The Golden Horse Awards 2017 第54屆金馬獎

The evening of November 25th saw the 54th edition of the Golden Horse Awards, the longest-running awards for Chinese-language cinema, hosted in Taipei.

Here are a few of our observations from the evening, as well as the award winners.

Taiwanese films win big

It’s been a few years since Taiwanese films have had such a successful outing. Although recent years have seen co-productions such as Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin 刺客聶隱娘 do well, fully made-in-Taiwan productions have rarely won the big prizes. That’s not a surprise, considering the growth in both the volume and budget  of films coming from the mainland.

Not this year.

Taiwanese productions took home Best Film, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Best Supporting Actor, as well as a host of other awards.

The biggest winner was undoubtedly The Bold, the Corrupt, and The Beautiful 血觀音, the latest from director Yang Ya-che  楊雅喆, which took home four of the 8 categories it was nominated in.

The Great Buddha+ 大佛普拉斯 also had great success, including Best New Director and adapted screenplay.

And Bamboo Chen 陳竹昇 was rewarded for a fantastic year with the Best Supporting Actor award for his incredible portrayal of a transgender aboriginal in Alifu the Prince/ss 阿莉芙.

Female directors on top

In Hollywood, it remains a topic of some discussion how few female directors are recognised at the highest level. So it was certainly good to see that three of the 5 nominees for Best Director at the Golden Horse Awards were women, and that a woman took home the top prize. Something special guest Jessica Chastain noted on Twitter:

Of course, awards should be judged on merit, but there’s no doubting  the quality of films and freshness of perspective female directors can make when given the opportunities.

Winners

Best Film – The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful 血觀音

Best Director – Vivian Qu 文晏 (Angels Wear White 嘉年華)

Best Original Screenplay – Zhou Ziyang 周子陽 (Old Beast 老獸)

Best Adapted Screenplay – Huang Hsin-yao 黃信堯 (The Great Buddha+ 大佛普拉斯)

Best Actor – Tu Men 涂門 (Old Beast 老獸)

Best Actress – Kara Wai 惠英紅 (The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful 血觀音)

Best Supporting Actor – Bamboo Chen 陳竹昇 (Alifu the Prince/ss 阿莉芙)

Best Supporting Actress – Vicky Chen 文淇 (The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful 血觀音)

Best Documentary – Inmates 囚

Best Animation – Have a Nice Day 大世界

Best Short Film – Babes’ Not Alone 亮亮與噴子

Best Animated Short – Losing Sight of a Longed Place 暗房夜空

Best Cinematography – Nakashima Nagao 中島長雄 (The Great Buddha+ 大佛普拉斯)

Best Visual Effects – Johnny Lin 林哲民, Perry Kain, Thomas Reppen (See You Tomorrow 擺渡人)

Best Art Direction – Alfred Yau 邱偉明 (See You Tomorrow 擺渡人)

Best Makeup and Costume Design – William Chang 張叔平, Cheung Siu Hong 張兆康 (See You Tomorrow 擺渡人)

Best Action Choreography – Sang Lin 桑林 (Brother of Blades II: The Infernal Battlefield 繡春刀 II 修羅戰場)

Best Original Score – Lin Sheng-xiang (The Great Buddha+ 大佛普拉斯)

Best Original Song – To Have or Not to Have (The Great Buddha+ 大佛普拉斯)

Best Film Editing – Jean Tsien 錢孝貞, Bob Lee 李博 (Plastic China 塑膠王國)

Best Sound Effects – Tu Duu-chih 杜篤之, Wu Shu-yao 吳書瑤, Tu Chun-tang 杜均堂 (Mon Mon Mon Monsters! 報告老師! 怪怪怪怪物!)

Outstanding Taiwanese Filmmaker of the Year – Hu Ding-yi 胡定一

Lifetime Award – Hsu Feng 徐楓

Best New Director – Huang Hsin-yao 黃信堯 (The Great Buddha+ 大佛普拉斯)

Best New Performer – Rima Zeidan 瑞瑪席丹 (Missing Johnny 強尼 凱克)

Audience Choice – The Bold, the Corrupt, and the Beautiful 血觀音

 

 

 

 

 

The Founding of an Army 建軍大業 (2017)

Mainland/Hong Kong

Director: Andrew Lau Wai-Keung  劉偉強

Studio: China Film Group 中國電影集團, Bona Film Group 保利博納, August First 八一 et al.

Language: Mandarin 普通話

Genre: War/History

Running Time: 133 minutes

Not Recommended.


Shanghai, 1926. The First United Front between the Kuomintang (KMT) and the Communist Party of China (CPC) comes to a crushing end. With the aid of Shanghai’s notorious Green Gang, Chiang Kai-shek 蔣介石 orders many of the leaders of the CPC to be killed or arrested, solidifying his position as China’s most powerful leader, and weakening rival factions within the KMT.

However, Chiang’s purge did not include all of the CPC’s leaders, and has angered many within his own party.

Inspired by the words of a little known representative from Hunan, Mao Zedong 毛澤東, several recent KMT defectors and CPC veterans unite under the charismatic leadership of Shanghai survivor Zhou Enlai 周恩來 and veteran Zhu De 朱德 to stage an uprising in Nanchang.

