Wed, Oct 11, 2017 - Page 3 News List

INTERVIEW: Chiu Fu-sheng’s vanity film ended up making history

The 1989 historical drama ‘A City of Sadness,’ set against the backdrop of the 228 Massacre, was the first Taiwanese film to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. As this year marks the 30th anniversary of the lifting of martial law on July 15, 1987, ‘A City of Sadness’ producer Chiu Fu-sheng told Lan Tsu-wei of the ‘Liberty Times’ (sister newspaper of the ‘Taipei Times’) how he was almost jailed over the film and how he obtained the approval of the censors

Chiu Fu-sheng, producer of the 1989 film A City of Sadness, raises his fist on July 14.

Photo: Fang Pin-chao, Taipei Times

Liberty Times (LT): In 1989, Taiwan had only recently come out of martial law and the ghost of the Taiwan Garrison Command still lived on in people’s hearts, yet you chose to tackle the 228 Incident, which was largely a taboo subject at the time. How did you minimize risks to the greatest extent possible?

Chiu Fu-sheng (邱復生): Let me start from the very beginning. Before I even started making movies, I made a living selling video cassettes. [Editors’ note: Chiu founded ERA Communications Co] I had to go on business trips to Los Angeles or Cannes, France, to ensure that I had a unified source of import.

I happened to arrive in Cannes for the Cannes Film Festival in 1988, and I witnessed how movie producers and directors were able to enjoy their moment of glory, walking on the red carpet amid cheers and flashing cameras.

As I stood on the fringe, I asked myself: Why is it that I can only stand here and buy the stories of others? Why is it that Taiwan could not have the privilege of walking on the same red carpet? [Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s (侯孝賢) Daughter of the Nile (尼羅河女兒) was that year featured at the Directors’ Fortnight and not at Cannes.] Why could I not sell my stories to the world?

It was then that I vowed to myself that one day, I would take Taiwanese films to the Cannes Film Festival.

LT: So, you began your foray into the movie industry to gratify your sense of vanity?

Chiu: Entirely correct; I had indeed started with that original intent to walk on the red carpet.

It is my belief that no one who had ever visited Cannes would be able to forget the sense of accomplished vanity when the media of the world are screaming your name. Of course, it is only after I made the decision to learn how to make films that I came to realize that the quality of Taiwanese films were not up to global standards.

Not only did we not have synchronous recording, we did not even know what optical printing was. Our audio had no layered depth and we only had the one scene — perpetual rain. It was a mess and it was no wonder we were usually dismissed at the initial selection process.

Prior to making A City of Sadness (悲情城市), I decided there must be synchronous recording of the film, so I moved the post-production of the film to Japan. The film was developed in Japan as well, and two separate copies were made — one to be sent to Venice, Italy, and one sent back to Taiwan for review by the [now-defunct] Government Information Office.

When the film became the first Taiwanese film to be nominated for the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival, there was someone who blew the whistle on us.

They said that we had illegally transported a copy of the film overseas to ensure that even if the film was banned from screening in Taiwan, it would still be shown publicly in Venice.

They had not expected that I had filed a request in accordance with the law for overseas development. The film had left the borders legally and they had nothing on me. They would have pounced at any loophole and made it more serious than it was to ensure that I would be sent to jail.

LT: Given the 228 Incident was a taboo subject before martial law was lifted, did you feel apprehensive about being the first to bring it to the silver screen?

Chiu: At that time, director Chen Kuo-fu (陳國富) was my film consultant. Through him, I met Hou, who brought up the idea of filming a series of 10 movies. The first films he came to me with were the “Taiwanese History Trilogy” — A City of Sadness, The Puppetmaster (戲夢人生) and Good Men, Good Women (好男好女) — starting off the story with the defeat of the Japanese and the landing of the [Chinese] Nationalist [Party (KMT)] army in Keelung. The second film in the series would focus on the lead-up to the 228 Incident and its aftermath, while the third film would be a reflection on life under Japanese rule.

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