Taiwan ROC Film Industry Report

By Turner, George | American Cinematographer, February 1989 | Go to article overview

Taiwan ROC Film Industry Report


Turner, George, American Cinematographer


A look at Taiwan Republic of China today suggests that Kipling may not have been entirely right. The blending of East and West in this land of grace and mystery in the far Western Pacific has produced one of the liveliest, most progressive, most enticing countries in the world today. These qualities, doubtlessly, are more forcefully evident to the filmmaker than to the casual visitor. In fact, the entire island is suggestive of a gigantic movie lot with convenient sets and locations suitable for a thousand productions.

There has, in fact, been considerable motion picture activity in Taiwan since 1945. Two large studios have weathered the ups and downs of the film industry and currently a strong effort is being made to widen the scope and influence of the film industry of the island republic.

Taiwan ROC is the subtropical island formerly called Formosa, an area of 13,900 square miles at the crossroads of Northeast and Southeast Asia. Its 19,454,610 inhabitants originated on the Chinese mainland except for some 325,000 aborigines who live mainly on the east coast. The national language is Mandarin Chinese, but English and Japanese are spoken widely and most signs are bi-or-trilingual. Humidity is high, summers are warm to hot, winters are mild, and the scenery is magnificent. The colors of the jungles, gardens and heavily forested mountains are sufficiently intense as to make the hues of the most blatant Technicolor musical of the Forties appear, by comparison, subdued.

The expressway which runs the length of the island seems a replica of the California freeways - wide and beautifully engineered, with big green signs in Chinese and English. The great city of Taipei, a special'municipality operated directly by the Executive Yuan (cabinet) of free China, is the center of the country's political, economic and cultural activities. The city is densely populated, with streets as burdened with traffic as those of Los Angeles. The locally made Sunnys and Taiwan Fords join autos from Japan, Europe and America to create truly heroic traffic jams. Blocks of the typical flatfronted Chinese type buildings with outthrust plastic signs alternate with stretches of towering office structures resembling those of major American cities. Shrines to Buddha and Christian churches each rendered in their purest traditional architecture - co-exist harmoniously. There are magnificent parks and memorial buildings dedicated to past heroes of the Republic, such as Sun Yat Sen and President Chiang Kai-Shek. Landscaping is a high form of art in Taipei.

By way of contrast, one small area of this progressive/traditional, Buddhist/Christian, East/West city has been kept deliberately as a reminder of old dead days. Left alone by law enforcement and allowed to flourish wide open within its prescribed confines, the quarter called "the place where they kill snakes" makes those old melodramas about Fu Manchu and Madam Goddam seem less fantastic than we thought. The damned place makes you want to run away, yet draws you in like a magnet with its weird combination of the tempting and the horrid. No one can adequately describe a place whose narrow alleyways are so packed with human beings, so filled with exotic aromas - awful smells, sweet smells, spicy smells, heady ones. Merchandise from all over the world is sold at bargain prices at the stores and street tables. "Controlled substances" are openly available. The cafes are excellent - but the customer must select his entree while it still lives, whether it be fish, fowl, crustacean, turtle or reptile. Long elapine snakes - deadly relatives of the cobras and kraits - are bled, milked and killed publicly while customers bid eagerly for the right to drink the fresh blood. The venom, reputed as an aphrodisiac, is made into expensive cocktails on the premises. Filets and a pungent stew are also served. Scores of beautiful young women are offered at auction on another street. Here the cheapness of life seems to be the theme of living. …

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