×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

On the Cutting Edge in Taiwan

Midi Z, whose “Nina Wu” unspools in Un Certain Regard, has no doubt that Taiwan is the place that made him.

Z, whose real name is Zhao Deyin, has Chinese roots and hails originally from Myanmar. He won a scholarship at age 16 and relocated to Taiwan to complete high school and attend university.

Since graduating, he has become a cutting-edge emblem of Taiwan’s new arthouse scene, which was previously identified with the precision of masters Hou Hsiao-hsien and Tsai Ming-liang. For the most part, Z makes films that are set in Myanmar or its Southeast Asian neighbors, and he says that shooting overseas is part of the freedom that he cherishes about Taiwan.

“I’m 100% sure that I would not be the same filmmaker if I were living somewhere else,” he says. “I’m related to both. I have family still in Burma. Together, these two places make me the artist I am today.”

His reasoning goes further than the purely personal, however. “Taiwan has the most creative freedom. It is the most democratic place in all Asia,” he says. “There is no censorship. Foreigners can get production support.”

A beacon of democracy in a region where authoritarian governments and money politics are the norm, Taiwan’s politics are instead complicated and shaped by Japanese colonial times, a brutal military government not so long ago and frosty relations with mainland China.

While Taiwan calls itself the Republic of China, across a narrow strait the Communist government that rules the People’s Republic of China calls Taiwan a rebel province with which it will be reunited. By force if necessary.

Taiwan’s open arms policy means that the island has a rich literary and arts scenes. And it continues to use traditional characters for the written version of its Mandarin Chinese.

But in the film industry things are different. Taiwanese films are welcomed in the mainland — “More Than Blue” was a box office winner this year — but going in the opposite direction, Taiwan operates a quota system limiting how many PRC films per year can play in its theaters.

Somewhat shielded from mainland Chinese films, Taiwan audiences favor Hollywood titles first, and local films second. Z wonders whether Taiwan filmmakers are not caught in an economic trap. “We’ve limited ourselves and cannot easily make big-budget films. The [Taiwan] market is narrow and that is reflected through the investors,” he says. “But [most] Taiwanese also don’t do the ultra-low budget films of Southeast Asia.”

Z, on the other hand, has combined the artistic freedom provided by Taiwan with the economic freedom that comes from not being beholden to investors and audiences, a practice he calls “direct cinema.” Z’s first two films, “Return to Burma” and “Poor Folk,” were made on shoestring budgets of $5,000 each and a handful of crew. His third movie, “Ice Poison,” cost $10,000.

That makes “Nina Wu” his most financially ambitious. It cost $2 million, which makes it mid-budget by Taiwan standards. It is also his first film shot from a script that Z did not conceive, his first set in Taiwan and his first genre film.

“I would like to make something opposite to [direct cinema], a film that requires a complete and flawless script, meticulous planning and an efficient professional crew. In an extreme case, it would be perfect if I was supported by a bank and an army,” he says.

For all that, Z says “Nina Wu” is very much him. Pitched as a #MeToo movie of the post-Harvey Weinstein era, “Nina Wu” centers on an actress who is burdened by the psychological pressure of the film industry. “The woman from the countryside, working in the big city, is like my own situation as a Burmese in Taiwan,” Z says.

“I’m aiming for a new cinematic language. We actually did shoot with lots of coverage, dollies and cranes. But I cut out a lot of that in the editing room,” says Z. “There is an eight-minute take, but it is not simply visually long. Every frame has drama. I promise this is not just a boring arthouse movie.”

More Film

  • Apollo 11

    Film News Roundup: 'Armstrong' Doc Set for Release on 50th Anniversary of Moon Landing

    In today’s film news roundup, a Neil Armstrong documentary and “The Invisible Man” get release dates, “Forrest Gump” and “Saving Private Ryan” get re-released and Patrick Fugit gets cast. RELEASE DATES Gravitas Ventures has bought worldwide rights to the Neil Armstrong documentary “Armstrong” and will open the film on July 12 in theaters and on [...]

  • Inside Goop's Wellness Summit With Gwyneth

    Gwyneth Paltrow's Goop Summit Proves Hollywood Retirement Is Working for Her

    Across the country on Saturday, movie theaters sold over $12 million in tickets to “Avengers: Endgame,” helping it amass $771 million in the U.S. since its release in April. On the same day, in a stunning urban greenhouse complex in DTLA, the film’s supporting star Gwyneth Paltrow counted tickets of her own — pricey, perk-loaded [...]

  • Johnny Depp

    Johnny Depp's Ex-Lawyers Claim He Owes $350,000

    Johnny Depp was hit with a $350,000 lawsuit on Monday from a law firm that claims he has not paid his bills. Depp retained Buckley LLP in the fall of 2017 to sue his former entertainment law firm, Bloom Hergott LLP, which he accused of pocketing $30 million in fees without a written agreement. Three [...]

  • Keanu Reeves stars as 'John Wick'

    'John Wick 4' Confirmed With a 2021 Release Date

    John Wick will be back in exactly two years and a day. Lionsgate announced Monday that it has scheduled “John Wick 4” for May 21, 2021. The studio made the announcement via a text message to fans: “You have served. You will be of service. John Wick: Chapter 4 is coming – May 21, 2021.” [...]

  • Krysanne Katsoolis Sets Up Viewpark With

    Krysanne Katsoolis Sets Up Viewpark With $200 Million Fund

    Veteran film industry executive Krysanne Katsoolis has launched Viewpark, which will finance, package and release high-end film and TV content. Viewpark has partnered with former Wall Street executive Keith Price’s Obsidian Asset Management to create a multi-million dollar fund for the production and marketing of its slate, Katsoolis told Variety. Obsidian, based in London and [...]

  • Elle FanningChopard Trophee dinner, 72nd Cannes

    Elle Fanning Faints at Cannes Dinner Party

    Elle Fanning, a member of this year’s Cannes jury, had a brief scare Monday night when she fainted at the Chopard Trophee dinner. Festival director Thierry Fremaux had just introduced actor Francois Civil onstage when Fanning, star of “The Beguiled” and “Maleficent,” collapsed and fell off her chair nearby. Fanning was sitting at a table [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content