Taiwanese cinema reaches a turning point

May 26th, 2008 - 9:36 am ICT by admin  

By Andrew McCathie
Cannes (France), May 26 (DPA) After a string of bleak years, the movie business in Taiwan may be reaching a juncture as a new generation of filmmakers begin to shape the nation’s industry. “It is very bad at the moment,” said Taiwanese director Mong Hong Chung, whose first feature film “Parking” (Ting Che), which paints a picture of life in modern Taiwan, premiered at the Cannes Film Festival last week.

But speaking in Cannes, Mong told DPA that after a slump in the 1990s, filmmakers in Taiwan are now hoping for a breakthrough.

Indeed, with Asian cinema tending to follow waves, many critics see Taiwan as having emerged as the nation to watch as its filmmakers gain the renewed attention of leading international movie festivals.

Younger Taiwanese filmmakers have also scored box-office success in their home market in recent years with a string of personal stories and tales of coming out and coming of age.

“We are at a turning point,” said James Liu, president of Taipei-based Joint Entertainment International Inc. “But we still have to find our position. We still have to decide what sort of films we are good at.”

The bad times that engulfed cinema in Taiwan during the 1990s came just as several of the nation’s filmmakers, such as Ang Lee and Tsai Ming-liang, were gaining growing international acclaim after winning major prizes at the world’s leading film festivals.

“People (in Taiwan) were very curious about these films but they discovered art-house films were often very slow,” said Chang Chen, one of Taiwan’s leading actors, who stars in Mong’s newest film.

“Parking” stars Chang, who is in Cannes for the seventh time this year after his roles in movies such as Shanghai-born Wong Kar-wai’s “Happy Together”, Ang Lee’s martial arts film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and Korean director Kim Ki-Duk’s “Breath”, which premiered in Cannes last year.

“Parking” gives a new, more contemporary spin to the question of Taiwanese identity in the midst of tensions between Taipei and Beijing, which has been a dominant theme of cinema in the country for many years.

In “Parking”, the 31-year-old Chang plays a young man forced to confront the reality of his life after he searches all night for the owner of a car that has parked his car on a street in Taipei.

“People in Taiwan are always fighting for a parking spot,” said 43-year-old Mong. “Some even have a baseball bat in their cars.”

Screened as part of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section, which showcases young and experimental directors, “Parking” is set on Mothers’ Day with Chang’s character, Chen-Mo, on his way home to try to patch up a faltering relationship with his wife.

“It is like an old western film,” with Mong using touches of comedy to tell his story, Chang told DPA.

The one common theme linking all the stories that unfold in “Parking” is crime, as Cheng-Mo finds himself falling victim to a brutal gang running a prostitution ring in the apartment building.

“Everybody has committed some kind of crime - big or small,” said Mong. “Everybody has a past they don’t want people to know about.”

However, Chen-Mo emerges from the movie as something of liberator, helping many of those he encountered in the apartment building to emerge from their current plights, while essentially reinventing himself in the process.

“I wanted him to be an unlucky hero,” said Mong.

Mong approaches identity from a pan-Chinese approach that brings together people from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan.

In “Parking”, the tailor is from Hong Kong, there is talk of Taiwanese businessmen investing in mainland China, and one of the women working in the prostitution ring was a victim of human trafficking after losing her factory job in mainland China.

But even as films from Taiwan gain more attention, Liu said Taiwan directors risk losing their uniqueness as filmmaking becomes more global and Hollywood retains its commanding international position.

“There is a danger of them losing their identity and becoming more international,” Liu said.

However, Chang - who is to star in Chinese filmmaker John Woo’s upcoming “Red Cliff” and is reported to be lined up for Woo’s next project, an epic set against the years leading to the rise of Mao Zedong in China - says he also hopes to play in more movies in Taiwan.

But he said: “There are only between 10 and 20 films a year in Taiwan so I have to go to China, Hong Kong and Japan to work.”


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