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HONG KONG — The Government Information Office of Taiwan, Taiwan’s film regulator and state financier, Wednesday informed Yonfan, director of Venice “Prince of Tears,” that he would lose NT10 million ($310,000) of subsidy as punishment for the film having been nominated by Hong Kong for the foreign-language Academy Award.
The film, a misty melodrama about the 1950s anti-Communist witch hunt in Taiwan, had its world premiere this week in competition at the Venice film festival.
The spat underlines the political problems that make co-productions within ‘Greater China’ so tricky to pull off – and once again raises questions about the Oscars’ definitions of nationality.
Yonfan says he would rather lose the subsidy than miss a chance at the Oscars.
“Taiwan’s reaction is not in keeping with the intent and spirit of co-production,” Yonfan said in a statement. “International recognition is important to Taiwan. Recognition is also important for artists like us and we get it at festivals like Venice, Toronto, and Pusan. The Oscars are of course recognition at the highest level. If the GIO refuses to let others submit ‘Prince Of Tears’ to the Oscars after Taiwan passed up such an opportunity, [production company] Peony 5 would rather abandon the production subsidy than abandon its chance to receive higher artistic recognition.”
The GIO announced Tuesday that it had selected Taipei Film Festival winner “No Puedo Vivir sin ti” by director Leon Dai’s as the island territory’s foreign-language Oscar hopeful. The drama is based on a true story of a widower’s fight for the custody of his daughter.
On Tuesday, the Federation of Motion Film Producers of Hong Kong appeared to bend over backwards to select “Tears” as its Oscar hopeful. The film was made as a co-venture involving Hong Kong-based producer Fruit Chan and by Yonfan’s own Taiwan-registered Peony 5 company with international sales by Hong Kong- and Amsterdam- based Fortissimo Films. It was shot largely in Taiwan with a predominantly Taiwanese cast and crew. And the film has not yet had its required theatrical release in Hong Kong, though the Federation says this will happen before the Oscars’ Sept. 30 deadline.
“The film’s director, writer and producer are all from Hong Kong, so it satisfies the criteria for best foreign language film set by the Academy. Nowadays very few films are made only in Hong Kong or financed solely locally, so we try to look at co-productions in the Greater China region,” said Federation chairman Crucindo Hung.
The film has already had a lot of publicity and largely positive reviews. It is too early to know if this affects anything,” said Fortissimo chief Michael J. Werner. “But it does raise questions over what the GIO is about and how they define the things they support.”
Hong Kong, once the powerhouse of Asian cinema, is clearly keen for some sort of Oscar run.
“In the past, we’ve picked boxoffice hits or big-budget blockbusters as the Hong Kong candidate, but those were never chosen by the Academy,” Hung said. “So this time we try to find an artistic, less commercial film and see if it’ll suit the Academy’s taste.”
While co-production is on the lips of producers around the region political and economic factors — China’s achieving economic superpower status, Taiwanese cinema undergoing something of a rebirth and Hong Kong cinema is struggling for relevance – each one is a test case.
Last month the GIO punished another Hong Kong – Taiwan co-production “Miao Miao” for an administrative error that only emerged when the film was withdrawn from the Melbourne festival. The GIO asked for the return of its subsidy and banned “Miao Miao”‘s Taiwanese co-producer Jettone Films (Taiwan) from applying for support for the next three years.
In some previous years the tussling between Hong Kong, China and Taiwan over which film should represent which territory — China regards Taiwan as a rebel province, not a sovereign country — has resulted in amicable settlements. Other times it has become messy.
Two years ago Ang Lee’s “Lust Caution,” which was set in China, filmed in China and Malaysia and produced with money from a mix of sources was submitted by Taiwan – though only after the Venice festival, where the film premiered, was forced to change its catalog as the listing “Taiwan, China,” made it look like Taiwan was Chinese territory.
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