Thu, Dec 31, 2009 - Page 14 News List

YEAR IN REVIEW: Movies

More new kids on the block

By Ho Yi  /  STAFF REPORTER

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With record-breaking blockbuster Cape No. 7 (海角七號), 2008 saw a renaissance of Taiwanese cinema, which had been in decline since the early 1990s. The momentum has been maintained this year with more newcomers arriving on the scene. If new works by this younger generation of filmmakers are any indication, the auteur age that saw the rise of art-house masters such as Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢) and Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) is a thing of the past. What follows is a new breed of filmmakers whose top priority is to tell a good story.

On the commercial end, Invitation Only (絕命派對), 25-year-old director Kevin Ko’s (柯孟融) feature debut, is a competent addition to the genre of horror films made popular by the Saw and Hostel series. More tender in tone, Norwegian-Taiwanese Hakon Liu’s (劉漢威) feature debut Miss Kicki (霓虹心) is a Taiwanese-Swedish co-production that mixes a road-movie style with a coming-of-age tale.

A considerable amount of diversity is shown in the directors’ choices of subject matter. The country’s new immigrants and migrant workers from Southeast Asian countries take center stage in film critic Rich Lee’s (李奇) debut feature Detours to Paradise (歧路天堂). Documentary director Kuo Chen-ti (郭珍弟) touches upon the life of the elderly (who are often overlooked in mainstream Taiwanese cinema) in dance genre flick Step by Step (練•戀•舞), which weds star charisma with comedy.

Taiwan’s tradition of producing strong documentaries continues with Wuna Wu’s (吳汰紝) Let’s Fall in Love (尋情歷險記), a humorous take on modern-day match-making. Baseball Boys (野球孩子) by Shen Ko-shang (沈可尚) and Liao Ching-yao (廖敬堯) dispenses with the dramatic moments and narrative climaxes popularized by documentaries such as Jump! Boys (翻滾吧!男孩) and My Football Summer (奇蹟的夏天) to dwell on snippets of everyday life in its portrait of a group of young athletes on the cusp of adolescence.

But the film deserving the most kudos this year is undoubtedly actor-turned-director Leon Dai’s (戴立忍) second feature No Pudeo Vivir Sin Ti (不能沒有你), which swept last month’s Golden Horse Awards (金馬獎) by winning in five categories including Best Feature Film, Best Director and Outstanding Taiwanese Film of the Year.

A long-term collaborator with director Singing Chen (陳芯宜), Lou Yi-an (樓一安) hands in his feature debut A Place of One’s Own (一席之地), a socially conscious film with a multi-threaded narrative. Like Chen, Lou is a name to watch, showing great potential in his insightful observations on contemporary Taiwanese society. However, Lou’s debut displays weakness that also can be found in Chen’s God Man Dog (流浪神狗人). In dealing with modern existential angst, both films lack subtlety, and the anguish of their protagonists comes across as more constructed than felt. The pair will be irresistible if they overcome this defect.

Box office success Hear Me (聽說) cements up-and-coming director Cheng Fen-fen’s (鄭芬芬) status as a whiz kid of youthful romance. An award-winning scriptwriter, Cheng has a flair for storytelling and knows how to turn this talent to her advantage when yarning lighthearted romances starring young pop idols.

After his rather messy feature debut Do Over (一年之初), director Cheng Yu-chieh (鄭有傑) returns with well executed Yang Yang (陽陽), a coming-of-age story tailor-made for half-Taiwanese, half-French star Sandrine Pinna (張榕容). Shot mostly in long takes with handheld, fluid camera and natural lighting, the film excels in a masterful control of cinematography and succeeds in creating a complicated heroine through a simple, focused narrative.

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