Thu, Mar 07, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Shallow focus

Taiwan’s recent cinema, which is obsessed with the dreaded rom-com genre, mimics the blandest offerings Hollywood has to offer, where the true aim is not to create a unique artistic vision or announce a new cinematic voice, but generate market success

By James T. Hong  /  Contributing reporter

Cast members from Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow? at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Photo: JamesT. Hong

There are thousands of film festivals around the world, but only a few at most are worthy of a film professional’s attention. Film festivals have a hierarchy, usually not strict or written in stone, which is known to all film professionals and many aspiring filmmakers. This hierarchy, this ordering, determines how a particular film festival appears to the filmmaker, and how a filmmaker will relate to that film festival. More importantly, a film festival’s rank or prestige determines how foreign governments interact with that festival, if they do at all.

The Berlin International Film Festival, otherwise known as the Berlinale, is one of three best-known film festivals in the world. The festival in Cannes is more famous, and the Venice International Film Festival is older. Together with the Oscars, these four events occupy the top tier of international film events according to Taiwan’s Ministry of Culture. Taiwanese filmmakers who are invited to these top tier festivals will be given priority for travel funding and lavished with promotional opportunities.

Certain countries, notably the US, do not have such an official ranking of film festivals. Other governments are perhaps too poor to provide travel grants to filmmakers. But since Hollywood, the most powerful filmmaking entity in the world, is located in the US, that country’s government need not promote its local film industry. It is already the de facto international standard in mainstream cinematic entertainment.

Cinema is a powerful weapon of soft power — the intangible international influence of a nation’s culture, values and ideologies. The now-historical Taiwanese New Wave Cinema of Hou Hsiao-hsien (侯孝賢), Edward Yang (楊德昌), and Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) were and still remain effective elements in Taiwan’s soft power arsenal. Despite working in Hollywood, Ang Lee (李安) is still considered a native son of Taiwan, and he has made conscious efforts to shoot some of his films here, including the recently released Life of Pi

ROM-COM ROMP

The three Taiwanese features invited to the 63rd Berlinale represent a new strain of Taiwan cinema. This is a cinema born in Taiwan’s relative decline (at least compared to the other “Asian Tiger” economies and the rise of China) and amidst the ubiquity of video production.

Previous Taiwanese entries to the Berlinale signaled the process of change. The 2012 Berlinale featured four Taiwanese features of which two were romantic comedies — Love (愛) by Doze Niu (鈕承澤) and Joyful Reunion (飲食男女 — 好遠又好近) by Tsao Jui-yuan (曹瑞原) — and two focused on Taiwanese cuisine (The Raw and the Cooked by the German filmmaker Monika Treut and again Joyful Reunion).

Also selected for the 2012 Berlinale was the 2011 omnibus film 10+10, commissioned by the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival, which features 20 five-minute shorts from 10 established Taiwanese directors and 10 newcomers. 10+10 is both burdened and freed by its anthology form, as films of this type are bound to be mixed — some bad, some forgettable and hopefully some of quality. Since 10+10 was designed to celebrate The Golden Horse Film Festival and the Republic of China’s 100th anniversary, the film ably reflects the changes in Taiwanese cinema preoccupations. Some of the shorts focus on specific episodes of Taiwan’s history, others take nostalgic turns, while the worst feature typical situational comedy and again romantic comedy mannerisms.

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