Note: Asia in Cinema will hold its annual Golden Horse Awards Live Blog on Saturday, November 23rd, starting at 7pm (or 19:00) Taiwan local time
Disclaimer: This writer worked on the subtitles of nominees MY PRINCE EDWARD and SUK SUK and therefore will not comment on their chances of winning the awards.
In last year’s Golden Horse Awards preview, I wrote that the Golden Horse Awards is “the most respected in Chinese-language cinema because it can ignore regional political battles to highlight films that cover different ideological and political positions.”
This was before the actual award ceremony happened.
As many of you probably know already, poo-poo hit the fan when OUR YOUTH IN TAIWAN director Fu Yue said during her acceptance speech that she wished for Taiwan to be seen as an independent nation.
The fallout of a single award acceptance speech? China officially ordered all Chinese filmmakers to stay away from the festival AND the awards while the government holds its own film party – The Golden Rooster Awards – right across the strait on the same night; at least two major sponsors dropped the film festival to avoid along Chinese customers; and Hong Kong’s MPIA (essentially made of a lot of company bosses) reportedly sent out a letter warning Hong Kong filmmakers to stay away if they want to keep working in China. Miraculously, Johnnie To’s CHASING DREAM got a release date in China just after To resigned as the Chairman of the awards jury. I also know at least one Hong Kong-based director who revoked his/her film from the competition after it made it to the second round out of fear of being banned in China.
(Ironically, most patriotic Chinese netizens said that film and politics should be separated when China’s move is, well, a politicized one)
The Golden Horse Festival is happening as usual, albeit without any world premiere from Mainland China and Hong Kong (and the only world premiere Taiwanese film got canceled at the last minute because of copyright problems). The award ceremony is noticeably more muted this year – The first press release about the show only came out on Tuesday afternoon, and the jury lineup is being kept secret until the 23rd, the day of the award. No one even knows who’s hosting the damn show!
And then there are the nominees. Sure, award favorites Chung Mong-hong and Chang Tso-chi would’ve been nominated regardless, but with no Chinese and almost no Hong Kong films, other Taiwanese films got their chance to shine this year.
(Side note: It wouldn’t be surprising if the three Hong Kong feature films nominated were the only three left after the boycott became official, but let’s face it, most Hong Kong films submitted this year would’ve just gotten technical nominations anyway)
Horror sensation DETENTION, which would’ve probably gotten only technical awards on a normal year, leads the competition with 12 nominations, including Best Film, Best New Director and Best Actress for young Gingle Wang. Other local films benefitting also include PTS film 3 DAYS 2 NIGHTS, fact-based drama THE PARADISE, THE TEACHER, Chang Jung Chi’s WE ARE CHAMPIONS and local comedy THE GANGS, THE OSCARS AND THE WALKING DEAD.
3 Days 2 Nights
DETENTION may be leading the race in terms of nominations, but Golden Horse history tells us the frontrunners usually end up going home empty-handed. How far it goes depend on 1) whether the jury is affected by the box office success factor, and 2) how much the jury wants to make a political statement, especially considering the film’s anti-White Terror stance.
While the nomination list lacks the usual Chinese big-budget blockbusters and arthouse giants, it is of this writer’s opinion that it has created a more interesting competition. All five Best Film nominees are relatively small stories (the closest thing to an epic is probably A SUN, Chung Mong-hong’s 155-minute opus about a dysfunctional family) with modest budgets. Also worth noting is that none of the films came from any of the major European film festivals, which means there’s no single frontrunner going into the competition.
(For what it’s worth, aside from SUK SUK, my favorite to win is Chung Mong-hung’s A SUN)
Where the China boycott truly did hurt was actually in the Best Actor category, which gave five nominations to only three films. The nominated actors are all great in their own way, but it’s clear that the category feels a little stretched this year without any major Mainland Chinese name. Also, the entire Best Animation category got canceled again (which actually happens more often than you’d think), and the Best Adapted Screenplay category was left with only three nominees.
Still, this isn’t the first time that China has stayed out of the Golden Horse Awards. In fact, Chinese films have only been competing since 1997 (not counting Mandarin films that were registered as Hong Kong productions). One must admit that Mainland China’s inclusion (and the rise of its cinema industry) lifted Golden Horse’s place in the Chinese-language film world, but Chinese filmmakers are as keen on getting into the Golden Horse for the prestige as the Golden Horse were keen to include them for the sake of inclusion and cultural exchange. The Chinese government thinks it’s hurting Taiwan with the boycott, but it’s ultimately hurting its own filmmakers as well. After all, who remembers the last Golden Rooster Best Picture winner?
(It’s OPERATION MEKONG, by the way)
On a side note: Just yesterday, the Golden Rooster Awards announced that it would shift from a bi-annual award to an annual award.
The Golden Horse only considers films that are submitted, so as long as films keep being submitted, the show must go on, and I will be watching it this Saturday as I have done for the past decade. I hope you will continue to watch it too.