But the the KMT and Chiang Kai-shek are not going to let them go without a fight….


We were not eager to watch The Founding of an Army. The couple of friends who had watched it in Chinese cinemas had given less than stellar reviews; something that is backed up by critic reviews you will find online. And, they were right. This is a bad movie. However, it does make for an interesting discussion piece on Chinese cinema, and particularly state-led projects.

The third and final part of the trilogy of The Founding of films (alongside 2009’s The Founding of a Republic and 2011’s The Founding of a Party), this year’s effort brings a conclusion to this cinematic celebration of the foundations of modern China: the state, the party and, finally, the army.

This reviewer was living in China for the release of the first instalment, and can recall it creating a fair amount of buzz (and not just in government-led media). It had an all-star cast, a literal who’s who of Chinese cinema, even if stars such as Jackie Chan, Andy Lau and Zhang Ziyi only had the briefest of cameos. The film itself was forgettable and unsurprisingly hardly an accurate retelling of events; however, it spoke to the wealth of talent available when the best from throughout the Chinese-speaking world came together.

Fast forward two instalments and it’s fair to say the hype has died down. The Founding of an Army is bereft of the star power the first two instalments had, instead mixing a few old faces with a number of up-and-coming idols.  While I can understand the logic behind such a decision, trying to lure in the younger crowd who make up the majority of cinema goers, it’s fair to say it did not have the desired effect.

Audience reaction to the film was so bad, that comments on China’s main film website (think IMDB), Douban, were shut down. That’s for those who actually went to see the film, which, despite only competing with other domestic films performed abysmally at the box office, losing out to the patriotic action of Wolf Warrior 2. It even had official complaints made against it by relatives of the revolutionary heroes it aims to depict, who took umbrage at the use of pretty boy idols and total disregard of facts.

To be fair to The Founding of an Army, it’s hardly unusual for cinema to do away with facts in the name of a good story. Unfortunately it never really seems to find one.

We here at The Chinese Cinema Blog obviously have a great interest in China’s history, it’s politics etc. But even for us, the whirlwind of characters that are introduced is disorientating. From Zhou Enlai, to Mao, to Chiang, to He Long, back to Zhou, to Zhu De, this film jumps around constantly and without mercy, but in doing so it takes many compelling stories and makes each one utterly limp. This leaves little room for actors or director to work with, resulting in cut and paste stereotypes of everyone involved. Even the action scenes, presumably the strength of a war film, suffer from a lack of focus.

As such, we cannot recommend this film to anyone who wants to be entertained, or to watch a good piece of cinema.

All is not lost, however. If you are interested in how the CPC wants to project its own history, and in turn, China’s history, The Founding of an Army is an interesting study. The events upon which it is based were mostly a series of ever worsening defeats for the party’s fledgling armed forces, but watching this film gives you an idea of how such events have been transformed into a victory in the national narrative. So, despite its seeming lack of cinematic value, there still might be something to learn amongst the wreckage.

Translation of an interview with The Foolish Bird director Huang Ji

The Foolish Bird was one of our favourite films from 2017. We recently came across a very interesting interview with the film’s director Huang Ji on YouTube, in which the director discusses the film and her motivations in making it. It really does provide a fascinating insight into the process and motivations of this talented woman. Below is our translation:

I’m Huang Ji, and I’m the director of the ‘The Foolish Bird’. It’s a film about a 17-year-old left-behind girl. We took the film to Berlin [film festival], where we won a judge’s award.

Because I myself grew up as a left-behind child, by making these films [about left behind children], I’ve slowly been able to heal myself.

From the beginning, I never had a normal life together with my parents. I spent the time with my grandparents.

My mother, when she was away working, she didn’t return home for eight years. When she would occasionally come and visit, she would frequently have bought clothes for me that I’d already grown too big for.

In middle school and high school, I would date lots of different guys, because I thought that if I was with them, they would care about me.

At that time, I had one boyfriend I really liked. The first time that we had sex, he said to me ‘why didn’t you bleed?’ and then he just left, leaving me in that room.

Now at that time I really felt very very hurt, because that really was my first time.

So, this extremely unjust situation with that old boyfriend, this kind of relationship, we [her and husband Ryuji Otsuka] took it and put it on display in ‘The Foolish Bird’.

I really must thank my husband, he really pushed me to go and meet with my old boyfriend.

When we met, I asked him ‘why did you treat me like that?’

His answer was not what I expected. He said that, back then, all of his friends would treat their girlfriends that way.

Really, all it needs is for men and women to be together, and it’s possible there will be this kind of sexual repression.

For people who’ve been similarly hurt, they all will think that this was there fault. Lots of girls, they will tell me honestly, that when it comes to sex they’ve had a lot of pain.

After [hearing such stories], I just felt that I should take my story and tell it, film it. Because, now I have my own child.

She too is going through the process of growing up, and naturally one day she too will be start being interested in her sexuality.

So, when that time comes, how best to say to her? This is also one of the main topics of ‘The Foolish Bird’.

Because my film is all shot in my hometown in Hunan. It’s just a small town.

