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A SYMPOSIUM ON FILMS FROM TAIWAN


Coordinator:

 Yasuhiro Hariki
  Festival Director,Focus on Asia International Film Festival Fukuoka

 

Panelists:

 Chun-yi Hsieh 
  Film Director of “Apolitical Romance

 Chen-Ti Kuo
  Film Director of “The Boar King

 Po-Lin Chi
  Film Director of “Beyond Beauty-Taiwan from Above

 Chang Yann
  University Professor and Film Critic

 

 

Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki: My name is Yasuhiro Hariki, the Film Festival Director and the MC to this symposium. This year we are holding a Taiwan Film Festival and because we have such a prominent group of filmmakers, I thought it would be a pity just to show these films. So we decided to hold this symposium. We always show at least two films from Taiwan every year and these motion pictures have become quite popular here. As the “Treasured Masterpieces from the National Palace Museum, Taipei Special Exhibition” is also being held, we decided to also hold our Taiwan Film Festival (and this symposium). First, I would like to ask Professor Chang Yann about the recent trends in Taiwanese films.

 

Chang Yann: Taiwanese films, which have been introduced into Japan were more or less new wave films from the 1980s. From 2000, however, there was a rapid decline in the number of Taiwanese films introduced into Japan. In 2008, however, people began talking about the film “Cape No. 7” in Taiwan and in Japan at about the same time. It was from about this time that I think Taiwanese films in Japan made a comeback. Thereafter, the number of films produced, increased. I think you can say this about Japan, too, but people in Taiwan who weren’t seeing domestic films made in their country started doing so after 2008. People were concerned about where they were living and this led to better revenues generated at the box office.

Among films related to history and national territory, the film “Monga” released in Japan in 2010, generated box office revenue of over 100 million yen in the city of Taipei alone. Adding the south central region of the island, the film took in approximately 200 million yen in revenue.

Films are starting to be set in mainland Taiwan and this has led to an increase in newcomers to the industry among other phenomena. People can now enter the film industry from different paths of life. For example people in television drama have become film directors. People in the internet literary industry have made it into films. What’s becoming a fad now is for very popular short feature filmmakers to enter the industry. As with “Beyond Beauty-Taiwan from Above”, people are also entering the film industry from documentary films. A newcomer attracting attention this year is Jung-chi Chang, who moved from short films to direct his feature film “A Touch of the Light”.

There is much vitality and diversity coming out of recent films from Taiwan. Now this is a political matter but before, about 70% would think of themselves as Chinese as well as Taiwanese. So there were only 30% who thought of themselves purely as Taiwanese. But these days, the trend has reversed to where people, I think, are gradually becoming more patriotic towards the island of Taiwan.

A film made about 7 years ago about making a bomb out of rice is a very interesting motion picture, which is attracting attention now. You can say that this film was also created out of the confidence and patriotism of the people of Taiwan.

 

Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki: Thank you. I gather the film with the rice bomb hasn’t been shown in Japan yet. I think we get the picture that circumstances surrounding Taiwanese films are getting better. I think we should keep that in mind and move forward. Now accepting this fact, I’d like to ask our film directors present today how you came to complete your film. That is, what ideas, aims and targets you had for your film. If possible, please describe your involvement with present day Taiwan.

 

Film Director Chun-yi Hsieh:  “Apolitical Romance” is my very first feature film as well as my graduation production at New York University. At the time of shooting, there was a different script but we were able to get a grant from the Taiwan government with our love story version, so we decided to make this first. The film is produced with an independent touch.

Now let me tell you why we shot the film with this subject matter. At the same university, there was a student who came from Mainland China (she eventually became my producer). I’m from Taiwan, so we often had inconsistencies and issues of conflict in our conversation in such areas as politics and culture. We weren’t serious. We were just kidding and joking around with each other. You know, Taiwanese people like myself aren’t as serious minded about Mainland China as the old folks used to be. So we wanted to depict how young people of our generation see the relationship between the two sides. Originally I wanted to depict something real. In the end, we ended up overlapping this realism with a love story. And it just happened that the ban was lifted on travel from Mainland China to Taiwan. So with all of this in the background, we started putting our film together. Our story is one where a woman who visits Taiwan from Mainland China meets a Taiwanese man. In the beginning the two have their own objective points of view but they come to understand one another as they get to know each other. And this was the exact point I was after.

