship between Taiwan and the US to be comparable to that depicted in Brokeback Mountain — and both movies gay-centered products to boot. Any director capable of having that much influence must be worthy of continued celebration.
And so it appears here. The magazine carries an absorbing phone-interview with Lee, conducted by David Monson, in which the director has the following to say about local film-makers: “I hope they don't get into self-pity and feel lonely for the sake of being artistic ... . Ninety-nine percent of people watch mainstream movies ... . They can be as lonely as they want to be, they can feel noble, but if they're not good enough they are just not good enough.”
I could hardly believe my eyes when I read this. If it doesn't mean they should all up and go and make movies in the US like Lee, I don't know what it does mean. He qualifies this statement, however, by adding immediately afterwards, “But without the healthy development of the film industry” — by which he can only mean Taiwan's film industry — “they will never know if they're good enough or not.”
Even so, local directors are not without their international contacts. Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), for instance, is currently working in France at the invitation of the Musee d'Orsay. In an interview here (with Sophie Wood) he describes how he evolved his own script for a film there, and selected Juliette Binoche for the leading role. He also expresses his belief that Taiwan's film industry will rebound in the next five years because “the China Motion Picture Company (CMPC),” which 10 years ago was “Taiwan's most important film production company,” is “being bought by Gou Tai-chiang (郭台強) [brother of Terry Gou (郭台銘), Chairman of Hon Hai Precision Industrial (鴻海科技) and the richest man in Taiwan].”
In addition, he states the following: “The big reason why Taiwan's film industry is set to take off in that four or five years ago CMC Magnetic, a company that makes optical discs, established CMC Movie Corporation for the sole purpose of investing in film production. They currently own Warner Brother's Village and they have a home video rental company called Asia 1.
Now they've begun making their own movies and are working on several big projects.” Taiwan's film directors, in other words, may not be remaining lonely and artistic for that much longer.