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Expanding Taiwanese film making

We may be returning to the success enjoyed by Taiwanese Cinema in 2000 when CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON ruled the international box office and YI YI was prominent in the film festival circuit. Over the last two years the most successful films in Taiwan were domestic productions, Taiwanese films have increased their presence at international film festivals and open access to the huge market in mainland China provides now an advantage no other foreign country enjoys.

Potentially the biggest boost for Taiwanese film making and distribution is the EFCA (Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement), a trade deal between Taiwan and the People's Republic implemented in September 2010. It removes foreign status from Taiwanese productions, thus Taiwanese films are no longer subject to the film import quota. Every year, only 50 foreign can be distributed in China with 20 of the slots are reserved for US films.
Only 3 films made in Taiwan were shown there until EFCA was implemented. Two weeks ago on July 12th the first Taiwanese film entered the Chinese market under the EFCA agreement. NIGHT MARKET
HERO by Yeh Tien-lun opened in 14 Chinese cities. NIGHT MARKET
HERO. The film has generated to date $4.9 million in Taiwan distribution. A second film L-O-V-E is considered for mainland distribution.

EFCA also liberalizes Taiwanese investments in China resulting in a steep increase thus far. More importantly it also facilitates future co-productions between Taiwan and China. Given the popularity of Taiwanese television in mainland China and the past success of the few Taiwanese productions shown there, success for Taiwanese films in China is most likely. The 2008 box office hit CAPE NO 7 by Wei Te-sheng did well on the mainland in 2009 with revenues of US$ 4.4 million as did Chu Yen-ping's KUNG FU DUNK. Focusing on a basket ball star in Shanghai this production generated in 2008 about $20 million on the mainland and remains the most successful Taiwan produced film shown there. Compared to AVATAR's China revenues of $210 million this seems a limited success. But one has to keep in mind that Taiwan's film audience amounts only to 22 million. China's mainland film market is extraordinary large and tempting, after all the mainland box office revenues exceeded $1.5 billion in 2010 and Taiwan has now open access.

There are however some restrictions, among which censorship is most prominent. Some titles can only be shown in limited screenings at forums and film festivals Films like MONGA, a Taiwanese gangster movie, by Niu Chen-zer, do not conform to Chinese censorship rules. Others like Zero Chou's SPIDER LILIES covering Lesbian relations are vetoed by the authorities for even limited use at the Shanghai festival. For distribution in China and for co-productions, censorship is identified by Taiwanese directors and producers as the most serious problem. Films involving violence, homosexuality, incest, criminal activities, etc are considered by mainland authorities as unsuitable for the general audience and cannot be shown there nor co-produced.

As noted, Taiwanese films become more prominent on the film festival circuit. In New York City Taiwanese Films were featured at the May 2011 Film Society at Lincoln Center. The series Taiwan Stories included 20 titles of classic and contemporary Taiwanese cinema, and presented recent new wave film makers from that country.
In June The New York Public Library featured five films from the progressive award winning Taiwanese director Zero Chou. This was
followed July by the New York Asian Film Festival programming two
films from Taiwan and a Taiwan, China/ Hong Kong co-production.

The growing prominence of Taiwanese films here has strong support from the New York Taipei Economic and Cultural Office which secures films from Taiwan for local film festival use. In Taiwan governmental agencies have augmented financial backing for individual film makers by significant amounts. Another official priority is the development of films for the mandarin speaking Chinese Diaspora audience, including main land China. The Taiwanese government has allocated $850 million for the development of the arts for the 2009-2013 period of which a significant proportion will go to fostering the growth of the film business.

Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent


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