This film was produced for audiences in Taiwan. Yet we’ve had opportunities to take the film to foreign film festivals where people who saw the motion picture said it was a really good picture and that they liked it a lot. This really surprised me. There is a language barrier between Mainland China and Taiwan, so I didn’t know how foreigners were going to catch and understand this difference. It just happened that even those who didn’t understand the difference in the relationship between the two sides were laughing at the film and said it was a really good picture. This made me feel good.

I’m a new film director. I feel that our new films are something completely different from the “new cinema” of yesterday. Ever since “Cape No.7”, the Taiwanese film industry is gradually materializing into a commercial base industry. Yet I think young film directors have an issue to deal with, that being how to direct their films by balancing what they realistically want to express with commercially oriented film content. We’d like to keep making our films by taking a hard look at whether a combination of artistic and commercial content will pay for itself or not.

Right now, the film market in Mainland China has really become huge. In the end, if you want your film production to be a commercial base product, you can’t ignore this Chinese market.  I, myself, wondered whether or not I could secure investments from China as part of my production funding for my film. If I could, I thought I could release the film in China as well as in Taiwan. However, what I chose as my theme was a very delicate, political issue, making it extremely difficult for my script to pass the film censors in Mainland China. After all, my film comes with a bit of black comedy. And this is not welcome in as far as Mainland China is concerned. So releasing my film there is very difficult.

As a Taiwanese film director, I find the recent trend of larger film audiences in Taiwan to be extremely good news. To begin with, the local culture is accepted in Taiwan. So as the next step, I’d like to try to get my film released outside of Taiwan. In short, I’d like to try for the Mainland China market as well as film markets in other foreign countries. What I’d like to do now is continue by thinking about art as well as box office revenue.


 

Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki: Thank you very much. Very interesting, indeed, but I’m a bit concerned, though, whether we’ll have enough time for everything. Now let’s turn to Ms. Chen Ti Kuo.

 

Film Director Chen-Ti Kuo: Actually, “The Boar King” in its script phase was surprisingly a commercial comedy. But in the course of rewriting the script and as we continued our field work in the village, we began thinking that perhaps white collar workers in the city didn’t really understand the circumstances surrounding this mountain and life in the mountain village, that perhaps people in government weren’t understanding the real situation either and that perhaps there was quite a big gap between the two sides. And so the film became more realistic in this way as the script was rewritten over and over again, over a period of two years. And for this reason, getting funding for this film was really difficult. At that time, I met with a producer. He was also a documentary film director who had a good understanding that our script told a story of what really happened. And so he started to get funding for this film from mountain climbers and people in the field of science and technology. These people were individuals who had a very keen interest in environmental issues and the future of Taiwan. With all this happening, it took about half a year before we were ready to shoot. In Taiwan, a non-commercial film has limitations, and there’s no way around this. So it’s best to have many investors. We found about 20. With investors, each will have his or her own idea on what he or she wants out of the film, so with so many investors, we heard plenty of what each wanted. In the end, though, it was decided that all decisions would be made after discussing the subject matter. It so happens that I didn’t compromise just to complete a commercial film. The film couldn’t recoup what money was put into it but I’m really grateful to my investors. Two of my investors are participating in this festival.

I came to two realizations during the production of my film. As far as the future of Taiwanese films are concerned, I feel that those who are headed towards a more commercial direction will take an increasingly commercial approach and those who are headed towards a more artistic direction will take an increasingly artistic approach to their filmmaking. Whatever this polarization is, you should have a firm grip on where you want to make your stand.

In Taiwan, I think a film director who has a low end budget is going to face difficulties. In Mainland China, there’s a lot of funding going around and there’s a significant amount of films being produced. Lately, Taiwanese filmmakers are co-producing films at the request of producers from Mainland China. The problem is, that in these cases the fee is paid in Chinese Yuan. There’s a big difference here, when you compare this to the Taiwan Dollar. In Taiwan, there’s a difference between an experienced filmmaker and some newcomer who isn’t that experienced. And so you get filmmakers who aren’t that experienced making the low cost films in Taiwan.

Sometimes it’s good to make a film in Taiwan with a low budget. Even if the technical level is a bit immature, you get the chance to work with young people. And this is how I felt in the process of producing my film.

