25 Taiwanese Movies You Must See Before You Die

city543-theme-film-icon-may-2015 This month City543 explores one of the biggest forms of entertainment in the context of Taiwan, from Ang Lee to Martin Scorsese’s Silence to the New Wave Cinema Movement to Taipei’s best film festivals.


Inspired by Steven Jay Schindler’s list of “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die“, we compiled these definitive 25 Taiwanese films you must see before you die. This list takes viewers back to the growth of Taiwanese Cinema after the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, a period tied to censorship and propaganda, to the emergence of the New Wave Cinema Movement of the 1980s, which saw a shift away from the traditional kung fu flicks and romantic melodramas to films that focused on realistic, genuine portrayals of Taiwanese life—a style often compared to that of Italian Neorealism—to the rise of the Second New Wave in 1990s to the revival of Taiwanese cinema in 2008 after the release of the record-setting Cape No. 7. These were the films that defined the cinema of Taiwan.

1. The Assassin 《聶隱娘》(2015)

shu qi the assassin hou hsiao hsien taiwan director cannes

Auteur Hou Hsiao-hsien’s (侯孝賢) first martial-arts film and his first film in almost a decade won him the Best Director Award at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, where it received glowing reviews and was in the running for the Palme D’Or. Set in ninth-century China, the film follows a general’s daughter, who is abducted as a child by a nun and trained to become an assassin.

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2. Kano (2014)

This film directed by Umin Boya (馬志翔) retells the story of an multiracial high school baseball team from Chiayi County that overcame extreme odds to compete in Japan’s Kōshien baseball tournament. The success of Kano built on the popularity of Taiwan’s love for baseball, which has widely been recognized as a national sport.

3. Life of Pi (2012)

Shot in Taiwan, Ang Lee’s multiple award-winning Life of Pi is about a sixteen year old boy who, after surviving a shipwreck, is stranded in the Pacific Ocean on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker. The movie has been graced with several prestigious awards including the Academy Award for Best Director and Best Cinematography and is credited for ushering a new age of international film shoots in Taiwan.

4. You Are the Apple of My Eye 《那些年,我們一起追的女孩》 (2011)

Renowned Taiwanese author Giddens Ko’s (九把刀) directorial debut is a film adaptation of his own semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. The coming-of-age high school romance film and its themes of love and missed opportunities resonated well with viewers and critics alike, and the film set box office records throughout Asia.

5. Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale 《賽德克•巴萊》 (2011)

This historic epic, directed by Wei Te Sheng (魏德圣), retells the last major uprising against colonial Japanese forces in Taiwan—the Wushe incident in 1930 when the Seediq tribe retaliated against Japanese oppression by attacking a village and the bloody counterattack that ensued. Seediq Bale is the most expensive Taiwanese movie ever made and has been compared to Braveheart and Last Of The Mohicans by Taiwanese media.

6. Monga 《艋舺》 (2010)

Premiering at the 60th Berlin International Film Festival, director Doze Niu’s (鈕承澤) Monga is the quintessential Taiwanese gangster film, touching on themes of loyalty and brotherhood in the Wanhua District of Taipei. The film starred Ethan Juan (阮經天) and Mark Chao (趙又廷), as well as Niu himself, and has won multiple awards at international film festivals.

7. Cape No. 7 《海角七號》 (2008)

Directed by Wei Te Sheng, Cape No. 7 marked the beginning of the revival and a new era of Taiwanese cinema. This romance comedic musical-drama film explores the relationships between people and objects that are unexpectedly paired together, from undeliverable love letters, a dysfunctional band to newfound love. Cape No. 7 is the second highest grossing film in Taiwan’s cinematic history, behind James Cameron’s Titanic.

8. Three Times 《最好的時光》 (2005)

three times poster hou hsiao hsien taiwan movie film

Directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Three Times features three chronologically separate love stories of May and Chen, played by Shu Qi (舒淇) and Chang Chen (張震), set in Kaohsiung in 1966, Dadaocheng in 1911 and in Taipei in 2005 respectively. The film has received widespread international acclaim, with film critic Roger Ebert noting that all three varieties of love: unfulfilled, mercenary and meaningless, are “photographed with such visual beauty that watching the movie is like holding your breath so the butterfly won’t stir.”

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9. What Time is it There? 《你那邊幾點》 (2001)

what time is it there film taiwanese tsai ming liang

Directed by Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮) of the Second New Wave, What Time is it There? is about a street vendor who sells his own watch to a woman he briefly meets in Taipei as she is heading to Paris for an uncertain duration and finds himself overcome by a desire to set every clock he sees to Paris time. The film follows the parallel lives of the two characters; as he watches François Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, she encounters its now-aging lead actor Jean-Pierre Léaud, who makes a cameo in this film.

