Thu, Nov 07, 2019 - Page 13 News List

How do you take China out of Chinese-language cinema?

China’s ban on Golden Horse brings greater diversity to the festival, but also the specter of growing ambition and censorship

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

This year’s Golden Horse Film Festival is navigating a ban on participation by the Chinese film industry.

Photo courtesy of Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival

China, poised to become the world’s largest movie market, will be conspicuously absent from this year’s Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival (台北金馬影展), which opens today and culminates in an awards ceremony on Nov. 23.

This follows Beijing’s announcement in August that no filmmakers or films from China would be allowed to participate. It is China’s first such ban since films made in the country became eligible for the Golden Horse Awards in 1996.

Often dubbed the “Oscars of Asia,” the Golden Horse Awards are widely recognized as the world’s premier showcase of Chinese-language film. For years, luminaries including Chinese director Zhang Yimou (張藝謀) and Hong Kong actor Tony Leung (梁朝偉) have graced the red carpet.

Chinese regulators have reportedly enforced the ban by threatening to place filmmakers who flout it on a watchlist and bar the submitted films from domestic release. Major Hong Kong studios have also toed the line, although some independent Hong Kong productions remain in competition.

For cinephiles, the situation is regrettable, but also a unique opportunity to consider what Chinese-language cinema looks like without China. Industry insiders say there remains a strong and diverse offering of films at this year’s Golden Horse Film Festival, but from a bird’s-eye view, Beijing’s cultural crackdown remains troubling.

GEOPOLITICAL BACKDROP

Beijing did not provide reasons in its announcement of the ban. But the move follows a controversial moment during last year’s televised Golden Horse Awards when filmmaker Fu Yue (傅榆), accepting an award for her documentary about the Sunflower movement, said that she hoped Taiwan would one day be recognized as an independent country.

Event Notes

What: Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival (台北金馬影展)

When: Today to Nov. 24

Where: Various locations

Admission: NT$260, or NT$180 for weekday matinees; tickets are available online and at festival booths at Vie Show Cinemas Taipei Xinyi and Eslite Spectrum Wuchang

On the Net: goldenhorse.org.tw


More broadly, observers point to the awards’ proximity to a confluence of geopolitical developments that are piling pressure on cross-strait ties. That includes the long summer of discontent in Hong Kong, the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on Oct. 1 and most crucially, Taiwan’s presidential election on Jan. 11 next year.

“The boycott will continue if [the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP)] wins the presidential election,” Lee Tao-ming (李道明), Director of the Hong Kong Baptist University MFA Programme in Film, Television and Digital Media and a former Golden Horse Awards juror and recipient, told the Taipei Times.

Immediately after Fu’s speech at the awards last year, Chinese celebrities in the audience demonstrated their ability to read the tea leaves of official opinion. At one point during the show, Chinese-born Singaporean actress Gong Li (鞏俐), then chair of the jury, refused to join director Ang Lee (李安) on stage to co-present a prize as planned.

Now, the impact of China’s ban can be felt in numbers. This year’s total of 588 film submissions, including 91 live-action features, is a significant drop from last year’s total of 667 submissions, with 228 live-action features.

Erstwhile Golden Horse associates have kept their distance in other ways. Hong Kong director Johnnie To (杜琪峰), tapped to chair this year’s jury, resigned in September citing contractual obligations. Days ago, Italian luxury car-maker Maserati cut sponsorship ties.

In public statements, the festival has shrugged off these developments. During last month’s announcement of nominations, festival executive director Wen Tien-hsiang (聞天祥) addressed the ban directly, saying that “it does not harm Golden Horse, we are strong and large enough.”

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