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Golden Horse Launches New Wave of Taiwanese Cinema in Cannes

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“Golden Horse Goes to Cannes” is looking to make a splash on the Croisette, marking a collaboration with the festival’s Marché du Film that aims to showcase the “diversity, vigor and bold competence of Taiwan cinema, ranging from epic, romance, comedy, fantasy and gender awareness.”

The reality of that promise, for those on the ground in France, will be the presentation on May 16 of five projects featuring the leading lights of contemporary Taiwanese cinema. They’ve been selected by the Golden Horse organization, the people behind Taiwan’s famed annual festival and awards night, to showcase the strength in depth boasted by a market that has always punched above its weight in terms of talent.

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New works from directors Chen Yu-hsun, Yang Ya-che, Huang Xi, Giddens Ko, and John Hsu will be on show, and they feature some of the island’s biggest stars, among them Sylvia Chang, who across a career that spans five decades has amassed four Golden Horse best actress awards, considered the “Oscars of Chinese-language cinema.”

The strength in Taiwanese cinema is borne out of “the difficult situations we are still facing,” said Chang. “[The] film industry needs to fight against streaming online platforms, less interest in going to theatres, the disappearance of movie houses and investors and many more challenges. [But] the uniqueness is we don’t give up. We still try or even work harder.”

Chang can next be seen in the Xi-directed family drama Daughter’s Daughter, part of the “Golden Horse Goes to Cannes” lineup and the latest work from a director that was Golden Horse-nominated in the best new director category for Missing Johnny (2017).

The film has been co-produced by Chang and Cannes best director award-winner Hou Hsiao-hsien (The Assassin) and traces the story of a divorced, 60-something woman (Chang) who is reunited with one daughter she gave up for adoption, while also having to decide what to do with the embryo left behind by another daughter who has passed away following an accident.

“This is a story that many women can relate to, not only in Asia, but all over the world,” explained Chang. “We think we know everything as we grow older, yet we do not. Unexpected happenings, endless problems will come as life goes on like the Chinese old saying [which translated to] ‘You’re never too old to learn in life.’”

Kai Ko is one of Taiwan’s most popular filmmakers following leading roles in the likes of box office smash You Are the Apple of My Eye (2011) and a directorial debut with the well-received thriller Bad Education(2022).

For his latest project, Ko has reunited with the prolific director and writer Giddens Ko, the man behind You Are the Apple of My Eye ($30 million in global revenue) and an author of 82 novels.

In Giddens Ko’s Kung Fu, Ko plays one of two down-and-out students who stumble upon a martial arts master who changes their destiny – and that of their hometown. “The Taiwanese market is relatively small in comparison to some countries, however, our film creators are brave enough to try various themes and dream big,” he said. “There are creative development spaces here for filmmakers.”

Ko has a different take on the opportunities presenting themselves in contemporary Taiwanese cinema. “In Taiwan, there are more and more opportunities for the new generation of filmmakers,” he said. “I think the platforms on which the public can access filmmakers have become more diverse and richer than before, and there are also many international film festivals that can give filmmakers more exposure and attention.”

Director Hsu is another filmmaker who entered the industry with a hit. His 2019 drama Detention was set within the political and social turmoil of 1960s Taiwan – and Hsu picked up the Golden Horse award for best new director.

Hsu’s dark comedy Dead Talents Society will feature on May 16. He cast Chen Bo-lin (previously seen in Cannes in 2002’s Blue Gate Crossing) as a teacher with an unusual collection of students to work with.

“John Hsu and I have been good friends for many years so it is particularly fun to work together,” said Chen. The character Makoto is “a diligent and confident man who has not accomplished much in his career. But with his kindness, persistence and perseverance, he hopes to bring his students back on top. He is an eccentric and funny character. I hope that, seeing the competition between ghosts, the audience will rethink their definition of being successful and being recognized.”

Wu Kang-ren will appear in director Yang’s The Chronicles of Libidoist, which was inspired by The Little Mermaid but re-imagines the central character as a like boy.

The role for Wu comes fresh from the acclaim he has received for his performance in the surprise Malaysian international festival hit Abang Adik (2023). He was named best actor at last year’s Golden Horse Awards for his role as one of two undocumented immigrant brothers searching for their place in Malaysian society.

Wu says he was drawn to working with Yang, who made the genre-jumping The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful, due to his reputation for allowing his cast the freedom to explore their roles.

“He is unique and constantly observing everyone and communicating with the actors,” said Wu. “During filming, two of us were observing each other; this collaboration was very comfortable, with the rhythm and interaction like dancing. Moreover, the director gave us space, which was very comfortable, and allowed us to perform without any worries.”

Rounding out the Golden Horse Goes to Cannes lineup is Chen’s A Foggy Tale, a tear-jerker set during Taiwan’s infamous years of “White Terror” political and social repression. The film stars another Golden Horse winner in Caitlin Fang (2021’s American Girl) as a young woman trying to raise the funds needed to claim the remains of her brother.

“What attracted me to playing this role was how brave, trusting, loyal, and curious she was,” said Fang. “She knew little of the world beyond her home yet she was so determined to find her brother and bring him back home. I had never participated in a period piece before so I thought it would be really fascinating to be taken back in time.”

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