Hong Kong Director Johnnie To Resigns as Golden Horse Awards Jury President Amid Beijing Boycott

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Johnnie To

To’s decision came a month after Chinese authorities ordered its film industry to shun the awards.

Legendary Hong Kong director Johnnie To has resigned his position as the jury president for Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards amid a boycott of the event ordered by China's government.

To, who was announced as head of the jury in June, had his resignation made public Thursday by the Golden Horse Awards organizers on their official Facebook page. In a statement, To citied his reason for stepping down as a “previously signed film production contractual obligations.” The statement also mentioned To’s “regret and apology for the inconvenience," as well as Golden Horse Awards Committee’s chairman and Oscar-winning director Ang Lee’s “understanding” for his decision. Lee and the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival Executive Committee also wished To the best.

Beijing's move to kneecap the Taiwanese awards show is being interpreted as retaliation for the event's 2018 ceremony, where a local filmmaker made a politically charged acceptance speech in support of Taiwanese independence.

The incident sparked a firestorm of criticism on mainland Chinese social media, as well as forceful statements of support from the Taiwanese government and local film industry figures. In the aftermath, many worried whether the spat had endangered the future viability of the Taipei-based awards show, which has been bringing the greater Chinese filmmaking community together for a night of celebration since 1962. 

To declined to comment when contacted by The Hollywood Reporter.

To’s dilemma has been drawing the attention of the film industries in Taiwan, Hong Kong and China for over a month, after Chinese authorities ordered Chinese studios and filmmakers to shun the prestigious awards in Taiwan, known as the “Chinese Oscars,” in early August. Film companies Hong Kong followed suit soon after.

To's bowing to pressure from Beijing epitomized the difficult position many Hong Kong filmmakers as well as companies are now in at avoiding displeasing Beijing. In Hong Kong, as pro-democracy protests continue, airline Cathay Pacific and banking giant HSBC have been forced to discipline and dismiss staff who have become involved in demonstrations after the displeasure of Chinese leaders became known.

The Golden Horse Awards jury will now be headed by Taiwanese director Wang Toon, who is a seven-time Golden Horse winner and the son of a renowned Kuomintang general who fled to Taiwan with his family when the Communist Party took over China. Emerged during the Taiwan New Wave in the 1980s, Wang made his directorial debut with If I Were for Real in 1981 and is known for Strawman (1987) and Hill of No Return (1992), both set in Taiwanese history.

This year’s Golden Horse Awards nominations will be announced Oct. 1, with the awards ceremony to be held Nov. 23.