Cinema of Taiwan

The cinema of Taiwan is deeply rooted in the island's unique history. Since its introduction to Taiwan in 1901 under Japanese rule, cinema has developed in Taiwan under ROC rule through several distinct stages. It has also developed outside the Hong Kong mainstream and the censorship of the People's Republic of China in the mainland.

Cinema of Taiwan
Mingshen Theater
No. of screens784 (2017)[1]
Gross box office (2017)[2]
Total$10.6 billion
National films$729 million (6.90%)


Taiwanese directors

In recent years, Taiwan's film industry has received recognition due to a number of internationally respected filmmakers, such as Hou Hsiao-hsien, Edward Yang, and the Malaysian-Chinese Tsai Ming-liang.

Important Taiwanese directors from the 1990s include Chen Kuo-fu, Tsui Siu Ming, and independent producer Huang Ming-chuan Lai.

Influence of the government

From the late Japanese colonial period to martial law in Taiwan, the development of Taiwanese film was dominated by the official camp studio development. The film produced during that stage was mainly news footage taken by the government-run studio (Taiwan film companies, the Central Motion Picture Corporation, China Film Studio) and political propaganda. Even today, the Taiwanese government maintains a "Film Fund" to financially support the film industry of the country. The fund is somewhat controversial yet is still well supported.

The Government Information Office is in charge of the film grant. Grants are divided into two groups of $5 million and $800 million. The production cost works out to be around a minimum of $120 million across 15 films. The application contains certain specifications to allow the correct amount of money to be allocated to a given film's production, for example the purpose of the $5 million grant is to encourage new directors directing a feature film for the first time.


In recent years, documentary films from Taiwan have also become more popular. The development of Taiwanese documentaries began after lifting of martial law in 1987 and the rise in popularity of small electronic camcorders, as well as the support and promotion provided by the Taiwan Council for Cultural Affairs. Documentaries also receive support from other government agencies and private corporations. A variety of film festivals and awards have been established to encourage the production of documentaries.

Taiwanese documentaries often deal with themes related to the filmmaker or their family, and explore serious social or political issues. These documentaries have started to gain international attention gradually, and many have gone on to win awards at international film festivals.

Early cinema, 1900–1945

The first film was introduced into Taiwan by Toyojirō Takamatsu (高松豊次郎; see 高松豐次郎) in 1901. Taiwanese cinema was the first, and from 1900 to 1937, one of the most important of Japan's colonial film markets during the era of Japanese rule. In 1905, Takamatsu raised 10,000 Japanese yen in donations to the Japanese military from the proceeds of films screened in Taiwan about the Russo-Japanese War. By 1910, the Taiwan Colonial Government coordinated the efforts of independent filmmakers such as Takamatsu and others to establish a more organized approach to the production of film in the colony of Taiwan. Films played a vital role in enabling the larger colonial project of imperialization or cultural assimilation of Taiwanese subjects into the Japanese empire. Takamatsu noted that early films were produced mostly for Japanese audiences rather than for local Taiwanese. Hence, early films tended to be educational in nature, lauding Japan's modernizing presence on the island. Other films catered to Japanese audiences exotic desires for Taiwan as a place of adventure and danger such as Conquering Taiwan's Native Rebels (1910) and Heroes of the Taiwan Extermination Squad (1910).[3]

Many conventions in Japanese films were adopted by the Taiwanese filmmakers. For example, the use of a benshi (narrator of silent films), which was a very important component of the film-going experience in Japan, was adopted and renamed piān-sū[4] by the Taiwanese. This narrator was very different from its equivalent in the Western world. It rapidly evolved into a star system but one based on the Japanese system. In fact, people would go to see the very same film narrated by different benshi, to hear the other benshi's interpretation. A romance could become a comedy or a drama, depending on the narrator's style and skills. Lu, a famous actor and benshi in Taiwan wrote the best reference book on Taiwanese cinema. The first Taiwanese benshi master was a musician and composer named Wang Yung-feng, who had played on a regular basis for the orchestra at the Fang Nai Ting Theatre in Taipei. He was also the composer of the music for the Chinese film Tao hua qi xue ji (China, Peach girl, 1921) in Shanghai. Other famous Taiwanese benshi masters were Lu Su-Shang and Zhan Tian-Ma. Lu Su-shang, is not primarily remembered for his benshi performances, but mainly for writing the inestimable history of cinema and drama in Taiwan. The most famous benshi of all was possibly Zhan Tian-ma, whose story is told in a recent Taiwanese biographical film, March of Happiness (Taiwan, 1999, dir: Lin Sheng-shing).[5] Benshi masters frequently were intellectuals: many spoke Japanese, often traveled to Japan and/or China, and some were poets who wrote their own librettos for each film. From 1910, films started to be distributed with a script, but the benshi often preferred to continue with their own interpretations. Notable films during this period include Song of Sadness (哀愁の歌, 1919), The Eyes of Buddha (仏陀の瞳, 1922), and Whose Mistake? (誰の過失, 1925).[6]

