Wed, Dec 31, 2008 - Page 15 News List

YEAR in Review 年度回顧: Movies: A renaissance in the making



Could it be possible that Taiwanese cinema is set for a renaissance? This year boded well as young filmmakers delivered works diverse in content and style while polishing their storytelling competencies to attract rather than distract audiences.

In genre cinema, novice director Cheng Hsiao-tse (最苠?) turned heads with his debut feature Miao Miao (鏈鏈), a tale of adolescent romance. Up-and-coming director Tom Shu-yu Lin (輿?迻) caught the attention of both audiences and critics with his coming-of-age, autobiographic tale Winds of September (嬝蔥餫), which is set in mid-1990s Taiwan.

A disciple of Taiwanese New Wave cinema, actor-turned-director Niu Chen-zer*s (漃創?) award-winning debut effort What On Earth Have I Done Wrong?! (①準腕眒眳汜湔眳耋), a mockumentary in which the director plays himself, won many plaudits.

Veteran filmmaker Chang Tso-chi (?釬趬) returned to the director*s chair after a five-year hiatus with his sober human drama Soul of a Demon (維評).

Female directors also produced increasingly mature works. Director Singing Chen*s (?郋皊) second feature God Man Dog (霜檢朸僩?) tells an allegorical tale of contemporary Taiwan and firmly establishes Chen as a name to keep an eye on.

Berlinale-winning director Zero Chou (笚藝鍍) diverged from her usual surrealistic and metaphorical approach to storytelling and painted a realistic and earnest portrait of lesbian life in Taiwan in Drifting Flowers (か檢ч景).

And of course, let*s not forget Cape No. 7 (漆褒ほ?), the highest-grossing Chinese-language film ever screened in Taiwan, which as the overly sanguine media proclaims, single-handedly revived a local filmmaking industry that had been in the doldrums since the early 1990s.

In the light of the progress made last year, Taipei Times is abandoning the best-of format and lists in the five most memorable (good and bad) films of the year.

The top accolade goes to Cape No. 7. Like all blockbusters before it, Cape No. 7 is not an excellent work of filmmaking. The story offers nothing new and the way director Wei Te-sheng (庥肅癖) chooses to tell it can be best described as adequate. But unlike most commercial directors in Taiwan, Wei is a competent storyteller who has a fine command of the vernacular and is adept at creating lifelike characters and weaving them together into a feel-good movie about ordinary people.

However, the future is not as rosy as first appears if aspiring filmmakers still have to finance their movies by digging deep into their own pockets, as Wei did before he became famous.

A view widely circulated among local directors is that to make a local hit, one*s choices are either a youth drama starring pretty-faced idols or a warmhearted story about the beauty and history of Taiwan and its people, as best exemplified by last year*s hit Island Etude (??⑻) and, to a lesser extent, Cape No. 7.

Blue Brave: The Legend of Formosa in 1895 (189拻) is, however, where that sentiment goes terribly wrong. A feeble account of the Hakka militias* resistance to Japanese troops after Qing Dynasty China ceded Taiwan to Tokyo under the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, the film*s makers forgot that audience don*t take kindly to history lessons that lack emotion.

Television commercial and music video director Leading Lee*s (燠隋) debut feature My So Called Love (?腔追???) unfortunately reinforces the common notion that when a music video director turns his or her eye to the big screen, the end product will likely turn out to be all looks and no content.

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