Taiwanese Producers Struggling to Expand Beyond Their Home Market
Taiwan was the proving ground for Tsai Ming-liang, whose films, from the 1994 Venice Golden Lion winner "Vive L'Amour" to the 2010 Cannes closer "Visage," have helped make a global name for cinema from the island of roughly 23 million people, even if they seldom make money.
But not every Taiwanese can be an auteur. Commercially minded producers are now struggling to expand their horizons beyond their home market, where the total box office take for domestically made movies was just $2 million in 2009.
Producers in the capital, Taipei, lament that most moviegoers at home are young and looking mostly for mainstream romance on the big screen or for the Hollywood blockbusters that accounted for most of the $82 million grossed by imported films last year.
Taiwan's box office peaked in 1996, when ticket receipts totaled $104 million. Ever since, Taiwanese producers have had to push harder than normal to get their directors noticed.
This year at the 23rd Tokyo International Film Festival and its concurrent market, TIFFCOM, Taiwan's efforts could pay off since the its filmmakers' presence is strongly felt in a whole section of the festival dedicated to the self-governing island's new movies.
Taiwanese Cinema Renaissance: New Breeze of the Rising Generation features six vastly different films -- from 1980s gangster drama "Monga" by director Doze (aka Niu Chen-Zer), starring Juan Ching-Tien and Mark Chao, to the world premiere of "Juliets," an omnibus reinterpretation of Shakespeare's character from directors Hou Chi-jan ("Juliet's Choice"), Shen Ko-shang ("Two Juliets") and Chen Yu-hsun ("One More Juliet").
Also featured in the section co-organized by the Taipei Film Commission, the Taiwan Government Information Office and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in Japan is director Hsiao Ya-chuan's youth romance "Taipei Exchanges," presented by Liu Weijan, producer at distribution and production company Atom Cinema.
"There's hope," for the new generation, Liu recently told THR. "More and more young Taiwan directors want to start a conversation with audiences beyond the island, especially with the Mainland."
Along with Monga and Taipei Exchanges, "The Fourth Portrait," director Chung Mong-hong's drama about a 10-year-old boy who paints to find himself, is nominated for the TIFF Asian-Middle East Film Award. So, too, are the erotic, photography-themed thriller "Zoom Hunting" by director Cho Li, and the documentary about Taiwanese filmmaker Mark Lee called "Let the Wind Carry Me," from directors Kwan Pun-leung, Chiang Hsiu-chiung.
To the Tokyo Project Gathering, TIFFCOM's forum to support new talent and 28 developing projects, Taiwanese director Gavin Lin brings "The Dog Wanted," produced by Chu Bing, a dog-lover's drama inspired by a spate of documented animal abuse cases in Taiwan in 2009. Also in TPG, is "Pinky Time," a car theft caper from debut Taiwanese director Sean Chen and producer Chen Wei.
On the buyers side at TIFFCOMM, Taiwanese television companies such as The Chinese Television System Culture Enterprise Corp., Joint Entertainment International, Sanlih E-Television and TVOnline International Multimedia will be trolling the market looking for content.
Proving that Taiwan product is saleable overseas, Taipei-based Double Edge Entertainment recently sold genre-bending western "The Treasure Hunter," a December 2009 release starring Taiwanese stars Jay Chou and actress Lin Chi-ling ("Red Cliff") to U.S. indie Asian film distributor Eleven Arts in Los Angeles.
Still, back in Taiwan's struggling-to-revive box office, Monga is the commercial exception, not the industry rule. Young director Tom Lin worries that, under increased commercial pressure, he and his peers could lose the chance to practice their craft.