The result is that at a very very remote middle school, we discovered her [lead actress Yao Honggui]. The first time that I came into contact with her, I thought that her face looked particularly beautiful.

I’m just like a big sister to her, and sometimes like a mother.

For example, sometimes we’ll even talk about self-care [masturbating]!

At first [when talking about the role], I just asked her what kind of boy she likes, just talking like good friends. So that when she acts, she will feel that this character is one that we both created.

Because, the actors we use are all very professional, but we use this kind of small scale company method to shoot our films.

My grandfather plays a grandfather, the actor who plays the teacher was my high school teacher, and now Honggui’s teacher. All the girls who bully the main character, they are also students at that school.

If I didn’t make movies, I’d maybe be carrying a lot of weight on my shoulders. But, as I went through the process of making movies and lifting this weight off my shoulders, other people gave me so much more courage and strength.

Just like one time, after a screening had finished, a member of the audience came over and said ‘this is the first time I’ve watched a film and cried’. He said it’s not because he’d been the victim, but because ‘The Foolish Bird’ was one of our favourite films from 2017. Read our translation of a fascinating interview with director Huang Ji, as she reveals her motivations and process in making the film.he’d been the perpetrator. But he said when he’d finished watching the film, he decided he had to say sorry to her [his victim].

So, I really need to thank cinema. Even though I’m not rich, I can take the hardship.

Translation by The Chinese Cinema Blog

All credit to 一条 YIT for the interview, which you can  watch below.

 

 

The Great Buddha+ 大佛普拉斯 (2017)

Taiwan

Director: Huang Hsin-yao 黃信堯

Studio: Mandarin Vision 華文,Cream Production 甜蜜生活

Language: Taiwanese 台語, Mandarin 國語

Genre: Dark Comedy

Running Time: 104 minutes

Recommended.


Kevin 黃啟文 is an artist. His work has made him a local celebrity. He spends his time with politicians, police chiefs…and beautiful women. When he’s not working on his latest commission, a giant (headless) statue of Buddha for an important festival, he’s driving the streets in his Mercedes Benz — usually with a beautiful younger woman.

Kevin’s gateman is Pickle 菜埔, a quiet man who lives where he works, and looks after his ailing mother. He and his friend Belly Button 肚財, a quiet man who collects rubbish to sell for recycling, often sit, eat, and drink tea whilst Kevin is out.

One day, when Belly Button comes round, he finds that Pickle’s TV set doesn’t work. Bored, he suggests looking at the dash-cam footage from Kevin’s Mercedes. They soon discover a window into Kevin’s private world, of young women and secret rendezvous.

The next morning, everyone arrives to see Kevin has worked through the night to affix the Buddha’s giant head. And the ornament on his Mercedes has been knocked out of place…


The Great Buddha+ is a film that we have been waiting to see ever since it swept the awards at this years Taipei Film Festival. From various articles about the film, we knew that it was a distinctly Taiwanese film; and, we can now confirm that is absolutely the case.

Overflowing with cultural references which will make the film much more fulfilling for those who are familiar with life on the island, especially its more rural, southern areas. Factional local politics (replete with dirty dealings), the lives of Taiwan’s numerous recyling collectors, and powerful religious organisations are all on display. In a particularly amusing scene, Belly and Pickle are taken by a friend to visit a temple to cleanse their souls of evil spirits. The god of this temple? Chiang Kai-shek (not someone that most Taiwanese would consider as the ideal man for the job, though there genuinely are a few such temples). Then there’s the device upon which the film builds its narrative, the dash-cam cameras.

Dash cams are not something that we would frequently see before moving to Asia. Something that was perhaps reserved for people with lots of money. However, in many Asian countries, they are an essential part of driving culture. This review is not the place to get into the intricacies of why that is, but suffice to say that it is completely unremarkable for someone to have a dash cam in Taiwan.

What the dash cam allows is for director Huang to use one of the most interesting narrative structures from a movie this year, and one that also plays a role in the films fairly unique aesthetic.

Via the dash-cam footage, we are intermittently brought into a world of full colour in Kevin’s car. Though often devoid of visible characters, we hear (and occasionally see) many of the plots most important developments through this window.

The Great Buddha+ is director Huang’s first full-length narrative feature (he previously made a short film, Buddha 大佛, from which this film was developed), but he has a rich background in documentary film making. This has transferred to his narrative films, in two ways. Firstly, in his choice to focus on many of the forgotten people that one can find in Taiwan. Belly Button represents the ubiquitous recycling collectors, who can be found in every neighbourhood collecting various items to sell on to recycling firms for small change. As he travels, he encounters many who society seems to have forgotten, including Pickle, who has for years lived in the same leaky hut where he works. Secondly, Huang chooses to place himself in the role of narrator for the story. A bold move in your first feature film, but because of Huang’s experience, he is very comfortable in the role.  It could easily be a disaster when seeking to maintain audience engagement, but Huang always manages to keep you engaged with his narrative style.

Anchored by solid performances around the board, and a story which will genuinely make you laugh, and cry, The Great Buddha+ is absolutely the must-see Taiwanese film of 2017.