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BUSAN, South Korea — It may be called “Cape No. 7,” but this Taiwan film is all about being No. 1.
Over the weekend, “Cape” eclipsed NT$300 million ($9.3 million) at the boxoffice in Taiwan, making it the island’s top-grossing film of 2008, surpassing even “The Dark Knight” and “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” That figure uses the common practice in Taiwan of estimating island-wide receipts by doubling the Taipei boxoffice take, where “Cape” raked in more than NT$150 million.
The film’s local boxoffice success is among the reasons it has been one of the few standout sales winners at this year’s Asian Film Market. Just before the market opened, “Cape” was sold to Singapore’s Festival Films, and Hong Kong-based Star Group bought cable TV rights for seven territories, including Taiwan, the U.S. and Canada.
Aside from its commercial achievements, “Cape” also is Taiwan’s official selection for the 2009 foreign-language film Oscar.
Not bad for first-time director Te-sheng Wei.
“I don’t really know,” Wei said, laughing, when asked about the film’s runaway success during a telephone interview Monday with The Hollywood Reporter. “I think it’s a story of modern times in Taiwan.”
Wei said the film was reminiscent of Taiwan New Wave director Kun Ho Chen’s “Growing Up” in trying to capture a contemporary story for young people.
Also involved in Taiwan’s music scene, Wei characterized the story as “bringing together rock ‘n’ roll and a love story,” saying that music had not played a significant role in any recent Taiwan films.
The emergence of “Cape” at the boxoffice also is good news for Taiwan’s film industry. “The past four years have been really bad, ticket sales have been poor, outside sales have been,” Wei said.
“About two years ago, people started putting money into films again, producing more artistic films, and films aimed at college students, looking at things from a local perspective,” he said, including “Cape” as one of those films with a younger target audience.
Audiences from around Asia should react similarly well to “Cape.”
“Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong, we all have a lot of commonality, we share a lot in the way that we look at things, like love and disappointment,” Wei said. He was unsure whether Western audiences would connect as directly with the story and its characters.
Although familiar with Ang Lee (“Lust, Caution”) and Hou Hsiao-hsien (“Three Times”), the Taiwan film industry is overshadowed by that of the Chinese mainland. Wei believes that Taiwan films need their own look and feel.
“We need to have a distinct identity for our films,” Wei said. “(Cape) is an ordinary story, but it happened in Taiwan, we gave it that identity. Too many films could take place just anywhere.”
Wei also intends to put that imprint on his next feature, “Seediq Bale,” the story of an indigenous Taiwan hero fighting against Japanese occupation. The script already has been finalized, and he hopes to shoot next year.
Along with a second showing Wednesday at Pusan, “Cape” also will participate in the Hawaii International Film Festival, which begins Thursday, and the Hong Kong Asia International Film Festival, which opens Friday.
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