Unlike Japanese-occupied Manchuria, Taiwan never became an important production market for Japan but rather was a vital exhibition market. Japanese-produced newsreels, shorts, educational, and feature films were widely circulated throughout Taiwan from the mid-1920s through 1945 and even after decolonization. As in Japan's other colonial film markets, the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 marked the beginning of an era of enhanced mobilization for the Japanese war effort throughout Asia and Taiwan's film markets were purged of American and Chinese films as a result. The Japanese strove to transform the locals into Japanese citizens, giving them Japanese names, a Japanese education, encouraging them to wear Japanese clothes and the men to cut their long hair. Films such as Japanese Police Supervise a Taiwanese Village (1935) illustrated how "proper" imperial subjects should dress and act as well as promoting their superior farming skills thanks to the Japanese overlords.[7] Taiwanese directors would vividly revisit the legacy of this process of cultural annexation in such films as Hou Hsiao-hsien's City of Sadness (1989) and The Puppetmaster (1993), as well as Wu Nien-jen's A Borrowed Life (1994).[8]

After 1949

Taiwanese cinema grew again after 1949, when the end of the Chinese civil war brought many filmmakers sympathetic to the Nationalists to Taiwan. Even then, the majority of films were still made in Taiwanese Hokkien and this continued for many years. In 1962, out of a total of 120 films produced, only seven were made in Mandarin; the rest were made in Taiwanese. However, the production of films in Taiwanese began to decline due to a variety of reasons, ranging from limited scope and waning interest for such films, to the Nationalist government's promotion of Standard Chinese in mass media and its deeming of Taiwanese as too "coarse". The last movie filmed entirely in Taiwanese was made in 1981.

The 1960s marked the beginning of Taiwan's rapid modernization. The government focused strongly on the economy, industrial development, and education, and in 1963 the Central Motion Picture Corporation (CMPC; see 中影公司) introduced the "Health Realism" melodrama. This film genre was proposed to help build traditional moral values, which were deemed important during the rapid transformation of the nation's socioeconomic structure. During this time, traditional kung fu films as well as romantic melodramas were also quite popular. The author Chiung Yao is especially famous for the movies made in this time period which were based on her widely read romantic novels.

Taiwanese cinema of this period is related to censorship in the Republic of China and propaganda in the Republic of China.

New Taiwanese Cinema, 1982–1990

By the early 1980s, the popularity of home video made film-watching a widespread activity for the Taiwanese. However, the Taiwanese film industry faced serious challenges, including the entry of Hong Kong films into the Taiwanese market. In order to compete with Hong Kong films, the CMPC began an initiative to support several fresh, young directors. In 1982, the film In Our Time (1982), which featured four young talented directors (Edward Yang, Te-Chen Tao, I-Chen Ko, and Yi Chang), began what would be known as the rejuvenation of Taiwanese cinema: the New Taiwanese Cinema.

In contrast to the melodrama or kung-fu action films of the earlier decades, New Taiwanese Cinema films are known for their realistic, down-to-earth, and sympathetic portrayals of Taiwanese life. These films sought to portray genuine stories of people living either in urban or rural Taiwan, and are often compared stylistically to the films of the Italian neorealism movement. This emphasis on realism was further enhanced by innovative narrative techniques. For example, the conventional narrative structure which builds the drama to a climax was abandoned and the story progressed at the pace as it would in real life.

Due to its honest portrayal of life, New Taiwanese Cinema films examined many of the important issues facing Taiwanese society at the time, such as urbanization, the struggle against poverty, and conflicts with political authority. For instance, Hou Hsiao-hsien's A City of Sadness portrays the tensions and the conflicts between the local Taiwanese and the newly arrived Chinese Nationalist government after the end of the Japanese occupation. Chen Kunhou's 1983 film Growing Up provides a nuanced perspective on the experience of a very young boy, from an ordinary family, getting into progressively more trouble. Edward Yang's Taipei Story (1985) and A Confucian Confusion (1994) talk about the confusion of traditional values and modern materialism among young urbanites in the 1980s and 1990s. His nearly four-hour film A Brighter Summer Day (1991), considered by many to be his masterpiece and the defining work of the New Taiwanese Cinema, deals with Taiwan's struggle in the 1960s to find its identity after the Kuomintang invaded Taiwan and brought numerous Chinese immigrants to the new republic, who expected to return to China once the Communists had been defeated.[9] The New Taiwanese Cinema films therefore create a fascinating chronicle of Taiwan's socio-economic and political transformation in modern times.

