Although Taiwan has seen a sharp rise in film production in the past few years due to the record-breaking success of Cape No. 7, there have been very few works that were able to break the aging mold of romantic comedies and family drama. 2013, however, has seen some very original films that are changing the perception of Taiwanese cinema. For starters, Taiwanese cinema is quietly moving away from the traditional romance and comedy genres that have dominated the market for the past three years; 2012 in particular had eight different comedy films showing during Chinese New Year. However, 2013 was a year of documentaries. In a turn that is quite unusual in the film market, many documentary films have not only received high praise, but great box office returns as well. Here are our top five film recommendations for 2013.
A heartwarming and tender ode to the bygone days of open-air diners and festivities in Taiwan, Zone Pro Site is a well-structured and directed drama centering on the pursuit of Wan, a young girl who decides to pick up her family’s mantle – or in this case, wok – after getting into some trouble in metro Taipei. Starring Kimi Hsia, Tony Yang, and an impeccable comedic performance from film veteran Mei-Hsiu Lin, Zone Pro Site surrounds its commentary on Taiwan’s social dilemmas with hilarity and visual brilliance. Directed by comedy veteran Yu-Hsun Chen.
When director Po-Lin Chi gave up his job to dedicate his life to an aerial documentary of Taiwan, everyone thought he was out of his mind. That is, until Beyond Beauty became a runaway box office champion sparking debates all over the country from political corruption to environmental pollution. Narrated by Taiwanese cinema pioneer Wu Nien-Jen, the documentary carefully points out the problems with Taiwan today without telling its audience how to think. Like a philosopher sharing his wisdom, the film presents its images and music as a gateway to understanding our birthright. I highly recommend this film not only to my fellow countrymen, but also to friends around the world who wish to experience the beauty of Formosa.
A breath of fresh air in the over-saturated market of romantic comedies, this emotional but hilarious comedy of errors is based on the black and white film industry in Taipei’s Beitou area of yore. Touching and expertly crafted, this interesting twist on The Artist is worth a watch. Starring a break-out performance from newcomer Amber An and veteran Zheng-Long Lan, the directing duo Toyoharu Kitamura and Li-hsiou Hsiao recreate a long forgotten world from scratch, convincingly turning a classic love story into a critique on modern social woes. Sadly, this film was overlooked in Taiwan because of poor marketing and title choice.
Another exceptional documentary in a year of amazing documentaries, Attabu is centered on one of the most well-known families in Taiwanese history: the Lin family of Wufeng. This film is noted for its use of real time dramatization of historical elements, which is a rare feat in Taiwanese documentary film-making. Director Li Gang spent over five years and ten million taiwan dollars (an unprecedented budget for a documentary in Taiwan) to craft the epic tale of Taiwan’s most well-known family. Among its noted cast and crew is the celebrated production designer Baoling Li and costume designer Tongxun Chen.
This documentary is centered on a rock band formed by six fathers of children with rare genetic diseases. The fathers, all who are above the age of fifty and from different walks of life, aspire to perform in the annual rock and roll festival in Gongliao, Taiwan. It is hard not to tear up at the conditions that these brave people are going through, but their triumph in never giving up and never wallowing in despair is the greatest dose of reality and encouragement that Taiwan’s society desperately needs.