Note: Asia in Cinema will hold its annual Golden Horse Awards Live Blog on Saturday, November 21st starting at 7pm (or 19:00) Taiwan local time
The 57th Golden Horse Awards will be available for viewing worldwide on Youtube (except in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei)
Disclaimer: This writer worked on the subtitles of nominated film HAND ROLLED CIGARETTES (手捲煙) and therefore will not comment on its chances of winning awards.
In July 2020, much of the world was being crippled by the COVID-19 pandemic. Much of the world except Taiwan, which has managed to prevent a widespread outbreak thanks to effective border control, strong epidemic control measures and awareness among the general public. As of November 18th, Taiwan recorded only 605 cases and 7 deaths. Not bad for an island nation of nearly 24 million people.
While western film media wants you to believe that Venice was the first film festival to return since the start of the pandemic, the Taipei Film Festival – the second largest film festival in a country that sees a whooping 800 films released each year – was able to hold a physical edition with an audience (with decreased capacity, of course) and an award show back in early July.
As life began to return to normal in Taiwan in mid-July, the Ministry of Culture launched a campaign to promote the 22 local films that were set for release in the second half of the year in an effort to lure audiences back to cinemas. The results have been fairly mixed – not a single local film has surpassed NT$100 million (US$3.51 million) in 2020 (For context, all top ten grossing films in Taiwan in 2019 grossed over NT$276 million (US$9.67 million)). As of September 2020, the 58 local releases (including 33 new releases) have only grossed NT$404 million (US$14.2 million) for a market share of just 12.23%.
However, there are good news: Local films only had a local share of 6.9% in 2019, so 12.23% is a significant rise, and this year’s highest-grossing local film – YOUR NAME ENGRAVED HEREIN (刻在你心底的名字) – is also now Taiwan’s highest-grossing LGBTIQ+ film.
Your Name Engraved Herein
Best of all, after canceling their genre films-oriented Fantastic Film Festival in April, the Golden Horse Film Festival and the Golden Horse Awards are being held as usual this year. In a year like 2020, holding a successful film festival and major film award ceremony already feels like a powerful flex when the Hong Kong Film Awards could only announce its winners online.
After 57 years, the Golden Horse Awards has become the most important film award in Chinese-language cinema, and part of the reason for that is inclusion. It will accept any film primarily made in Chinese, regardless of its politics, and the awards are given based artistic merits and the jury’s taste rather than political. A Golden Horse award for your film won’t propel you to box office stardom, but it certainly still carries plenty of weight in the industry.
But alas, Asian geopolitics is a complex matter, and it will seep into unexpected places. Last year, the Chinese government stepped in and forbade film companies from submitting films to Golden Horse (many Hong Kong companies followed suit because they rely on the Chinese market) after a controversial speech by the Best Documentary winner in 2018. But this year, it seemed like that most Chinese film companies just flat out decided to not submit their films out of fear of reprisal.
So once again, Taiwanese cinema will get their chance to shine this year as local films make up a large majority of the nominations. This year’s leading nominee is Chen Yu-hsun’s fantasy romantic comedy MY MISSING VALENTINE (消失的情人節), which earned 11 nominations. However, the film likely only has a fighting chance of winning Best Original Screenplay.
My Missing Valentine
Chung Mong-hong, who took home Best Feature Film last year with A SUN (陽光普照) (also this year’s Taiwan representative at the Oscars and now available to watch worldwide on Netflix), also has a presence this year with two films he produced, Chang Yaosheng’s A LEG (腿) (four nominations) and Huang Hsin-yao’s CLASSMATES MINUS (nine nominations). I haven’t seen CLASSMATES MINUS (同學麥娜絲), so I can’t comment on that film’s chances, but A LEG star Gwei Lun-mei does have the best chance of beating heavy favorite Chen Shu-fang (for LITTLE BIG WOMEN (孤味)). Both films were also the opening films of the Golden Horse Film Festival.
By the way, don’t be surprised if 82-year-old Chen also ends up taking home Best Supporting Actress for her affecting performance in DEAR TENANT (親愛的房客). She’s the heavy favorite in that category, too.
Another dark horse is Malaysia’s THE STORY OF SOUTHERN ISLET (南巫). The art film scored only two nominations – Best New Director and Best Original Screenplay – but positive reviews from the film festival screenings suggest that it may end up taking one of the two nominated awards from the Mark Lee Ping-bin-led jury.
While most Hong Kong film companies followed their northern counterparts by not submitting their films, the city is represented by four nominated films – Fruit Chan’s indie drama THE ABORTIONIST (墮胎師) (which failed to get any Hong Kong Film nomination this year despite fulfilling eligibility), Adam Wong’s THE WAY WE KEEP DANCING (狂舞派3) (sequel to THE WAY WE DANCE), First Film Initiative project HAND ROLLED CIGARETTE and romance drama BEYOND THE DREAM (幻愛). DANCING will have its world premiere as one of the two closing films of the festival (HAND ROLLED CIGARETTE is the other one), so I can’t speak for its chances. Meanwhile, despite giving a star-making performance, BEYOND THE DREAM’s Terrance Lau is facing stiff competition from YOUR NAME ENGRAVED HEREIN’s Edward Chen and THE SILENT FOREST’s Chen Yan-fei.
Hand Rolled Cigarette
Of course, it wouldn’t be the Golden Horse Awards without presence of the New Taiwan Cinema holy trinity. Tsai Ming-liang’s DAYS (日子) is nominated for three awards, including Best Feature and Best Director. Local filmmaking deity Hou Hsiao-hsien, who founded the Golden Horse Academy during his time as Chairman, will finally get his Golden Horse Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
With the pandemic causing the global film industry facing uncertainty over its collective future, it is a little difficult to generate excitement for a film award this year. However, Taiwan and its film industry have had an exceptional year in spite of the circumstances, and they have certainly earned this opportunity to celebrate their films in front of the world. Enjoy the victory lap, Taiwan. I certainly will enjoy watching it.