But independent filmmakers in Taiwan have a lot of passion. When making “The Boar King”, they really came to like the film and had this strong desire to have audiences in Taiwan see this motion picture. So, although there were many sections and departments of specialization in the production process, everyone came together and cooperated with each other. For example, there was a scene where a candle is lit. So the Art Section lit about 200 candles. Unfortunately, the rain came down and put out most of the candles. If we had let the candles burn, we wouldn’t have had enough candles later on. So we made a cut and then extinguished the candles. So the people in the recording, cinematography and costume and design sections helped out. This is what I call  the spirit of cooperation.

The head of the Cultural Bureau of the government said our film looked as if three times as much money was put into the motion picture. I guess I had everyone work three times as much on this film. What I want to say is that this film was completed with the passion of my entire staff. Thank you.

 

Festival Director Hariki: About inviting your film “The Boar King” to our festival. Our festival ends up thinking whether a film we select is going to draw an audience or not. I really would like to select our films without thinking about this, but I can’t. This is a problem we face all the time. I’m sorry for saying this but I had this premonition that maybe not much of an audience would be drawn to this film. But I guess all of your aspirations got through to me. I just ended up selecting the film. If this sort of thing (aspiration) doesn’t get through to people, I think films will lose their attraction. For us on the side of selecting the films, we sometimes feel at the time of selection that maybe we’re going to face some problems with a particular film. So you see, our film festival also shoulders the same kind of anxiety. So what you said moved me, which made me think that I guess such anxiety always exists at the scene of creating something.

We now would like to turn to Mr. Po-Lin Chi.

 

Film Director Po-Lin Chi: My name is Po-Lin Chi, the film director of “Beyond Beauty-Taiwan from Above”. Actually, I wasn’t a film director from the start but a cinematographer who shot aerial footage from the sky. For 20 years or so, I’ve taken footage of Taiwan’s environmental problems from the sky. I’ve taken many pictures out of a wish to address a consciousness over our environmental issues. I often lecture at schools but I find half the students asleep. This really gets me depressed. Now when I think about why this happens, there’s a point of myself not being a good speaker, but more than that I feel young people these days aren’t interested in environmental problems. Now whenever I see these students, I keep getting depressed and discouraged. So then I thought, why not make a motion picture for them to see?

In making this kind of documentary, there was a real big problem. It was naturally the issue of funding. During the filming, we spent the equivalent of about 300 million yen. And worrying about where to get this money, I thought about using my house as collateral. That’s because I wanted people to believe I was really serious about making this film. It was at this time that I met film director Hou Hsiao-Hsien. After hearing about the film and my passion for making it, the film director, in a chivalrous spirit, decided to join the project as the executive producer. I knew that even if I made this film, it would be difficult to expect a large audience. But for me I had this mission to complete the motion picture. I wanted to make an accurate film as a historical record of what’s really happening to Taiwan’s geography. Many film directors helped me out on this project, not to forget the assistance I received from various businesses.

To produce this film, entrepreneurs and people in various Funds invested in us without caring whatsoever about recouping their investments. Before the film was shown, we estimated the motion picture would take in about 8 million Taiwan dollars in box office receipts. But since we started showing the film, we’ve generated about 200 million Taiwan dollars. This was totally unforeseen. The fact that the film is participating in this festival is already a big surprise to us. We really didn’t think this many people would go and see our film.

In Taiwan, many film directors have been making a wide range of documentaries based on numerous trains of thought. And these documentaries have been made in an environment where even if they were completed, they would only draw very small audiences at best. And even if a film director, after years and years of struggling, managed to complete a documentary, which gets shown, it would only play for a very short time after which it would end up in storage. However, the success of this documentary, has brought new hope to the documentary film industry in Taiwan. It’s convinced us that we have to continue making these motion pictures. I think this documentary serves as a very important piece of recorded history.

This film shows the extremely beautiful landscape of Taiwan as well as the natural features of our nation, which have been damaged. The film was shown three times in Osaka and every show was sold out. Truthfully, I thought only Chinese merchants from Taiwan would come to see the film, but when I went to the theater, I noticed that the audience was nearly all Japanese.

What I felt through this act of international exchange was that the people of Taiwan and Japan have a favorable disposition towards one another. I think it’s apparent by seeing this film, that there is no language barrier. Although the film is narrated, I feel that what the film director wants to address comes across more than enough through the music. The film should be seen by Japanese people as well.

