Films from mainland China are completely absent from the list of nominees announced Tuesday for the annual Golden Horse Awards. And with only a handful of titles from Hong Kong on the list, the competition has devolved into a mostly Taiwanese affair.
The awards, based in Taiwan and chaired by Oscar-winner Ang Lee, have traditionally been considered the most prestigious prizes for films in the Chinese language. But a political spat at last year’s ceremony, where a Taiwanese award-winner infuriated mainland Chinese attendees and the Beijing regime by giving a speech in favor of Taiwanese independence, sparked a pullout by mainland films from this year’s contest. China considers self-governing, democratic Taiwan as part of its rightful territory, to be retaken by force if necessary.
Hong Kong titles in the running for Golden Horse Awards include Ray Yeung’s “Suk Suk,” best song nominee “My Prince Edward,” and documentary “Bamboo Theatre.” Few of the other nominated films did not originate in Taiwan: “Wet Season” and “A Land Imagined” from Singapore and “The Garden of Evening Mists” from Malaysia. Even those three have Taiwan production or finance connections.
“Detention,” a thriller set during Taiwan’s so-called ‘White Terror’ period, narrowly leads the pack with 12 nominations, including best narrative feature. Directed by John Hsu, it will play at the Busan International Film Festival next week.
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Close behind, with 11 nods, is “A Sun,” a family-focused crime drama directed by Chung Mong-hong (“The Fourth Portrait,” “Parking”). It premiered last month in Toronto and next plays in Busan.
“The Garden of Evening Mists,” a multinational co-production directed by Taiwan’s Tom Lin, collected nine nominations. The film stars Japan’s Hiroshi Abe, Taiwan’s Sylvia Chang and Malaysia’s Lee Sin-je, as well as the U.K.’s John Hannah and David Oakes.
The five contenders for the best narrative feature are “A Sun,” “The Garden of Evening Mists,” “Wet Season,” “Detention” and “Suk Suk.”
In August, mainland Chinese authorities ordered a boycott by mainland films and talent of this year’s Golden Horse Awards because of the incident at last year’s ceremony.
While Hong Kong is not directly a part of the tussle between mainland China and Taiwan, its own political unrest of the past three months has made the Golden Horse Awards another source of friction in the territory. Fearing damage to their careers in China if they were to participate, numerous Hong Kong stars and films have withdrawn from the awards. Prominent Hong Kong director Johnnie To had been announced as the president of the Golden Horse competition jury, but he withdrew a few days ago, citing “previously signed film production contractual obligations.” He has been replaced by Taiwanese director and designer Wang Toon.
After China announced its boycott, the number of feature film submissions for this year’s Golden Horse Awards fell from 228 in 2018 to 148 – the lowest level in four years, according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
In a counter-programming bid, China’s National Film Administration has also scheduled China’s own Golden Rooster Awards for the same day as the Golden Horse Awards, Nov. 23, in Xiamen, directly across the Taiwan Strait.
Even Tuesday’s announcement of Golden Horse Award nominees came on a politically sensitive date. Oct. 1 is the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, marking the Communist victory in a civil war over the Nationalists, whose forces fled to Taiwan. The 70th anniversary Tuesday was celebrated with huge military and civil parades in Beijing, and countered with widespread acts of civil disobedience in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy protesters have been demonstrating for months.