Leading Filmmaker Johnnie To Quits Golden Horse Awards as China Increases Pressure

Johnnie To Quits Taiwan Golden Horse
Courtesy of Golden Horse

Leading Hong Kong filmmaker Johnnie To has dropped out of the Golden Horse Awards, where he was set to be president of the jury deciding the prize winners.

The awards, which take place in and are organized in Taiwan, have long been considered the most prestigious prizes in Chinese-language cinema. However, they are currently under sustained pressure from mainland Chinese authorities, who have ordered a boycott by mainland films and talent because of an award-winner’s speech last year that advocated Taiwanese independence. China considers self-governing, democratic Taiwan as part of its rightful territory.

The Golden Horse Awards announced To’s resignation on its website and its Facebook page. It blamed To’s other work commitments and said that Taiwanese director and designer Wang Toon would take his place as jury head.

“Johnnie To has resigned as the jury president for the 56th Golden Horse Awards, due to previously signed film production contractual obligations. To expresses his regret and apology for the inconvenience, while the Taipei Golden Horse Film Festival executive committee and the chair, Ang Lee, show their understanding and wish the best to him,” the awards organizers said.

Last year’s speech by documentary award winner Fu Yue in favor of Taiwanese independence was quickly condemned by mainland Chinese actors in attendance, including then-jury president Gong Li, and by China’s National Film Administration, which ordered Chinese talent to immediately skip the post-awards dinner. Last month, the National Film Administration ordered a ban on Chinese participation in this year’s Golden Horse Awards and announced that China’s own Golden Rooster Awards would take place on the same day, Nov. 23, in Xiamen, directly across the Taiwan Strait.

Since then, there have been unconfirmed reports that any films taking part in this year’s Golden Horse Awards will be barred from releasing in mainland China and that stars attending the Taipei awards ceremony will be placed on a mainland Chinese blacklist.

While Hong Kong is not directly a part of the tussle between the People’s Republic and Taiwan, its own political unrest of the past three months has made the Golden Horse Awards another source of friction. Numerous Hong Kong stars and films have withdrawn from the Golden Horse Awards.

The Facebook post on To’s pullout attracted hundreds of user comments encouraging the embattled festival. Many of them simply read “Go, Golden Horse!” (or, in a literal translation, “Golden Horse, add gas!”). That is a Cantonese phrase that has become a common slogan of the Hong Kong protesters.

Another comment read: “We cherish the present, when creators can all freely express their creativity, speak their minds and not be controlled. After we’re unified [with the mainland] there’ll be no end of opportunities to create what’s politically correct.”