Second New Wave, 1990–2010

The New Taiwanese Cinema gradually gave way to what could be informally called the Second New Wave, which are slightly less serious and more amenable to the populace, although just as committed to portraying the Taiwanese perspective.

For example, Tsai Ming-liang's Vive L'Amour, which won the Golden Lion at the 1994 Venice Film Festival, portrays the isolation, despair, and love of young adults living in the upscale apartments of Taipei. Stan Lai's The Peach Blossom Land (1992) is a tragi-comedy involving two groups of actors rehearsing different plays on the same stage; the masterful juxtaposition and the depth of the play's political and psychological meanings helped it win recognition at festivals in Tokyo and Berlin.

Ang Lee is perhaps the most well-known of the Second New Wave directors. His early films Pushing Hands (1991), The Wedding Banquet (1993), and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) focus on the generational and cultural conflicts confronting many modern families. His Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) revived the wuxia genre successfully. Although not in the tradition of New Wave or Second New Wave, it is a commercial success which placed Asian films firmly in the international domain. The recent films Eternal Summer (2006), Prince of Tears (2009) and Winds of September (2009) have pushed the boundaries of Taiwanese film-making and broken the island's long-standing taboos about the depiction of controversial subject matter.

Taiwanese cinema faced difficult times competing with Hollywood blockbusters in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Box office for local films dwindled to less than 20 films annually and many Taiwanese viewers preferred watching Hong Kong or Hollywood productions, causing the country's film industry to be dominated by foreign repertoire. Taiwan's film industry went into decline in 1994 and collapsed in 1997 because of the growing popularity of movie piracy.[10] The high box office takings of Cape No. 7 (2008) and Taiwanese films after 2008 proved that the local film industry had recovered from its slump. Cape No. 7 was so popular in Taiwan that on 1 November 2008 it became its highest grossing domestic film, second in the country's cinematic history to Titanic (1997). Another recent popular local film is the gangster flick Monga (2010).

Revival of Taiwanese films after Cape No. 7

In 2008, Cape No. 7 directed by Wei Te-sheng was a huge box office success. It raked in 530 million TWD (17.9 million USD) domestically, setting an all-time box office record for a Taiwanese film, and is currently the highest grossing Taiwanese domestic film of all time.[11] It has won 15 awards to date, such as The Outstanding Taiwanese Film of the Year at the 45th Golden Horse Awards in 2008. The record-breaking achievement led the revival of Taiwanese cinema, e.g. Monga (2010), Seven Days in Heaven (2010), Night Market Hero (2011), Love (2012) and many others.

After the success of Cape No. 7, the Taiwanese movie industry began to recover from a slump that had lasted for about 10 years.[12] The head of the Government Information Office stated that "2011 will be a brand new year and a new start for Taiwanese films". [13] The director of Cape No. 7, Wei Te-sheng's follow-up movie, Seediq Bale (comprising a part 1 and part 2) was released in September 2011, with part 1 (The Sun Flag) being the 2nd highest grossing Taiwanese domestic film of all time and part 2 (The Rainbow Bridge) being the 7th highest grossing Taiwanese domestic film of all time. [14] It was shown in competition at the 68th Venice International Film Festival and it was selected as a contender for nomination for the 84th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film in 2011[15][16] and was one of nine films shortlisted to advance to the next round of voting for nomination.[17]

Some more examples are: The Killer Who Never Kills (2011), which is based on a short story in the Killer Series from Taiwanese Writer, Giddens Ko. Additionally, the popular 2009 TV series Black & White resulted in two feature films entitled: Black & White Episode I: The Dawn of Assault (2012) (a prequel to the TV series) and Black & White: The Dawn of Justice (2014) (another prequel to the TV series but a sequel to the 2012 film). In 2012, Giddens Ko's romance You Are the Apple of My Eye (2012) earned about NTD 425 million, making it the 4th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time, followed by Fung Kai's Din Tao: Leader of the Parade (2012) which earned NTD 317 million, making it the 8th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time. In 2013, Chiu Li-kwan's film David Loman (2013) earned NTD 428 million, making it The 3rd highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time.

