- Passionately Documenting:Taiwan’s Latest Cinematic Revival
in his opening talk for the 2011 Conference on Literature, Cinema, and Landscape, Taiwanese writer and film critic Lee Yuan (also known as Xiao Ye) remarked on the decentering disposition of Taiwan’s latest cinematic revival.1 He notes that these films in similar ways forgo Taiwan’s national and metropolitan center, Taipei, in favor of other localities. Lee’s observation on decentering also opens up more complex discussions regarding the popular success of recent Taiwanese small-budget blockbusters’ combination of feature-film qualities with documentary-style realism. This article offers a case study on recent Taiwanese film productions that not only decenter Taiwanese cinema’s internationally renowned image as primarily producing auteur films portraying postcolonial and postmodern ethos, but that also hybridize Taiwan’s diasporic Chinese image with Taiwan’s local dialect, culture, and landscape. Debuting films featuring passionate road trips around the beautiful island of Taiwan, such as Chen Huai-En’s Island Etude (2007) and Fung Kai’s Din Tao: Leader of the Parade (2012), stimulated public interest in local Taiwanese landscapes and cultures. Personally inspired memorial stories by young directors, such as Lin Yu-Hsien’s Jump Ashin! (2011), also became box office hits. During these past few years, Taiwanese cinema has gradually overcome its late-twentieth-century “city of sadness” image created by Hou Hsio-Hsian’s A City of Sadness (1989), which has greatly influenced Taiwanese cinema’s national and international representation.2 This article argues that these new-millennium films reconstruct and activate a sense of Taiwanese nationalism through the fluid intermix of documentary style with entertainment qualities as well as local with global appeal. Their highlighting of passion rather than pathos proposes a new turn and possibility for the revival of Taiwanese cinema and nationalism in the age of transcultural globalization.
Different from the canonized Taiwanese films that put Taiwanese cinema on the international map over two decades ago, the new-millennium films discussed in this article approach Taiwanese culture and nationalism by experimenting with possibilities of flexible creativity. In Sentimental Fabulations, Rey Chow raises the importance of cinematic identification by opening with the question “Where is the movie about me?” (1). Chow’s question points to the contemporary Chinese-speaking subject’s simultaneous need and desire for individual uniqueness and collective belonging. Her concern also relates to Taiwanese people, who face problems such as recovering from Japanese colonialism, reinterpreting “Chineseness” through peripheral conditions, reincorporating local cultural diversity, and distinguishing themselves from Western standards. Recent films such as Island Etude, Din Tao, and Jump Ashin! continue to tackle these questions; however, they do so in a more lighthearted and aspiring manner.
In a country with a history of negotiating with international and domestic challenges to national [End Page 44] identity determinants, the development of Taiwanese cinema reflects continuous efforts at national reconstruction. With the end of Japanese rule in 1945 and the official establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in mainland China in 1949, Taiwanese cinema turned to localism during the 1950s. Having a status different from Hong Kong’s as the inheritor of Shanghai’s cinema, and hence in the position of having a better-developed film industry environment that represented the legacy of “authentic” Chinese cinema as opposed to the communist mainland, Taiwan’s film productions at the time were mostly localized, low-budget taiyu pian (Taiwanese dialect films) affairs.3 Apart from propaganda films of healthy realism and social realism supported by the KMT nationalist government, melodramas and martial arts films became the ruling genres along with productions of Taiwan xiangtu dianying (native-soil films) during the 1960s and early 1970s. The popularity of these utopian melodramas reflected the Taiwanese people’s anxiety toward and rejection of the rigid efforts by Taiwan’s ROC (Republic of China) to construct national consciousness through political propaganda films.
The gap between domestic box office sales and Taiwan’s onscreen identity further widened with the international success of Taiwan New Cinema. With the lifting of martial law in 1987, ending almost forty years of strict and extreme political censorship enforced by the government, Taiwan began to develop toward...