November 20, 2010, marked the unveiling of the 47th Golden Horse Awards ceremony. Ethan Ruan, once a runway model and now a popular icon in Taiwan movie and TV serial drama circles, walked off with the Best Leading Actor award while Lu Liping, an actress from China, earned the title of Best Leading Actress. This year a total of 133 films from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China and the Southeast Asian countries joined the competition including 42 local titles.
Looking at the films from Taiwan, “When Love Comes”, “Seven Days in Heaven” and “Monga” collected eight awards among them. Ethan Ruan was Best Leading Actor for “Monga”, the first Taiwanese actor to earn that title since 1999 when Ko Chun-hsiung was favored by the judges. Wu Peng-fon won Best Supporting Actor for "Seven Days in Heaven”, and When Love Comes was named Best Feature Film.
Audiences in Taiwan have confirmed the recognition of these local films. Monga was released during the 2010 Chinese New Year holiday and racked up a box office of NT$250 million, making it one of the best-selling local films in recent years. Seven Days in Heaven was introduced to audiences three months ago and is now still showing in some theaters in southern Taiwan, with a tally of NT$45 million to date. "When Love Comes” just entered the market in late October and has sold NT$6 million in tickets so far.
To be sure, an outstanding performance in the Golden Horse Awards helps to fuel attendance for movies. Although other local films in the running did not impress the judges as much as these films did, the number of local films released in this year and their box office are still firm evidence of a renaissance shaping up in Taiwan’s film industry.
The Golden Horse Awards have long been known as the most significant film festival in Mandarin-speaking countries. On top of that, they provide a snapshot of development in the film industry in Taiwan.
The title of Golden Horse is literally derived from the two offshore islands of Taiwan, Kinmen and Matsu, symbolizing the KMT-led government’s determination to fight against the Communist Party in China. Ironically, most of the Mandarin movies that have participated in the awards in the past decade have either been produced or funded by China’s film studios. Accordingly, actors and actresses from Hong Kong and China have collected the lion’s share of the awards.
Back in 1962 when the Awards were first organized in Taiwan, the local film industry was similarly experiencing a boom in sales. In 1963 “The Love Eterne”, widely dubbed the ‘Romeo and Juliet of the Far East’, established a record that stood in theaters for half a year. The popularity of the movie also helped it to earn wins for Best Actress, Best Film, Best Director and other three awards in the Second Golden Horse Awards.
Four years later the movie “Dragon Inn” drew more than NT$2 million from audiences, and Bruce Lee’s “The Way of the Dragon” garnered NT$9 million in box office in 1973. One might say the Chinese talents who moved to Taiwan with the KMT government contributed greatly to the early success of Taiwan’s film industry.
The success and prosperity of the film industry at that time encouraged the young generation in Taiwan to devote their efforts to the industry. The movie “He Never Gives Up”, based on a true story by a Taiwanese writer, carried off six awards at the 15th Golden Horse Awards in 1978 including Best Director and Best Actor. It was also the first Taiwanese film aired in China since the Communists took control of the mainland. These achievements boosted the popularity of the actor Chin Han as well as actress Joan Lin, who married Jackie Chan in 1982.
The golden age of Taiwan’s domestic films provided a patent vision for more youth to follow. “Growing Up”, directed by Chen Kun-ho and written by Hou Hsiao-hsien - who later also directed many award-winning films - landed three awards at the 20th Golden Horse Awards in 1983. Many film historians believe that the movie opened a new chapter for Taiwan’s film industry. Since then, many young talented directors, writers and performers have been honored in the Golden Horse Awards and other international film festivals, including Ang Lee for “The Wedding Banquet”, Wu Nien-Jen for “Ah Fei” and Hou Hsiao-hsien for "City of Saddness”. One interesting note is that the lead actor in “Growing Up”, Doze Niu, was the director of “Monga”. Most of the award-winning films during this period were also record-holders for movie attendance.
If you looked at the award lists for the Golden Horse Awards in the 1990s, however, many title-holders were actually celebrities from Hong Kong. For examples, Chow Yun Fat was Best Leading Actor for "An Autumn’s Tale” in 1987, and Wong Kar-Wai was Best Director for “Days of Being Wild” in 1991. This clearly shows how made-in-Hong Kong movies gradually expanded their market share and popularity in Taiwan. In recent decades, made-in-China films have nudged aside those from Hong Kong to acquire market share and grab the most Golden Horse Awards. In 1998, Lulu Li was named Beast Leading Actress for “Xiu Xiu”, and in 2001 Liu Ye took Best Leading Actor for “Lan Yu”, the youngest actor to win that title in the history of the Awards.
The average number of films released per year in Taiwan fell from 150 in the 1970s to 20 in the 1990s. Alarmed at the plight of the domestic film industry, the government came out with an incentive program in 1990 to provide subsidies to encourage filmmakers and directors to participate in international film festivals such as the Berlin Film Festival and Festival de Cannes. The program successfully helped Taiwan develop new talented directors - Chang Tso-chi and Tsai Ming-liang, for example - yet it turned out that some of them prefer shooting so-called ‘art’ films which are not widely recognized by the mass market but help them win the awards. This brought about an absurd situation in Taiwan’s film industry: the award-wining art films could draw the mass audience but were still subsided by the government. As a result, Taiwan experienced a serious recession in its film industry.
In 2008, the record hitter Cape No.7 seemed to rekindle the old time prosperity in the film industry by achieving NT$530 million box office, ranking it with Titanic as the two best-selling movies in Taiwan’s film history. At the 45th Golden Horse Awards, "Cape No. 7” won six awards including Best Supporting Actor, Best Original Film Score, and Best Original Film Song. Since then several local movies such as “Orzboyz”, "Island Etude”, "Hear Me” and “No Puedo Vivir Sin Ti” have made their way into the market. Though their box offices have not been as staggering as “Cape No. 7’s” was, their performances either in attendance or in the awards ceremonies have indicated hints of a revival in Taiwan’s film industry. Next year, two highly anticipated local films, "Seediq Bale” and “Black & White” will be coming. “Seediq Bale” is directed by Wei Te-sheng, also the director of the Cape No.7, and tells the stories of indigenous tribes in Taiwan under the rule of the Japanese colonial government. “Black & White” is based on the popular TV series, of the same name. Both of these movies stand a great chance of boosting the box office and impressing the judges in the Golden Horse Awards.