Thursday, August 12, 2010

Visions of Taipei in Recent Commercial Taiwanese Cinema

Chang Chen in Chung Monghong's Parking (2008).

Taiwan has a great tradition of arthouse filmmaking, strongly influenced by European postwar modernism, stretching back to the 1980s, but it's heartening to see the more commercial end of the industry also undergoing a minor revival in recent years.

The locally-produced Cape No. 7 (director Wei Te-Sheng) became the second highest grossing film in the island's history in 2008, beaten only by Titanic. Unfortunately I haven't seen that film, but in the past few weeks I have watched two other recent products of Taiwan's commercial sector on DVD – Chung Monghong's Parking (2008) and Arvin Chen's Au Revoir Taipei (2010), both part of what the Hollywood Reporter calls “the trend of new Taiwan films... [that] weave a circus of zany figures into a tapestry of multistranded stories.”

Friday, August 6, 2010

Aftershock: Remaking History as a Family Affair

Xu Fan as Li Yuanni, shortly after the Tangshan earthquake hits in Feng Xiaogang's "Aftershock."
Recent history is not a realm China's commercial filmmakers are generally too keen to touch. It's hard to depict the witch hunts and famines of the 1950s, the widespread brutality of the Cultural Revolution, or even the social upheavals of the 1980s without casting aspersions on party rule, and casting those kinds of aspersions is not something you do if you want to remain within China's state sanctioned film industry. As far as I'm aware, Feng Xiaogang's new blockbuster Aftershock (Tangshan dadizhen, literally “Tangshan Big Earthquake”) is the first Chinese feature to look at one of the 20th century's worst natural disasters, the 7.8 magnitude quake in 1976 that flattened the northern city of Tangshan and officially killed 242,000 people.