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  Literature and Artistic Development

The Evolution of Films in Taiwan (Ru-Shou Chen)


In the history of the Republic of China, the development of Taiwan and China went separate ways from the beginning, because Taiwan had been ceded to Japan in 1895 long before the establishment of the Republic of China in 1911. In retrospect in regard to the development of movies in Taiwan, it can be seen that Taiwanese film does not have the strong support of national consciousness nor enough number of films to stand as a national art. In addition, the development is usually pushed forward by foreign drives instead of by introspection. In order to provide a comprehensive understanding of the development of Taiwanese film in the past hundred years, this article begins with the study of the activities related to film during the period of the Japanese occupation and the films produced by Taiwanese people. This is then followed by observations on the exchanges between China and Taiwan before 1949. Then the focus of this article shifts to illustrate how Taiwanese film was freed from government control and suppression to become a national brand known in international film festivals. The article then ends with a review of the second wave of exchanges between China and Taiwan after the restoration of the communication in recent years.

In the historical context, the development of movies in Taiwan is reviewed in this article by chronology and subjects/events as follows:

1.          The period of the Japanese occupation: This period included the following: (1) The field of photography was dominated and guided by Japanese, (2) Taiwanese people’s initial contact with Chinese films occurred during this period, and (3) Chinese films accounted for about 10% of the imported films and were mostly from Shanghai.

2.          From the end of the Second World War to 1949: Film production during this period relied much on the film industries outside of the island, particularly that in Shanghai.

3.          1939-1949: During this period, Taiwanese-language films were in the mainstream in the first few years after the Republic of China relocated to Taiwan, but started a gradual decline when the government launched the policy of promoting the official language of Mandarin Chinese.

4.          1950’s, the golden age for Taiwanese films: Taiwanese films grew significantly both in quality and quantity in this period. However, the number of Mandarin-language movies gradually exceeded that of Taiwanese-languages ones. In addition, the Golden Horse Awards were held for the first time in 1951 and later became the most influential film awards for the global Chinese communities.

5.          1960’s, the prosperous era for privately-owned film companies: Despite the fact that the Central Pictures Corporation and policy-oriented films still dominated the scene, privately-owned film production companies showed an impressive performance as well. The most successful among all were the Union Film Co. Ltd. founded by Sha Jung-feng and the Grand Motion Pictures Co., Ltd. founded by Lee Han-hsiang.

6.          Qiong-yao and commercial films: Films adopted from Qiong-yao’s novels led the box office for romantic films from the first one “Wan-jun” directed by Lee Hsing in 1965 till the last one in 1983. Also noteworthy film director of the time was Chu Yan-ping, one of the most productive directors. He not only brought the commercial comedy film to its new peak, but also created the first peak for military education films, a film genre unique to Taiwan.

7.          The Golden Harvest Awards and the New Movie Movement: In contrast to the Golden Horse Awards, the aim of the Golden Harvest Awards, established in 1978, was to encourage new professionals in the film industry. It has become an important competition platform for the new generation to create and lead new movie trends. The Awards have served as part of the cultivation of several exceptional directors, such as the internationally-famed Lee Ang. Also discussed in this section are the two most notable film directors of the New Movie Movement, Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-hsian who are both frequent winners in international film festivals.

8.          Taiwanese movies after the New Movie Movement: Lee Ang and Tsai Ming-ling are the two most notable directors during this time. Lee was the first Taiwan-born director to successfully blend himself and his movies into Hollywood and Tsai has given Taiwanese films a new look in the era of the post-new movie movement. In addition to directors becoming known to the world, Taiwan-born film technicians in different areas of expertise have also won recognition from the international film industry

9.          The exchanges between Taiwan and China: Cross-strait exchanges have been gradually restored in late 1970’s after the long cut-off since the promulgation of marital law.

10.      Documentaries in Taiwan: Documentaries has strived to stay on the scene through years. They have played an important role in the modernization and democratization of Taiwan and are often a powerful means by which the minority and vulnerable can draw attention to win their rights.

As time passes into the 21st Century, a new page is unveiled for Taiwanese films. International co-operation, no matter whether in fund-raising, technological applications, or sourcing actors, has become more and more common. In addition, non-mainstream films such as gay and lesbian movies were presented from a perspective and story line different from those found in traditional movies. Furthermore, the box office success of the film “Cape No. 7” demonstrates that Taiwanese film has brought local audiences back to the theater. It also signals that the spring for the Taiwanese film has returned after years of dramatic ups and downs. The box office record may not speak all, but it does illustrate the future potential of Taiwanese films and shows the opportunity for the industry.


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