Asia in Cinema will hold its annual Golden Horse Awards Live Blog on Saturday, November 17. 

Last year, I wrote that thanks to the rise of the Chinese film industry (and also the fall of Hong Kong’s), the Golden Horse Awards has essentially become a Taiwan vs China battle.

But looking at this year’s nominations, it seems like Chinese cinema is in total dominance once again while Taiwan looks to triumph elsewhere.

As I also wrote last year, the Golden Horse has become the most legitimate standard of excellence in Chinese-language cinema. Yes, it still uses a jury system every year – with no clear standards year-to-year because the jury members change every year – instead of a voting system, but it remains the most respected in Chinese-language cinema because it can ignore regional political battles to highlight films that cover different ideological and political positions.

For example: Last year, Feng Xioagang’s Youth (芳華) – a film about a performing troupe in the People’s Liberation Army – is followed this year by documentary Our Youth in Taiwan (我們的青春,在台灣) – about two Taiwanese social activists (one of whom is from China) –  and animated film On Happiness Road (幸福路上) – about the tumultuous post-white terror era in Taiwan.

The first thing that jumps out from this year’s nominations is how they cover both sides of the cinema spectrum. On one side, you have Wen Muye’s Dying to Survive (我不是藥神), which has made a whopping RMB3.1 billion (US$451 million) at the box office, Zhang Yimou’s National Day holiday blockbuster Shadow (影) (the leader this year with 12 nominations), Mag Hsu and Kidding Hsu’s dramedy Dear Ex (誰先愛上他的) – which will probably be moderately successful in Taiwan – and Jiang Wen’s Hidden Man (邪不壓正).

On the other end, you have Bi Gan’s avant-garde A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (地球最後的夜晚), Hu Bo’s four-hour opus Elephant Sitting Still (大象席地而坐) and Pema Tseden’s Jinpa (撞死了一隻羊). It’s an impressive list that truly covers the wide range of styles in films that are coming out of the region.

(Yes, it is absolutely worth noting that all five nominees for Best Director are from China)

The list is also a very accurate portrait of the state of cinema in the Greater China region – Chinese cinema continues to mature as a new generation begins to rise with a boost from the elders…

(Despite all the unsubstantiated rumors about whether Wang Xiaoshuai and his wife played a role in the suicide of Elephant Sitting Still director Hu Bo, there’s also pretty reliable rumors that Wang worked very hard to help Hu get the film made and that he  convinced all the other investors to let the film’s rights revert to Hu’s parents, both listed as the films’ owners under its entry on the Best Feature Film nomination list)

…Taiwanese cinema continues to use its home field advantage to recognize new talents despite the industry’s struggles (It’s also absolutely worth noting that all five Best New Actor nominees are Taiwanese), and Hong Kong cinema is, well, getting the award nomination equivalent of gold stars for effort.

There’s also a share of not just Hong Kong-China, but also Taiwan-China co-productions – look at Us and Them, which has a Taiwanese director and cinematographer, but Mainland China most of everything else – and the involvement of Taiwan’s MandarinVision in Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Like it or not, the Golden Horse Awards is a yearly reminder that the three regions’ film industries are working closer together, not further apart. Even though most of the Taiwan representatives at the awards are purely Taiwanese productions, the number of Taiwanese and Hong Kong talents in nominated Chinese productions (especially the technical nominees) prove that China is still the giant tornado that slowly sucks up all the talent in the vicinity.

It’s also perhaps the first time that I find the Best New Director category to be more exciting than the actual Best Director category: Three of the five nominees in the category are also Best Picture nominees, and Long Day’s Journey Into the Night is only Bi Gan’s second feature film.

Yes, Shadow is the only film in the Best Film nominee that’s made by a veteran director.

One notable name missing from this year’s nominees is Jia Zhangke. His latest film, Ash is Purest White (江湖兒女), is only nominated in one category: Best Actress. Sure, Jiang Wen and Lou Ye are still in the Best Director race, but it makes one wonder if the Chinese-speaking industries are finally ready to let a new generation take their rightful place at the adult’s table.

Also worth noting: While many of the nominees in the main categories have gone to film festivals abroad, Ash is Purest White was the only one that was in the main competition of the big three European film festivals. The fact that Western programmers and Asian film professionals have different tastes is nothing new, but it’s a stark reminder of the role that difference in taste and global film festival politics play in affecting the decision-making process of tastemakers at those major European film festivals, especially in their view of Asian cinema.

Last thing that is absolutely worth noting: The first round juries of this year’s awards didn’t include a single person from mainland China, and the final round juries only include two, so Taiwanese netizen opinions that the success of Chinese cinema in earning nominations this year is due to the juries having been “infiltrated” by mainlanders are pretty laughable.

So which Chinese film will come out on top? We’ll find out 7 weeks from now.