Cinema of Taiwan

The history of Chinese-language cinema has three separate threads of development: Cinema of Hong Kong, Cinema of China and Cinema of Taiwan. Taiwanese cinema grew up outside of the Hong Kong mainstream and the censorship of the People's Republic of China.

Taiwanese cinema is deeply rooted in the island's unique and rapidly changing history. Since its introduction to Taiwan in 1901, cinema has developed in Taiwan through several distinct stages.

Early cinema, 1900 – 1970s

From 1900 to 1937, Taiwanese cinema was strongly influenced by the Japanese. This was during the Japanese colonial era, and many conventions in Japanese films were adopted by the Taiwanese filmmakers. For example, the use of a benshi (narrator of silent films), which was a very important component of the film-going experience in Japan, was adopted and renamed benzi by the Taiwanese. This narrator was very different from its equivalent in the Western world. It rapidly evolved into a star system. In fact, people would go to see the very same film narrated by different benshi, to hear the other benshi's interpretation. A romance could become a comedy or a drama, depending on the narrator's style and skills. Lu, a famous actor and benshi in Taiwan wrote the best reference book on Taiwan cinema.

The first Taiwanese benshi master was a musician and composer named Wang Yung-feng, who had played on a regular basis for the orchestra at the Fang Nai Ting Theatre in Taipei. He was also the composer of the music for the Chinese film Tao hua qi xue ji (China, Peach girl, 1921) in Shanghai.

Other famous Taiwanese benshi masters were Lu Su-Shang and Zhan Tian-Ma. Lu Su-shang, is not primarily remembered for his benshi performances, but mainly because he wrote the inestimable history of cinema and drama in Taiwan, the bible of Taiwanese film history. The most famous of all was Zhan Tian-ma, whose story is told in a recent Taiwanese biographical film, March of Happiness (Taiwan, 1999, dir: Lin Sheng-shing).

Benshi masters were intellectuals: they spoke Japanese, often travelled to Japan and/or China, and were poets writing their own libretto for each film. Since 1910, films had been distributed with a script, but these poets of the darkness would rather explore their personal style. Notable films during this period include The Eyes of Buddha (1922) and Whose Fault Is It (1925).

Then, with the Second Sino-Japanese War came the Japanization era and Taiwan was restricted to playing Japanese repertoire only. The Japanese strove to transform the locals into Japanese citizens, giving them Japanese names, a Japanese education, encouraging them to wear Japanese clothes and asking the men to cut their long hair. Hou Hsiao-Hsien's film, "The Puppetmaster" (1993), witnesses vividly this moment of history.

In 1937, the Second Sino-Japanese War interrupted the movie industry, and virtually nothing was produced until after the National government took over Taiwan in 1945.

To read more concerning the Japanese rule period, see: "Dancing shadows of film exhibition: Taiwan and the Japanese influence", by Jeanne Deslandes : .

Taiwanese cinema grew again after 1949, when the end of the Chinese civil war brought many filmmakers sympathetic to the Nationalists to Taiwan. During this era, the primary films produced were Mandarin films officially sanctioned by the government. As the government was attempting to unify the country by declaring Mandarin as the official language, the use of other dialects was controlled, and non-Mandarin films (e.g. Taiwanese language films) gradually declined.

The 1960s marked the beginning of Taiwan's rapid modernization. The government focused strongly on the economy, industrial development, and education, and in 1963 the Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC) introduced the "Health Realism" melodrama. This film genre was proposed to help build traditional moral values, which were deemed important during the rapid transformation of the nation's socioeconomic structure. During this time, traditional kung-fu films as well as romantic melodramas were also quite popular. The author Qiong Yao is especially famous for the movies made in this time period which were based on her widely-read romantic novels.

Taiwanese cinema of this period is related to censorship in the Republic of China and Propaganda in the Republic of China.

New Wave Cinema, 1982 – 1990

By the early 1980s, the popularity of home video made film-watching a wide-spread activity for the Taiwanese. However, the Taiwanese film industry was under serious challenges, such as the entry of Hong Kong films, well-known for their entertainment quality, into the Taiwanese market. In order to compete with Hong Kong films, the CMPC began an initiative to support several fresh, young directors. In 1982, the film In Our Time (1982), which featured four young talented directors (Edward Yang, Tao De-chen, Ke I-jheng, and Jhang Yi), began what would be known as the rejuvenation of Taiwanese cinema: the New Wave Cinema.

In contrast to the melodrama or kung-fu action films of the earlier decades, New Wave films are known for their realistic, down-to-earth, and sympathetic portrayals of Taiwanese life. These films sought to portray genuine stories of people living either in urban or rural Taiwan, and are often compared stylistically to the films of the Italian neorealism movement. This emphasis on realism was further enhanced by innovative narrative techniques. For example, the conventional narrative structure which builds the drama to a climax was abandoned. Rather, the story progressed at the pace as it would in real life.

Due to its honest portrayal of life, New Wave films examined many of the important issues facing Taiwan society at this time, such as urbanization, the struggle against poverty, and conflicts with political authority. For instance, Hou Hsiao-Hsien's A City of Sadness portrays the tensions and the conflicts between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Chinese Nationalist government after the end of the Japanese occupation. Edward Yang's Taipei Story (1985) and A Confucian Confusion (1994) talk about the confusion of traditional values and modern materialism among young urbanites in the 1980s and 1990s. The New Wave Cinema films are, therefore, a fascinating chronicle of Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in modern times.

Second New Wave, 1990 – present

The New Wave gradually gave way to what could be informally called the Second New Wave, which are slightly less serious and more amenable to the populace, although just as committed to portraying the Taiwanese perspective.

For example, Tsai Ming-liang's Vive L'Amour, which won the Golden Lion at the 1994 Venice Film Festival, portrays the isolation, despair, and love of young adults living in the upscale apartments of Taipei. Stan Lai's The Peach Blossom Land (1992) is a tragi-comedy involving two groups of actors rehearsing different plays on the same stage; the masterful juxtaposition and the depth of the play's political and psychological meanings helped it win recognition at festivals in Tokyo and Berlin.

Ang Lee is perhaps the most well-known of the Second New Wave director. His early films Pushing Hands (1991), The Wedding Banquet (1993), and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) focus on the generational and cultural conflicts confronting so many modern families. His Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) revived the wuxia genre successfully. Although not in the tradition of New Wave or Second New Wave, it is a commercial success which placed Asian films firmly in the international domain.

Notable directors, actors and actresses

See also

External links

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