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Nominations for Golden Horse Film Awards Once Again Shaped by Political Divisions

Silent Forest
Courtesy of Taipei Film Festival

Nominations for the annual Golden Horse Awards, announced on Wednesday, bear witness to the schism that has now ripped apart the Greater China film industry.

Where once the awards were considered as the most prestigious prize event for Chinese-language cinema of all origins, a decision by mainland Chinese authorities to boycott the 2019 edition appears to have been repeated again in 2020.

With only a few exceptions from Singapore and Malaysia, the nominations are dominated by films of Taiwanese origin. Mainland Chinese films are entirely absent and only a few titles from Hong Kong dare to be counted.

Recently completed Taiwan comedy “My Missing Valentine” heads the hopefuls with 11 nominations, ahead of school-set drama “Classmates Minus,” which collected nine nominations, and opens the accompanying Golden Horse Film Festival.

Four of the five the best film nominees hail from Taiwan: Tsai Ming-liang’s Berlin festival anointed “Days”; “Dear Tenant”; “Valentine” and “Classmates.” The fifth, “Hand Rolled Cigarette“ is from Hong Kong.

The five contenders for the best director prize are Tsai, Cheng Yu-chieh (“Dear Tenant”), Huang Hsin-yao (“Classmates Minus”), Chen Yu-hsun (“Valentine”) and iconoclastic Hong Kong director Fruit Chan for his “The Abortionist.”

Other films making a mark at the nominations stage are: “Silent Forest,” a drama about deaf teenagers, which played as the opener of the Taipei Film Festival, and which has eight Golden Horse nominations; “iWeirdo,” a pop fairy tale shot on an iPhone; Taiwanese family drama “Little Big Women”; and “The Way We Keep Dancing” a second sequel in a Hong Kong street dance movie franchise.

The rupture that today separates the mainland Chinese and Hong Kong industries on one side from those in Taiwan on the other, is a reflection of the increasingly tense political situation on either side of the Taiwan Strait.

Where the People’s Republic of China regards Taiwan as a rebellious province with which it will be reunited, by force if necessary, Taiwan has been separately ruled for 71 years, and increasingly positions itself as a separate political force. (Wednesday’s nominations announcement comes only a day ahead of Oct. 1, which China celebrates as its National Day and a week ahead of the Oct. 9 date which Taiwan celebrates as the National Day of the Republic of China.)

The specific catalyst for the present difficulties was an acceptance speech at the 2018 edition of the Golden Horse Awards, where Fu Yue, who had just won the best documentary prize for her protest-related film “Our Youth in Taiwan” spoke of Taiwanese identity and Taiwan as a separate country.

In response, mainland Chinese authorities reactivated and expanded the Golden Rooster awards ceremony, promising to turn the once every two years ceremony into an annual event with a permanent home in sight of Taiwan in Xiamen.

Mainland film makers were warned not to participate in the Golden Horse awards. Filmmakers from Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China which has been the home of deep political strife for the past 15 months, have been left to make their own choices. Most, it appears, are aligning themselves with the mainland position.

Interestingly, however, the spotlight on Taiwan comes at a time when the Taiwanese film and TV production sectors are enjoying a boom. Not only did the territory not need to completely shut down because of the coronavirus, it has become the go-to place to produce Chinese language content for international streaming platforms and pay-TV giants.

The Golden Horse Awards will be presented at a ceremony on Nov. 21, 2020.