Commercial focus has production, grosses on upswing

Beijing Self-ruled Taiwan’s biz is riding high these days, as it gradually emerges from the shadow of its rival and benefactor, Mainland China, with an ever greater focus on commercial movies.

The backdrop to Taiwanese cinema’s recent revival was the success of Wei Te-shen’s “Cape No. 7,” which took more than $20 million in B.O.

While no Taiwanese films were selected for this year’s Berlinale, this is largely due to an increased focus on commercial movies, said Jennifer Jao, director of the Taipei Film Commission.

Niu Cheng-tse’s recent Taipei gangland hit “Monga” grossed $6.25 million B.O. at home. Last year, there were 45 movies made in the self-ruled island, compared with just 12 in 2006.

“The domestic film market is looking better than before, but more mainstream films are popular now. Also we are seeing a lot of co-productions across the Taiwan Strait. I’m optimistic,” said Jao.

Taiwan has a ready market for its films in the Mainland as Mandarin Chinese is spoken on both sides of the Strait of Taiwan. The Mainland is also an important source of funding, especially for big-budget movies and she anticipates more and more co-productions.

The Taipei Film Commission supported 278 films last year, including features, TV dramas and others, which is almost double the amount it backed the year before. Last year there were 26 co-productions in Taipei, most of them collaborations between Hong Kong or Mainland Chinese shingles and Taiwanese firms.

“This will continue. That means the Chinese market is more important. The borders between Hong Kong and Taiwan and mainland China film industries will slowly disappear,” she said.

Helmer Chu Yen-ping’s “Just Call Me Nobody” did respectable B.O. in China, and this has prompted interest among other Taiwanese directors about finding ways to follow suit. The domestic market remains the key to initial success — “Unless you succeed at home, you can’t succeed overseas,” said Jao.

Dealing with China is all very well, but Taiwanese directors have to be wary of the restrictions on working in China. “The filmmakers have to be careful not to touch taboos,” she said.

Steve Chicorel, international sales director of Taiwan-based Double Edge Entertainment, believes Taiwan offers something very special for music and film. He said it has a leading role in Asian cinema, and the island is becoming even more important as Chinese cinema grows. There are also incentives available to people wanting to shoot there.

Chicorel is currently shooting the $12 million co-production “Black and White” with Mainland China’s film colossus, the state-owned China Film Group. The actioner is directed by Tsai Yueh-hsun and stars Mark Chao, Huang Bo, former model Angelababy, Terri Kwan and Ivy Chen.

He is also working on a 3-D concert film, the $3 million “3DNA” about the hugely popular band Mayday, which recently filled tens of thousands of seats in Shanghai.

“These two movies are representative of many things. They are representative of the Taiwanese film renaissance since “Cape No. 7,” a renaissance that is still going on. They are also representative of the culturally unique island that Taiwan is,” said Chicorel.

“When it comes to cinema, people like myself use Taiwan as a bridge to Asia, as a familiar stepping stone to the US, and other markets,” said Chicorel. “There are lots of China-Taiwan-U.S. projects that I’m brewing right now.”

More from Berlin Daily: China & Taiwan:
Problems persist in pic boom | Taiwan movie biz rides high | China’s quota under pressure

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