The film will be released in Japan in mid-December. In the Taiwan version, the film is narrated by Nien-Jen Wu, an extremely well known film director. The Japanese version is narrated by Hidetoshi Nishijima, a famous actor.

I didn’t know that much about Mr. Nishijima. I heard that he really wanted to do the narration for my film. But at the time, I only thought Mr. Nishijima had a social standing equal to film director Nien-Jen Wu. But a friend from Taiwan corrected me. She said “There’s no comparison. After all Nien-Jen Wu is an old man while Mr. Nishijima is a star!” Last week, I received Mr. Nishijima’s narration. Listening to his voice, I could imagine the high pitched voices of admiration from his young female fans. I think this film is a very special motion picture. I think that wherever it is shown, the message of environmental protection will be addressed loud and clear through this film. When this film is released in Japan, please give us your support.

 

Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki: What an impassioned speech. I guess the conclusion we all reach is that we just have to go and see this film. But when we think of films from Taiwan, I think the problem lies in something much more fundamental. I think that if you want to talk about motion pictures, you have to talk about your way of life. I think it’s a mistake to just leave this out and only talk about economics or about society. Actually, on the opening night of the film festival, I gave a speech where I talked about Taiwanese film director Tsai Ming-Liang telling me that “lately, people aren’t watching”. The film director is presently showing motion pictures not at a movie theater but at an art gallery museum. From here on is what I think…My interpretation. I think people watch other people. People watch over a baby as the child grows up. When these children get bigger, they mature by having teachers or adults watch over them. That’s supposed to be the fundamental basics of human rapport but we’re seeing less and less of it. We’re becoming more and more of a society where people don’t watch other people. The same can be said about motion pictures. The act of watching a motion picture is being lost. I think that’s by and large the problem with today’s society. That’s why people don’t watch motion pictures. They just come to the movie theater to pass the time away. If we don’t pay close attention to the fact that the act of watching is being forgotten more and more in our society, we’re probably going to see people just talk about a film being either this or that, and frankly, that’s not enough. In other words, I think humans live their lives in a way where they want someone to watch over them on their deathbed. And unless we place our relationships with others as the fundamental basis of mankind, I’m afraid we, humans, won’t be able to shape our own society. So we have to learn how to watch and motion pictures are one of the important tools we have to accomplish this. I think our present state of being where motion pictures are used just to pass the time away or used merely as a form of consumption, is wrong. And yet, from the point of view of how our economy works, I guess this is unavoidable. But those who put their devotion into watching just end up being weeded out. Being deprived of even the opportunity to watch…This I believe is our present situation…

I think our present state of being, where the film festival becomes the only place to see these types of films, is wrong. Young people tend to think that motion pictures consist only of what’s being distributed now but we have to come out and say that’s not the case. We also have to think about what it takes to make our films presentable. If we don’t, even human relationships will see an end. I think it’s starting to, anyway. Honestly, I feel it’s too late. Yet I still think we need as many meeting grounds as possible where we can talk about what we could do. In other words, this means we no longer have these meeting grounds for discussion. These are the decadent symptoms we face. In that case, what can we discuss about motion pictures? If we don’t train ourselves to watch, we’ll probably end up losing our ability to look at society with a discerning eye. I think it’s meaningless to just talk about motion pictures without thinking about these matters. Like “market” is just a word. Maybe I sound so carefree because I’m not a man from the industry but I just can’t stop feeling that the fundamental basics are disappearing from motion pictures. But even film festivals on one end have to think about attracting people, about how to draw an audience. And it’s a dilemma because that way, you can only show motion pictures people are drawn to. As for me, I think a film festival will lose its meaning unless it continues to play a diversified range of films, which demands that the audience seriously watch the films. Now considering all of what’s been said, I’d like to take up questions at this time.

 

Q:  I have a question for Mr. Po-Lin Chi. I did see your film. I was moved by the scenes of environmental destruction, which were beautifully taken. The scenes showing the collapse of the mountains, shocked me. I personally think that people came to see your film because it had the power to say something. Now you said that an unexpectedly large number of people in Taiwan came to see your film but how do you explain this?

