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Asian American International Film Festival

New York: 2010 Asian American International Film Festival: New Films from Taiwan
Virtually all Southeast Asian film making countries were represented at the 33rd edition of the festival organized by the non-profit New York based Asian CineVision. Held from July 15-24 in four central Manhattan locations the selections focused on independent films and ranged from a presentation of a collection of short films by emerging film directors from Malaysia to a special program on the New Taiwanese Cinema.
Compared to other Asian countries Taiwan has in spite of the critical acclaim of its films a comparatively small film industry producing 25 films in 2009 and four China-Taiwan co-productions with a domestic market share of about 2%. This compares to 71 Korean films released in the same year which had a domestic box office share of 51%... Prospects for an expansion of the Taiwanese commercial film industry are nonetheless excellent. Films from Taiwan are among the more popular foreign language films in the US. Led by CROUCHING TIGER. HIDDEN DRAGON the top six US grossing Taiwanese films have generated more than $180 million since 1982, but also ranked high on the IMB best feature scale, thus new Taiwanese films benefit from the established Made in Taiwan brand. Further as distinct from other Asian countries there is strong government support for film productions covering in many cases up to half of the film’s budget. More importantly, under the recently concluded trade agreement between China and Taiwan, Taiwanese productions are no longer considered as foreign, thus not limited by the annual quota of 50 foreign films allowed entry by the Chinese authorities. They can enter the huge China market without restrictions.
Reflecting the growing importance of official involvement the New Taiwanese Cinema program at the Asian American Film Fest was organized in collaboration with the Taipei economic and cultural office in New York (TECO) and included four feature films and two short programs, Eye on Taiwan with four shorts and Taipei 24H with films from eight leading Taiwanese film makers portraying the capital Taipei over 24 hours.. According to the curator of the Taiwan Cinema program, Martha Tien, several of these features were well received on the international film circuit but their first or second time directors are new comers to the United States. It is unlikely that their films will enter main line distribution in the United States. They will probably be accessed by the Chinese/Taiwanese captive diaspora audience n New York through pirated copies and illegal online streaming sites. Eventual use by Chinese language cable or satellite TV channels is also a possibility. Distribution of independent Taiwanese films featured by the Asian American film fest is unlikely since they do not have the marquee value of directors like Hou Hsiao-Hsien or Tasi Ming-Liang. In Asian markets distribution will be easier. With respect to trends and audience preferences Tien observes that global sensibility is a significant trend in her 2010 selection of Taiwanese films and that the Taiwanese audience shows “a preference for light-hearted romance and comedies”. Similar to US independent film makers, the independent Taiwanese productions have problems finding their audience and getting funded.
Among the shorts in the Taipei 24H short series Hisan-tse Cheng’s SAVE THE LOVER on a rookie gangster spying on his boss’s girlfriend and kept hostage by her is appealing as is Je-yi An’s OWL SERVICE on the interaction between a runaway bus driver’s daughter and her father on the last late night bus ride. The Eye on Taiwan group featured more involved and issue oriented shorts focusing on conflictual family relations as in Wei Chen Chang’s HAPPY ENDING, a welfare worker’s isolation who nonetheless bonds with her charge, an old woman in SLEEPING WITH HER by Chih Yi Wen, and the unmasking of the pretense of ‘normal’ life by Hung-Ju Chang in LETTING OFF.
All of the features demonstrated a sensibility to which the audience can readily attune, a depiction of interior landscapes, psychological issues, family, and mini context bound problems. As distinct from the films shown at the Japan Cuts film festival reviewed here several weeks ago, one does not get in these films a sense of the problems contemporary Taiwanese society is facing viewing these films yet gains a good understanding of everyday life in Taipei... Wim Wender exec-produced the Taiwanese-American Director Arvin Chen’s romantic comedy AU REVOIR TAPEI which outscored 11 other Asian films and garnered at the Berlin International Film Festival, the berlinale, the 2010 NETPAC award. The film is a fast moving portrait of a heartbroken young man trying to join his girlfriend in Paris and the absurd adventures he has raising the necessary money and getting attached to a book seller. Taipei in all its manifestation, from parks, train stations, police stations, gangs, and shops provides a never ending stage for the nocturnal; adventures of our characters. MISS KICKI, a Taiwan-Swedish co-production by Hakon Liu shares the same back grounding of Taipei and has already been awarded several prices including special mention at the 2009 Pusan fest, the Rainer Marias Fassbinder awards for best actress to Permilla Agust, and the Telia Film Award at the Stockholm International Film Festival. Te awards singled out a superb script, cinematography, acting performance, and the intricate demonstration of family conflicts between a Swedish mother and son. Contradictions and their resolve is played out in a trip they take to Taiwan where the mother wants to meet her internet friend, a wealthy business man with whom she developed an on-line relation and where her son is eventually held for ransom by the local mafia. In YANG YANG, the second feature by writer director Cheng Yu-chieh, a most attractive young student athlete raised by her divorced mother copes with her mixed parentage and the French photographer father she never met. Once she levels with her past, confusion and alienation are generated and she leaves her family and sports scene. In her subsequent role as an actress she comes to terms with herself. She plays in a French movie she plays a Eurasian women looking for her father. And we have a memorable sequence of Yang Yang recognizing herself in one of her father’s photographs. Yang Yang is beautifully filmed in clean and uncluttered settings with the lead delivering a marvelous performance. Of the four features selected ZOOM HUNTING by Cho-Li feels least like an independent picture and more like a fast moving commercial thriller film with scripting problems. Taipei provides the background again for the story of two sisters, a fashion photographer Yang Ru-yi and a crime writer Yang Ru-xing living in an upscale neighborhood. Ru-yi accidentally takers pictures of a couple having an affair making love in an opposite building and becoming obsessed with this affair she starts stalking the couple. Her sister finds the pictures and uses them to overcome her writer’s block and also investigates the illicit lovers. Promising at first this REAR VIEW and BLOW UP inspired film gets mired in the second part when the director indulges in the sisters’ verbal exchanges and cross cutting of images thus helping to move the film along. ZOOM HUNTING shows technical refinement yet has story telling problems.
Overall the Taiwanese productions at the American Asian Film Festival provide an excellent insight into current Independent film making in that country which is certainly promising to say the least.

Claus Mueller
New York Correspondent

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