In 2015, female director Yu Shan Chen (a.k.a. Frankie Chen) released a film entitled Our Times (2015), which was the highest-grossing domestic Taiwanese film of the year, grossing over NT$410 million ($17.1 million US dollars), thereby making it the 5th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time.[18] The film also starred Vivian Sung from another box-office success, Café. Waiting. Love (2014), the 11th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time. In 2014, Umin Boya directed a baseball film entitled Kano (2014), which ended up grossing over NT$330 million, making it the 6th highest grossing domestic Taiwanese film of all time.

The 9th-15th highest grossing Taiwanese domestic films of all time are, in order: Zone Pro Site (2013) (#9 with NTD 305 million), Ang Lee's Lust, Caution (2007) (#10 with NTD 280 million), Café. Waiting. Love (2014) (#11 with NTD 260 million), Monga (2010) (#12 with NTD 258 million), The Wonderful Wedding (2015) (#13 with NTD 250 million), Beyond Beauty: Taiwan from Above (2013) (#14 with NTD 220 million), and Twa-Tiu-Tiann (2014) (#15 with NTD 210 million).

See also List of highest-grossing films in Taiwan.

Profit Sharing

Teng Sue-feng used Cape No. 7 to discusse how the profit is shared in Taiwan. Teng estimated the revenue to be NTD 520 million, and the production cost to be NTD 50 million. After the deducting the cost, 60% of the profit goes to movie theaters, 10% to the distributor. The director gets about NT$140 million.[19]

Notable directors, actors and actresses

See also


  1. "電影片映演業統計" (PDF). Ministry of Culture. 2018-02-06. Retrieved 2018-08-26.
  2. "全台院線映演中華民國影片、港陸影片暨其他外片之票房" (PDF). Ministry of Culture. 2018-02-27. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2018-08-04. Retrieved 2018-08-04.
  3. Baskett (2008), pp. 13-20.
  4. 臺灣閩南語常用詞辭典 [Dictionary of Frequently-Used Taiwan Minnan] (in Chinese). Ministry of Education, R.O.C. 2011. #13170.
  5. Deslandes, Jeanne (1 November 2000). "Dancing shadows of film exhibition: Taiwan and the Japanese influence". Screening the Past. Archived from the original on 2012-03-16. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  6. Baskett (2008), pp. 14-5.
  7. Baskett (2008), p. 17.
  8. Davis, Darrell W. (2001). "Borrowing Postcolonial: Dou-san and the Memory Mine". Post Script: Essays in Film and the Humanities. 20 (2 and 3): 94–114. ISSN 0277-9897.
  9. Cheshire, Godfrey (22 March 2016). "A Brighter Summer Day: Coming of Age in Taipei". The Criterion Collection. The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 30 April 2016.
  10. "International recording industry discusses anti-piracy actions with Taiwan government". International Federation of the Phonographic Industry. 2002-10-17. Retrieved 2010-10-22.
  11. Wang, George Chun Han (2012). No Signs of Slowing Down: The Renaissance of Taiwanese Cinema. In Abraham Ferrer (Ed.) Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival Program Catalog (pp. 24-29). Los Angeles: Visual Communications
  12. Lin, Hermia (2008-12-08). "Marketing helps "Cape No.7" shine in Taiwan film market". Taiwan Culture Portal. Culture Taiwan. Archived from the original on 2011-05-24. Retrieved 2011-09-26.
  13. 中華民國行政院新聞局全球資訊網 (in Chinese). 行政院新聞局. Archived from the original on 2011-09-29. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  14. "「賽德克.巴萊」殺青,分上、下集明年暑假上映". 台灣電影網. Retrieved 2011-03-27.
  15. The Hollywood Reporter Academy Releases Foreign-Language Oscar List 13 October 2011. Retrieved 2011-10-14
  16. "'Seediq Bale' to vie for Oscars' best foreign film". focustaiwan. Retrieved 2011-09-07.
  17. "9 Foreign Language Films Vie for Oscar". 18 January 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-19.
  18. Boon Chan, Straits Times, Why these Taiwanese films are box-office hits,
  19. Teng Sue-feng (Feb 2009). tr. by Christopher J. Findler. "Biggest Production in Taiwan Film History-Seediq Bale". Taiwan Panorama. Retrieved 2012-02-28. [The Chinese version is more detailed]


  • Baskett, Michael (2008). The Attractive Empire: Transnational Film Culture in Imperial Japan. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-3223-0.
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