Taiwan biz reboots local B.O.

Local filmmakers find success with fresh ideas

Think about the Taiwan film biz, and festival favorites Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang come to mind.

But that’s about it.

Local Taiwanese auds stayed away from their local films in droves; Hollywood killed off any stabs at commercial product by Taiwan in the past decade.

But that may be history. In 2008, Wei Te-sheng’s romance-drama “Cape No. 7” hit $15.5 million at the B.O. and was Taiwan’s top earner that year. At the end of 2009, and into this year, helmer Doze Niu’s actioner “Monga” tapped $9.3 million. In the first half of 2010, local films nabbed a 10.6% market share — a big leap from 2001, in which local pics took only 0.2% in 2001.

International co-productions with Europe and other countries in Asia are changing what Taiwan films were, infusing them with fresh genres and storytelling that are not only welcomed at festivals but also at home in the multiplex. Films such as Arvin Chen’s “Au Revoir Taipei,” Christina Yao’s “Empire of Silver,” Cheng Yu-Chieh’s “Yang Yang” and Hou Chi-Jan’s “One Day” have tapped into foreign elements, while 2011 will see “Black and White,” Tsai Yueh-Hsun’s action comedy based on a hit TV series.

At June’s Puchon Intl. Fantastic Film Festival (PiFan) in South Korea this year, the focus was on Taiwan, with panels and events, including PiFan’s Network of Asian Fantastic Films showcase of four genre film projects by young Taiwanese filmmakers and producers, among them Cho Li’s “Personality Vending Machine,” which won an award at the fest. Along with project pitching, NAFF also held a special forum to promote industry exchanges between Taiwan and South Korea.

PiFan’s Taiwan delegation also toured six Korean post-production companies.

“We came here with big goals to understand the Korean film industry and to find ways to collaborate more in the future,” says Lee Lieh, “Monga” producer. “In Taiwan, we didn’t have any experience in handling such a big commercial movie like ‘Monga’ in the past. But instead of working with routine action supervisors from Hong Kong, I wanted new ideas from abroad.”

Lee hired Korean action choreographer Yang Gil-young (“Old Boy”) for the film.

Helmer Chu Yen-ping, who is also the director of the Motion Picture Foundation in Taiwan, was the first Taiwan filmmaker to mount a co-production with mainland China, the successful “Kung Fu Dunk” (2008). He’s tried to take young talents outside Taiwan, and has organized group tours to Beijing, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Chu takes a practical approach to cultivating talents in the industry. In the past three years, films by Taiwan directors performed well in the local market.

“I think this is the key moment for (those in the) older generation like me to bring (those directors) to the global market, especially in Asia, to show how active they are in Taiwan. At the same time, I wanted to show (those young directors) how to deal with people outside Taiwan.”

For Chu and other Taiwanese bizzers, mainland China is the first and the foremost target.

“In the past, we didn’t go to China because we were blocked for so many years and couldn’t get clear ideas about them,” Chu says. “But they are now welcoming us, encouraging transactions between cultures ahead of politics. Now the biggest market potential is in China.”

There are several co-productions with mainland China on the slate, including Cho Li’s “My Next Miracle,” which starts shooting in Shanghai and Hangzhou in October.

“Miracle” producer Yeh Jufeng has also tried to change the direction of Taiwan films.

“You must think about the market,” he says, with an eye toward genre pics.

Yeh, who’s been in the biz for more than 15 years, also has experience on international co-productions, working on such films as “Red Cliff” with China, “Tea Fight” with Japan and “Miss Kicki” with Sweden.

“I can collaborate with any country if I can broaden market potential,” Yeh says. “That will bring more input to young Taiwan filmmakers who don’t have much experience. But at the moment, I think it’s more practical for me to produce films within Asia instead of going to Hollywood.”

Taipei and and the federal governments have spurred international co-production as well, offering a mixture of incentives and subsidies, something that Taiwan producer Peggy Chiao is taking advantage of for Japanese helmer Toyoharu Kitamura on cross-culture comedy “Love You Ten Thousand Years.”

“For me, what is important in co-production is diversity. If everybody tells the same story, it is no good,” Cho says. “(It’s better) to adapt to genre elements to show your films.”