January 19, 2012 1:36am PT by THR Staff
Taiwan Stands Tall as 'Warriors of the Rainbow' Earns Foreign-Language Oscar Shortlist Spot
The Year of the Dragon could be a good one for Taiwan director Wei Te-sheng, whose rebellion epic Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale was the only film from East Asia to find itself on the Academy's best foreign-language film Oscar shortlist Wednesday.
Noticeably absent among Asia's contenders is Zhang Yimou's The Flowers of War starring Oscar winner Christian Bale, China's most expensive production to date and its highest-grossing Chinese film for 2011. Zhang was looking for his fourth foreign-language film nomination and his first nod with his Rape of Nanjing story.
If Warriors makes the last five this weekend, it would be Taiwan's second nomination, after eventual 2000 winner Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That movie remains the only Chinese-language film to win a foreign-language Oscar.
Wei, one of Taiwan's most commercially and critically successful directors, received the news in the middle of the Asian night. He was unsure why Warriors had made the shortlist while the rest of East Asia is staying home. Asian films played no part in any major category last year.
"My guess is that the material allows overseas audiences to look at a colorful and interesting part of Taiwan's past," he told The Hollywood Reporter in a telephone interview.
Wei hedged on his chances of progressing against a field that includes Golden Globe winner A Separation. "I haven't had a chance to see any of the other films, but it's certainly possible," he said.
However, on what a nomination alone would mean for his island home's local industry, Wei was unequivocal. "This helps the Taiwan film industry to grow and get bigger. It shows we can make Taiwan films in Taiwan, for Taiwan."
Like Zhang's Flowers, Warriors of the Rainbow also tackles Japanese occupation in Asia during the 1930s, focusing instead on an uprising by Taiwan's Seediq aborigines. Produced by John Woo, its graphic violence and long running time (276 minutes) tested audiences, but has been a box office success in Taiwan and Hong Kong. It is not slated for release in China, with its violent and Taiwan nationalist themes as barriers. Wei's earlier Cape No. 7 was a hit during its 2009 release, one of the first direct releases of a Taiwan film on the Chinese mainland.
The failure of Flowers to make the short list may be a blessing in disguise for China. Just days after the movie's world premiere in Beijing, Bale was rebuffed when he attempted to visit a blind Chinese lawyer under house arrest in coastal Shandong province. With a CNN camera crew in town, Bale scuffled with what appeared to be plainclothes police, saying "Why can't I visit this free man?" A spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry later accused Bale of "creating news."
With Flowers out of competition, China won't need to address having an award-winning film with a foreign star who is now possibly banned from visiting or working in the country again.
China claims Taiwan as a breakaway province, even though both Hong Kong and Taiwan may put forth their own candidates for the foreign-langauge Oscar each year.
China and Taiwan are enjoying their best relations ever since the two sides split following a civil war that ended in 1949. Republic of China on Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou, who opposes full independence for the island, was just re-elected, a move celebrated by both sides.