Taiwan's Creative Industry Comes Together to Forge Connections, Look Past Pandemic

Anita Gou, Eddie Huang and Arvin Chen split - H 2020
Courtesy of Kindred Spirit

Anita Gou, Eddie Huang and Arvin Chen.

Having beaten the virus, Taiwan's production sector is already on an upsurge. At an industry gathering in Taipei Friday, the local industry's leading young voices will be looking for inventive ways to build on the momentum.

While most of the global film industry is still reeling from COVID-19, Taiwan's creative sector is having something of a moment.

That's the contention of rising film producer Anita Gou, who has organized a first-of-its-kind industry gathering in central Taipei to encourage the territory's creative community to leverage its myriad advantages as the world begins to look past the pandemic.

Dubbed Taiwan Creators Night, the confab is expected to bring together a who's who of Taiwan's top film and TV executives, as well as various talent of Taiwanese descent, including Fresh Off the Boat author Eddie Huang, arthouse filmmaker Midi Z, director Arvin Chen, TV personality Janet Hsieh, actor/singer Leehom Wang, and others.

Precisely the sort of industry event that has gone conspicuously missing in COVID-19-hit Hollywood, the Taipei gathering will feature a lively networking session with a free-flowing open bar, as well as a series of substantive panel discussions addressing topics like how to forge deeper creative ties with the West and how to green-light content in a post-pandemic world.

"It's an interesting moment in Taiwan right now," says Gou, whose LA and Taipei-based company, Kindred Spirit — the banner behind last year's Awkwafina-starring awards favorite The Farewell — is hosting the event (sponsors include KKBox, Taiwan's homegrown answer to Spotify, and local broadcaster TVBS). "There are a number of really exciting factors," she explains. "There's how well Taiwan has done in addressing COVID, the shifting geopolitics of the Mandarin-speaking world, how Asian culture, in general, continues to trend in the U.S. in really positive ways, and the way the studios to streamers are looking to us in Asia for both fresh stories and new markets."

Gou, who comes from one of Taipei's most prominent families — her uncle is Taiwan’s richest individual, Foxconn founder Terry Gou — notes that in ordinary times she, and other industry professionals of her set "would probably be off shooting somewhere else, or running around film festivals."

"But because of COVID-19, we're here, and we're noticing all of these trends working in Taiwan's favor," she says. "I thought we should take the opportunity to come together and galvanize everyone to seize on this moment. As we saw with Parasite's wins at the Oscars, the hard and fast boundaries of language, culture and subtitles are slowly melting away — we want Taiwan to play a leading role in that conversation."

As a practical matter, Taipei's production sector already appears to be emerging from the pandemic's shadow in a stronger position. Home to a population of more than 23 million, Taiwan has recorded just 479 cases of COVID-19 and seven deaths — a per capita death rate over 1,000 times lower than the U.S.

After brief voluntary shutdowns in April, film and TV production has roared back. Among the projects already shooting again, or heading into production imminently, are TV adaptations of domestic blockbusters like More Than Blue, the romantic drama that earned $140 million in China last year, and Detention, the local psychological horror flick that scored a dozen nominations at Taiwan's 2019 Golden Horse Awards. Local filmmaker Huang Hsin-yao, director of 2017 breakout The Great Buddha+, which was acquired by Netflix, also is back on set in Taiwan shooting his next feature.

Gou says Taiwan's smooth handling of COVID-19 and past experiences servicing world-class productions — Martin Scorsese's Silence shot there, as did Jackie Chan's forthcoming mainland Chinese action film, Vanguard — will make the island an attractive option for international producers on the hut for safe havens in which to shoot.

"If there's a challenge, it's probably not going to be whether it's safe to shoot but if we still have enough crew — because so much is already happening," she says.