Taipei opens new fest, new era

GIO offers new incentive program to spur industry

HONG KONG -- The Taipei Film Festival gets under way this week, running Friday through July 12. So, too, does a new era of openness and market orientation for the Taiwan film industry.

The industry's governing body, the Government Information Office, last week detailed its plans to bring its boxoffice incentive scheme within reach of more films.

Su Jun-pin, minister of the GIO, said that locally produced films or those with a Taiwanese director will now be eligible for a 20% subsidy if their boxoffice revenue in Taiwan exceed NT$20 million ($435,000). The previous floor for qualification was $1.08 million.

Chinese director Feng Xiaogang and Shu Qi, the Taiwan actress and recent Cannes jury member whose career has flourished in Hong Kong and more recently in China, were both on hand last week to inaugurate the first ever Cross-Strait Film Exhibition.

The event, which is privately organized and separate from the TaipeiFF, makes use of the current political thaw between China and Taiwan to try to improve grass roots relations within the two movie industries. (At an official governmental level China has regarded Taiwan as a rebel province since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949.)

Starting Friday, the TaipeiFF will screen some 120 international films, including a Berlin sidebar. But the event is now styling itself as the ideal showcase for the new crop of Taiwanese movies.

Notable among these are "Yang Yang" the first product of Ang Lee's "Pushing Hands Project"; director Chang Jung-kuei's first animation feature "Port of Return"; and documentary "Tibet, Taipei," an outsider's view of Taiwan by Wu Mi-sen.

The festival also will screen two of the better Taiwanese films that have premiered at other events, black comedy "Parking" ("Ting Che") and "I Cannot Live Without You" ("No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti.") Neither of these could compare with the two movies that emerged in 2008 and that may have fundamentally changed the Taiwan industry.

In a market that is normally more than 90% dominated by Hollywood fare and where local films have tended to be art house pictures made with an eye to the overseas festival circuit, two commercially oriented films rocked the boxoffice and qualified for the GIO subsidy even when it was set at the old level: "Secret," directed by and starring pop superstar Jay Chou; and melodrama "Cape No. 7," which blasted its way to a record-breaking $10 million.

The GIO sees its new initiative as an incentive for more films to be like "Cape No. 7." "The new rules for subsidy are intended to encourage more filmmakers to think commercially," said Jennifer Jao, director of the Taipei Film Commission. Although there were some 36 films made locally last year, so far no 2009 Taiwan film release has hit the $1.08 million mark that would trigger the automatic payout.

The territory's newfound focus on mainstream mass audiences may also help Taiwanese cinema connect better with its neighbor on the other side of the straits – and prove handy vehicles for the island's many "Mandopop" music stars. "Cape No. 7" was the first Taiwan film to be released in China for 20 years and scored a happy RMB20 million ($3 million) at the boxoffice.

The GIO now suggests that 10 co-productions a year with China is an achievable target. The organization is sweetening the pot with a recently announced package of film industry incentives totaling NT$7.5 billion over the next five years.

The Cross-Straight Film Exhibition will give six recently made Taiwanese movies – "Exit No. 6" by Lin Yu-hsien, "Etude Island" by En Chen, "Orz Boyz" by Gillies Yang Ya-che, "Attitude" by Xiao Ma, "Sumimasen, Love" by Lin Yu-hsien and "Keeping Watch" by Zheng Fenfen -- outings in the Chinese cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the chance to see if they have got what it takes.