 

Film Director Po-Lin Chi: Thank you for your question. As I said before, when I entered my lecture meetings, I felt everyone’s reaction to environmental issues to be extremely indifferent. And this holds true anywhere in the world but when you get an indifferent reaction even towards a subject that you’re actually studying about in school, that’s reality for you. So, probably even the distributor didn’t expect any high revenue from the film and didn’t expect many to come see the film.

And, at the time of the film’s release, we hardly had any money to publicize the motion picture. So we invited the mass media to see our film. They saw our film and were moved. The fact that I quit my civil service job to make this film got out through word of mouth and the mass media began publicizing this motion picture. They all came to have an interest in our national territorial geography and realized that this is the state of our environment. Thereafter, word of mouth publicity for our film greatly increased. Even our home page got about 2 million hits and served as a good tool of advertisement.

This motion picture does not present the most beautiful landscape footage of Taiwan. It would be nice if people could foster a sense of love and preservation for their national geography through this film.

As the festival director just said, I would like to see people take the time to come to the movie theater to watch motion pictures. And people shouldn’t come just to see entertainment films. We should show other types of films. And I think there should be the type of motion picture that gives us knowledge and allows us to expand the way we think about the world, just by watching the film. I feel really fortunate to be a film director from Taiwan making these types of films. I also feel fortunate that I was able to compile this film into a story for all of you to watch.

 

Q: How do you feel about the state of Japanese films?

 

Film Director Chen-Ti Kuo: There a film called “The Great Passage” directed by Yuya Ishii. I read the book first and then saw the film. I imagined all sorts of sections (of the book) which in my opinion would make the film a commercial success but these scenes weren’t included in the motion picture. But this film has taken a lot of awards from all over the place. So I’m sort of envious of Japanese film producers for being able to produce this kind of film that wins awards.

 

Film Director Chun-Yi Hsieh: I’ve always loved Japanese films. I watch about 20 or 30 of them a year. Recently I saw “The Kirishima Thing” directed by Daiichi Yoshida. I find that Japanese films depict their content with extreme detail, and that’s wonderful. I’d like to learn this type of filmmaking from Japanese films. As far as my future, I’d like to make a collaborative film. It could be with Japanese actors or actresses or even a Japanese producer.

 

Film Director Po-Lin Chi: You know, I was deeply impressed with Hayao Miyazaki’s film which I saw with my son. The film I’d like to see now is “The Eternal Zero”.

 

Chang Yang: You know, I really love Japanese films. I came to Japan to study films so I’ve seen a considerable number of them. Perhaps it’s because of my age, but I tend to like the older films. This year I saw “Tokyo Family” directed by Yoji Yamada. Just 2 weeks ago, I saw “Homeland”, directed by Nao Kubota, a newcomer, a film that received the support and cooperation of Hirokazu Koreeda in such areas as planning.

I’ve also seen 20 episodes of the “Late Night Restaurant” series. I teach Japanese Film at the Department of Japanese Language, so I’ve seen most films by such film directors as Mikio Naruse and Yasujiro Ozu

 

Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki: I feel it’s very unfortunate that young people in Japan aren’t seeing the really good Japanese films of the past. I feel it’s not right that the young are being raised without knowing the good side of their national culture. Unfortunately, there aren’t many adults who can show this to the young. I say that adults shoulder a big responsibility. I think education should start at this level. I’m sorry if I sound rather strict and gloomy.

 

Q: Excluding those that play at our film festival in Fukuoka, I think Japanese films today aren’t up to par. I would like for one to see those of the younger generation go see an old film at our library. And I’d like to ask our film directors from Taiwan a favor. Please don’t assess recent Japanese films until after you’ve seen our old films of the past.

Now, Japanese actors and actresses seem to be in a world where anything goes. They don’t just act but also sing and do voice overs. What I would like to know is whether this multi-talent tendency also exists in Taiwan. Also, CG (computer graphics) seem to be the in thing right now but I’d like to believe that the beautiful landscape of Taiwan was shot completely on location.

 

Chang Yang: It’s the same in Taiwan. They sing, and some also model for a living. Like in Japan film companies in Taiwan have actors and actresses follow such a occupational direction once they become “sellable commodities”. As far as the old films are concerned, many students seem to lose their interest and reject motion pictures if they are shown in black and white. Maybe the era we live in now has something to do with that.

 

Festival Director Yasuhiro Hariki: We seem to be short on time so unfortunately, I’m going to have to end our session here. Please give a warm hand of applause to all our guests. Thank you.

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