51st Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival

Taiwan, November 6 - November 27 2014

The jury

Russell Edwards (Australia), Nirmal Dhar (India), Chang Hsiao-hung (Taiwan)

Awarded films

If there is a problem with Chinese language cinema, it would be that there is just so much of it! The volume is immense, and most Westerners are unaware of how to negotiate the distribution and production pathways, and so depend (too much) on certain gatekeepers to avoid taking the full journey themselves. Now of course, unless you’ve been living under a rock, Chinese cinema has not exactly been inaccessible. From Bruce Lee in the 1970s to present day genre-master Johnnie To, Hong Kong’s genre cinema is world-famous. Likewise, the work of Zhang Yimou, Chen Kaige, Hou Hsiao-hsien, Tsai Ming-liang and Jia Zhang-ke are well known staples of any of the world’s major film festivals. But these names are just the tip of the dragon’s tail.

If you wanted to go deeper into the labyrinth of Chinese language cinema, then Taipei’s Golden Horse Film Festival is probably an ideal place to commence your expedition. The festival shows to the Taiwanese public a range of international films (Winter Sleep, Boyhood et al) that have blessed Cannes, Venice, Busan etc, but it is Chinese language cinema that has been the Golden Horse’s raison d’etre for the past 50 years, linked as the festival is to the Golden Horse Awards which can be described as the Chinese language equivalent to the American Academy Awards.

As any cine-sinophile knows, there is more than one Chinese cinema. Before sub-dividing by language, there is at the basic level, the subdivision by Hong Kong, Taiwan and Mainland China. Originally, 51 years ago, the Golden Horse Awards were devised as a way to celebrate Chiang Kai-shek’s birthday, and to support Taiwanese cinema. Quickly however Hong Kong movies (in the early 1960s a predominantly Mandarin-speaking cinema) began to dominate the Golden Horse. Taiwanese cinema rose to the fore in the 1980s and still endures with art house cinema that plays at many Asian film festivals but films of a more commercial mindset such as the pan-Asian hit Wei Te-Sheng’s Cape No 7, (Taiwan’s biggest box office hit that played also well in Hong Kong and Singapore). But in 1996, the Golden Horse decided to admit Mainland films and that has been a game changer. With domestic Hong Kong cinema in decline and co-productions with China being de rigeur in the former territory, China is a major presence at these Taiwan-based Awards. So not only are the Golden Horse Awards/Festival a sampling of the diversity of genres present in Chinese language cinema, there is the influence of geopoliitcs as well.

As reported by Patrick Frater in Variety in October, there were rumblings that China had threatened to have Mainland media boycott the event when it is philosophically opposed to certain films, like this year’s entry KANO, which depicts a baseball team comprising of Taiwanese (natives and Han Chinese) and Japanese players in the colonial era. Unlike, most other Asian countries, Taiwan has a much more positive, even romanticised, memory of Japanese occupation, and this and the fact that KANO received 5 nominations, allegedly troubles China.

Such tactics will be familiar to anyone who covered Chinese films at Hong Kong’s Film Festival in the pre-handover 1990s (or even the appearance – and sometimes disappearance of Eastern Bloc films at Berlinale before the Wall came down). But underneath the politics is a vibrant film community that is cross-pollinated with co-productions that competes with, as well as has an affection for the independent features made by film-makers of all three regions which may be the source of the co-productions of tomorrow. The awards, despite any disagreements had at the diplomatic and bureaucratic level are highly esteemed in all Chinese language territories. While each region holds its own awards, there’s no doubt that the Golden Horse is the region’s most important film event for Chinese language film. And as the world turns, it gradually may become the most important film event for the rest of the world as well. (Russell Edwards)

Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival: www.goldenhorse.org.tw/ui/index.php?lang=en