The big news in Taiwanese cinema in 2008 was Cape No. 7 (海角七號). It broke box office records becoming the highest grossing Taiwanese film ever. Its box office takings were double those of The Mummy, the next highest film at the box office in 2008.
Much has been written about the reasons for the Cape No. 7 ‘s success which was achieved largely through word of mouth. Basically it hit on a formula of good production values along with characters and a story line that appealed to a wide audience. The film also used a mix of Hoklo Taiwanese, Mandarin and Japanese languages reflecting the mix of languages in Taiwan today.
While Cape No. 7 garnered awards and headlines Taiwanese cinema offered rich variety in 2008. My favorite Taiwanese film of the year was Orz Boyz (囧男孩). This was not just a children’s film, but a rich and complex drama with appeal across age groups and cultures.
God Man Dog (流浪神夠人) and Winds of September (九降風) were two other notable dramas. Parking (停車) also fitted in the drama genre, although it had a much darker tone, and featured superb acting. Help Me Eros (幫幫我愛神) with its combination of sex, marijuana and betel nut girls was actually a tale of despair and loneliness. 1895 (一八九五) was a great movie for history buffs. Its use of the Hakka language was part of a trend noted elsewhere of the increasing use of a mix of local languages in Taiwanese film.
Film festivals large and small create a venue for a wide variety of films that might never see a commercial release. The Taipei Film Festival and the Golden Horse Film Festival are the biggest and attract the most attention. The Taipei Film Festival does a lot to promote and encourage up and coming film makers in Taiwan. I enjoyed a selection of short films and the documentary They are Flying (飛行少年).
Urban Nomad went from strength to strength with a special series of screenings as part of the Taipei Biennial to follow up its festival earlier in the year. There were a plethora of smaller film festivals going on throughout the year. I enjoyed the Tibet Film Festival organised by Amnesty International and wrote about The Forbidden Team. I also saw some films at the Canada Taiwan Human Rights Film Festival.
In 2009 Formosa Betrayed will hit the screens. The movie is about the murder of a Taiwanese college professor in the 1980s and is based on true events. Wei Te-sheng (魏德聖), director of Cape No. 7, will also fulfill his vision by making Seediq Bale, a movie about the 1930 Wushe Uprising. It should be something for both history buffs and cinema lovers.
*There is now a Taiwan movie guide at Taiwanderful. It currently includes a selection of Taiwanese movies released over the last few years. More movies will be added as they are released in 2009.