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10. Yi Yi: A One and a Two 《一一》 (2000)


Yi Yi, directed by the late Edward Yang (楊德昌), another important figure of Taiwanese New Wave Cinema, explores the lives and struggles of a middle-class Taiwanese family seen through the three generations of the middle-aged father, the young son and the teenage daughter. Yi Yi premiered at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, where Yang won Best Director–the first Taiwanese director to do so—and later several awards at other international film festivals.

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11. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon 《臥虎藏龍》 (2000)


Featuring a star-studded cast of Chow Yun-fat (周潤發), Michelle Yeoh (楊紫瓊), Zhang Zhiyi (章子怡) and Chang Chen, Ang Lee’s wuxia film was a surprise international hit. It has been praised for its story, martial arts sequences, cinematography, as well as its direction and musical score, winning the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film that year.

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12. Eat Drink Man Woman 《飲食男女》 (1994)


Eat Drink Man Woman was the first of Ang Lee’s films to achieve both critical and box office success. In it, Lee highlights the struggles of living in a rapidly developing world as characters try to find a balance between tradition and modernity. The film has won several awards, including Best Film at the Asia Pacific Film Festival.

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13. A Confucian Confusion 《獨立時代》 (1994)


This comedic film directed by Edward Yang follows the work and love lives of white-collar workers in Taipei as they continuously seek to understand what it means to live. The film was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival and won Best Screenplay at Taiwan’s Golden Horse Awards.

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14. Vive L’Amour 《愛情萬歲》 (1994)


A representative work of Tsai Ming Liang, Vive L’Amour explores the theme of urban alienation through slow-pacing and minimal dialogue. The film looks in depth at the private lives of three city dwellers who unknowingly share the same apartment. Vive L’Amour was awarded Best Picture, Best Director and Best Sound Effects at the Golden Horse Awards as well as the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

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15. The Wedding Banquet 《喜宴》 (1992)

Before Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee explored the themes of non-traditional love and marriage in The Wedding Banquet, a film about a gay Taiwanese immigrant man in the U.S. who marries a Chinese woman in order to please his parents and to get her a green card. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

16. Pushing Hands 《推手》 (1992)


Ang Lee’s first feature film is named after the Tai Chi technique that requires one to yield to force instead of resisting it. The film calls attention to the clashes between Eastern and Western cultural values, particularly how they affect family dynamics. Together with The Wedding Banquet and Eat Drink Man Woman, it forms Lee’s “Father Knows Best” trilogy, which depicts the tensions between the East and West, tradition and modernity and between the generations of a Confucian family.

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17. A Brighter Summer Day 《牯嶺街少年殺人事件》 (1991)

Based on an incident director Edward Yang remembers from his childhood, the film explores the murder of a girl, who was involved with a teenage gang leader, by her civil servant boyfriend in the context of the political environment in Taiwan during the 1960s, after members of Kuomintang and their families fled to Taiwan from China. Besides running almost four hours, the film is an extremely heavy undertaking for a Chinese-language film, with more than 100 amateur actors involved in different roles.

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18. The Dull Ice Flower 《魯冰花》 (1989)

the dull ice flower taiwanese movie film

The Dull Ice Flower tells the story between a poor schoolboy with exceptional abilities in art and an art teacher who sees this talent. Directed by Yang Li Kuo (楊立國), the film touches upon social issues of the 50s and early 60s such as education in rural Taiwan. The Dull Ice Flower was screened at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1989.

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19. A City of Sadness 《悲情城市》 (1989)

Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s A City of Sadness was the first film to openly depict the 228 Incident and the socio-political turmoil known as the White Terror that ensued. The film starring Tony Leung (梁朝偉) uncovers the KMT government’s mistreatment of its citizens and how it completely shook up a family. A City of Sadness is the first film in Taiwanese cinema to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.

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20. Taipei Story 《青梅竹馬》 (1985)

taipei story still black and white film movie taiwan

One of the earliest films of New Taiwan cinema, Taipei Story is directed by Edward Yang and stars fellow filmmaker Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Yang’s wife, singer Tsai Chin (蔡琴) as a couple with contrasting aspirations—one tries to navigate modern life while the other clings to tradition. This movie was nominated for two Golden Horse awards.

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21. A Summer at Grandpa’s 《冬冬的假期》 (1984)
22. The Time To Live and The Time to Die 《童年往事》 (1985)
23. Dust in the Wind 《戀戀風塵》 (1986)


The three films make up director Hou Hsiao-hsien’s coming-of-age trilogy. Inspired by screenwriter Chu Tien-wen’s (朱天文) childhood memories, A Summer at Grandpa’s follows a young boy who spends the summer at his grandpa’s in Miaoli county and experiences the realities of growing up. The Time to Live and The Time to Die is inspired by Hou’s own coming-of-age story and follows a young boy whose family moved to Taiwan from the Mainland and their struggles to adjust. The final part of the trilogy, Dust in the Wind, is based on co-screenwriter Wu Nien-jien’s (吳念真) own experiences and follows the impact of mandatory military service on a young couple who plan to marry.

