Outmatched Taiwanese Filmmakers Prepare for Tough Battle at Golden Horses Awards

TAIWAN: "Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale"
Courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment

Action master John Woo co-produced this true-life war story about the rebellion of Taiwan's aboriginal peoples against Japanese colonizers in the 1930s. The foreign-language committee loves historical epics, but the 276-minute running time could test Academy members' endurance skills.

The drama “Gf*Bf” leads the home charge as the island’s directors and actors are outnumbered – again – at their very own year-end awards.

HONG KONG – Last year, it took a historical epic about a tribe of indigenous warriors fighting off foreign intruders to secure the Taiwanese film industry a victory on home turf at the Golden Horses Awards.

This weekend, the island’s filmmakers are all pinning their hopes on a politically-charged romance to repeat the feat this year, as Taiwanese cinema again finds itself outnumbered in nominations at their very own year-end cinematic gala.

Yang Ya-che’s Gf*Bf, which follows a trio of former high-school friends as they navigate Taiwan’s political changes during the past 30 years, is the only homespun film competing for the Best Feature Film award at this year.

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It lines up against two mainland Chinese entries – Gao Qunshu’s Beijing Blues and Lou Ye’s Mystery – as well two films from Hong Kong: Lo Chi-leung’s The Bullet Vanishes, a co-production with mainland Chinese investment, and Johnnie To Kei-fung’s Life Without Principle, the city’s entry for the Best Foreign-Language Academy Award next year.

Leading the charge for Taiwanese Cinema at Saturday's awards ceremony at Luodong Cultural Working House in Yilan County, Gf*Bf is present in most of the main categories, with Yang competing for the directing and screenplay prizes while his two top-billing stars, Joseph Chang and Gwai Lun-mei, battle for the Best Actor and Best Actress awards. The film is also nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Cinematography titles.

But Yang and his team have their work cut out if they are to keep the trophies in Taiwan this year. Yang is up against Gao, Lou and To in the directing category – with Doze Niu boosting the local contingent here, nominated for his romance portmanteau Love – but Chang will be facing off against four Hong Kong actors in his battle, with three of them (Nick Cheung, Nicholas Tse and Lau Ching-wan) past winners.

The only main award in which the home team has at least a numerical advantage is Best Supporting Actress, with four Taiwanese nominees squaring off against only one from Hong Kong.

The annual Lifetime Achievement award will go to Shih Chun, the veteran actor who starred in King Hu’s The Dragon Inn and A Touch of Zen, and has since presided over the late martial arts film director’s legacy.

Now into its 49th edition, the Golden Horses have in recent years been seen as a symbolic battleground for Taiwanese filmmakers to establish their own standing against torrential waves of Chinese-language cinema arriving from across the Taiwan Straits. One of the most memorable recent stand-offs took place in 2008, between Wei Te-sheng’s Cape No. 7, the southern Taiwan-set romance drama seen as bringing about a resurgence of the island’s filmmaking scene, and Peter Chan Ho-sun’s mainland-Hong Kong period blockbuster The Warlords. The latter emerged the winner at the end, bagging both Best Feature Film and Best Directing awards.

While Wei finally took home the Best Feature Film award last year with the acclaimed Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale, his film didn’t end up the biggest winner of the night: Ann Hui On-wah’s A Simple Life secured the directing title as well as the two main acting awards (for Andy Lau Tak-wah and Deanie Ip Tak-han, who won the Volpi Cup at the Venice Film Festival for her role as an ailing domestic helper).

But whether Gf*Bf is to emerge triumphant this year, mainland China will still be present in some form: while mainly driven by Taiwanese entities Atom Cinema, Ocean Deep Films, Central Motion Pictures Corporation and Ko Hiong Lang, the film also involves the Huayi Brothers International Media, a subsidiary of the powerful Beijing studio Huayi Brothers Media Group.

In an announcement earlier this week, Atom and Huayi Brothers International Media will team up with Honto Productions – the shingle founded by Niu – in a "strategic alliance," with Huayi pledging to commit to contributions in equity investment and distribution of eight film and television projects.