Local film industry struggles not with size, but decisiveness

The China Post news staff

In the British sci-fi comedy film “The World’s End,” we see a middle-aged man who refuses to face the compromises and complicity of adulthood, choosing to dwell in his years as a teenager when he was handsome and popular. His motto is that people should be free. When pressed about what he plans to do with that freedom, he quoted the lyrics from a Primal Scream song: “We want to be free, we want to get loaded, we want to have a good time.” In other words, he has no idea what he wants specifically except freedom. More precisely, he wants the freedom to not have to know what he should do. In many ways that’s where Taiwan is right now: dwelling over possibilities, brandishing its freedom and refusing to make hard choices. Take Taiwan’s movie industry as an example. While Taiwan hosts arguably the most important movie awards in the Chinese-speaking world, its film industry has long regarded itself as the underdog, trailing competitors in Hong Kong and mainland China. Local commentators generally highlight limited investment and a small market as the main reason behind the local film industry’s predicament. An analysis of the big winners at the 50th Golden Horse Awards, however, rebutted that theory and showed how Taiwan has found itself in disadvantageous positions in various forms of moviemaking. “Ilo Ilo,” the winner of the best feature film award, is a low-budget film from Singapore, a nation with one-quarter of Taiwan’s population. The Hong Kong film “The Grandmaster,” which won multiple awards including best leading actress, is a large production featuring high-caliber movie stars from Hong Kong, mainland China and Taiwan. The arthouse movie “Stray Dogs,” which garnered best director and best leading actor, is a Taiwanese production, but it will not be publicly released in Taiwan until August 2014. It is, however, now being screened as part of the Golden Horse film festival. Tsai Ming-liang, director of the film, said that Taiwanese audiences don’t appreciate his work. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal on Nov. 14, Tsai complained that while “the high degree of freedom in Taiwan has made it an extremely tolerant place for independent filmmakers … the size of sophisticated audiences has barely expanded because there are not enough places for people to watch these films.” In other words, Taiwan seems to be falling through the gaps among low-budget but well-constructed movies, big money productions and art movies it once excelled in making. Oscar-winning director Ang Lee recently pointed out that the Taiwanese movie industry’s ability to compete in the global market has been hampered by a lack of vision and its penchant for “one-man shows.” Describing Taiwanese movies to be narrow in scope, Lee said that scope does not necessarily mean “epics” but rather the dedication to the development of a theme.

“You just have to manage your subject in a way so that it can touch the audience deeply,” he was quoted as saying.

Describing Taiwanese talents in the artistic industry as “excellent in quality but lazy in thinking,” the director encouraged local professionals to “get tough” and urged the government and local businesses to offer support, especially in the technical fields in the digital era. The problems of Taiwan’s film industry reflect the challenges faced by Taiwan as a nation in both political and socioeconomic terms. Taiwan has no lack of difficulties but it also has no shortage of talent and opportunities. The key obstruction the nation faces now is one of determination. Taunted by challenges, dwelling in self-pity and unwilling to make hard choices, the Taiwanese government, businesses and even the public are failing to move forward by wanting to be everywhere at once.