Those who have already seen the movie Formosa Betrayed, which is scheduled for release in Taiwan on Friday, may have noticed that the actors’ accents, the locales and many of the characters didn’t look or sound “authentic.” The reason for this is very simple: The Taiwan scenes weren’t filmed here, but in Thailand.
However, the decision to shoot there, rather than where the political thriller is set, wasn’t entirely in the hands of the producers. In an interview with the Taipei Times in Taipei on Thursday, Will Tiao (刁毓能), one of the main actors and the producer of the film, suggested politics played a big part.
“What most people don’t know is that we came to Taiwan, we had casting sessions here and we wanted Taiwanese actors,” said Tiao, a Taiwanese-American.
However, the shadow of the giant market next door weighed heavily.
“A number of performers didn’t want to do this because they were afraid of what this would do to their careers in China,” he said. “We interviewed a number of actors and later would hear through their agent: ‘We read the script and we decided no, we’re not doing it.’”
Another issue with the Taiwanese performers who auditioned was that as the movie is primarily in English. Many of the actors weren’t fluent enough.
Those, however, were not the main reasons why the film wasn’t shot here.
The movie studio had turned to the National Development Fund (NDF), a Cabinet agency, for funding, a process that started in 2007, one year before shooting began and when Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁) of the Democratic Progressive Party was still in power.
While the NT$1 trillion (US$30 billion) fund mostly finances high-tech companies, it is also known to have provided assistance to the arts. In 2008, it provided US$2.6 million for Hou Hsiao-hsien’s (侯孝賢) martial arts movie The Assassin.
While in Taiwan, studio representatives, including Tiao, gave a closed-door presentation to the NDF. At that point, a little more than US$5 million had been raised for the production.
The goal was to make the movie for US$10 million, the only way a period piece set on two continents, with potentially costly scenes, could be done in Taiwan, where costs were higher than in Thailand. The producers’ hope was that the NDF would almost match the money already raised.
“We were tentatively approved,” Tiao said. “We were very excited about the fact that we would be able to shoot in Taiwan.”
However, while studio representatives were in Thailand, which they had included as a backup, they learned that although the proceedings of the NDF presentation were supposedly confidential, a staffer who was present had contacted a Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) legislator and “told him what had happened in the room.”
The KMT legislator, whose identity Tiao would not reveal, then allegedly contacted the Chinese-language United Daily News, which printed a story about the movie and the application with the NDF.
How the fund uses its money must be approved by the legislature, which back then, as now, was controlled by the KMT.
“When we came back to Taiwan after scouting in Thailand, we were told flat out that our budget was being held,” Tiao said.
Without that money, Taiwan no longer was an option.
“A lot of people ask us why didn’t we shoot Formosa Betrayed in Taiwan ... The decision was made for us, it wasn’t something that we wanted,” he said. “We wanted to shoot here, but we basically were forced to go to Thailand.”