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24. The Sandwich Man 《兒子的大玩偶》 (1983)


Set in Taiwan’s Cold War period, The Sandwich Man is comprised of three separate stories, each directed by Hou Hsiao-hsien, Wan Jen (萬仁) and Tseng Chuang-hsiang (曾壯祥) respectively. The film is regarded as a hallmark of Taiwanese New Cinema, as it defied the conservatism of Taiwanese politics and in Taiwanese cinema, paving the way for freedom of artistic expression.

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25. A Touch of Zen 《俠女》 (1971)

a touch of zen forest movie taiwan wuxia

A Touch of Zen is an early wuxia film praised for its cinematography, editing and special effects. Director King Hu (胡金銓) utilized strong symbolism and focuses on themes of Buddhism, an unusual approach to the wuxia genre. The film was awarded the Technical Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and with its breathtaking backdrops, influenced many films to come including Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers.

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With contributions from Kassy Cho.

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Chuck Fresco commented

I didn’t know life of PI was Taiwanese. Cool article.

Johnny Come Lately commented

Actually, big mistake there. Not sure what the requirements are to fulfill the category of “Taiwanese Movies”. “Life of Pi” is in fact a Hollywood film based on a book by Yan Martel – A well known Canadian author and a celebrated book before a movie idea was ever conceived…..

chang commented

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon & Life of PI are not really Taiwanese tho…There are more Taiwanese movies could be recommend, like 異域、七匹狼, 看見臺灣 etc.

Kara Tseng commented

Life of Pi was directed by famous Taiwanese director, Ang Lee. Which is, I guess, why it’s listed here.

I would highly recommend Au Revoir Taipei (一頁台北). Cute, funny, light, and really makes me homesick for Taiwan.

Kara Tseng commented

Oops, I should also mention Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is by Ang Lee as well.

RH commented

What about “A Borrowed Life”? It is a real classic which depicts real Taiwanese history, real social paradoxes and issues that continue even until today. Monga? that phoney film with male models? Are you kidding me? http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/ebert-and-scorsese-best-films-of-the-1990s

RH commented

What is this list based off of? How did that commercial garbage Monga get on the list? What about “A Borrowed Life”? It actually tackles and depicts real Taiwanese social paradoxes and issues that still stand true today!! It has also won many awards and has been considered by many a timeless classic. http://www.rogerebert.com/rogers-journal/ebert-and-scorsese-best-films-of-the-1990s

TaipeiTrendsSucks commented

Great list! With so many overhyped piecemeal articles done on Taiwan these days it’s refreshing to read something and actually learn something new. I’m looking forward to watching many of these movies now, thanks!

Ron Norman commented

Any/all of these could/should have been honorably on the expanded list…….Master films and masterpiece films: Films by Wang Toon, Tan Han-chung; Hill of No Return, Runaway, Strawman, Banana Paradise; Formula 17; Rebel of the Neon God, Vive l’Amour, The Hole, The River; The Twin Bracelets, Eat Drink Man Woman, The Terrorizers; Rouge of the North, Dark Night; Artemisia, Let the Wind Carry Me; The Beautiful Duckling; A Touch of Zen, Raining in the Mountains, Legend of the Mountain; Splendid Float, God Man Dog, Hard Life, Spider Lilies, Orz Boys, Blue Gate Crossing, Meatless Days, Ah-Fei, My Grandma, Boys for Beauty, Tong-Sha Island, The Pioneers, Papa Can You Hear Me Sing, Crossing Boundaries, The Long Track, Jade Love, Lawong Balingchinan, Super Citizen, The Personals, Endless Time, Hsi Shih, The Outsiders, Moonlight Boy, Beauty of Beauties; The Jade Goddess, Swimming on the Highway, The Story of a Small Town, Autumn Execution; and dozens of other superb films.

Ace Teow commented

Did the writer really watched taiwan movies? How can classics like 搭错车, 报告班长 etc being missinh from the list?

Darren Liu commented

Taiwanese movie… 報告班長 +1 … I think it will be top 10 for sure…
七匹狼應該算是歌 & 演員比較經典 (永遠不回頭!!!神之經典電影歌曲)

最近廣播有人介紹:父後七日,給老外朋友,以老外的眼光,也說不一定會喜歡這種,特殊文化的。 還有”陣頭”也是。


一些經典我沒看過的電影,可能也不賴: 養鴨人家,家在台北,汪洋中的一條船,光陰的故事,桂花巷,搭錯車,嫁妝一牛車


Tom Liu commented

Where are Tsai Ming Liang’s films on the list?

Patrick commented

What about Autumn Execution/Dragon Inn/The Four Moods and many other movies in 1960s? Many of them have been neglected.

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